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This is an issue that came from researching hay feeders. I have built wooden feeders, huge plastic ”apartment feeders”, a myriad of welded mobile bale feeders and structured trough feeders….the end results have been up to 50% hay waste (recent prices reaching $450-$900 per ton grass hay) and unregulated feeding which contributes to poor health issues.
One of the main issues for sheep who just stick their head down in the hay and start chowing down is ‘Pinkeye’. This is no big deal and is dealt with topically over several days but can quickly spread through the herd…with occasional blindness as a result…
Another issue is scratched corneas which can introduce infection and cause corneal scarring and visual impairment.
One of the less frequent issues is pregnancy toxemia. And I have talked to a vet who suggested it could possibly be partly linked to the way they eat during pregnancy. And the lambs are growing they are exerting pressure against various parts of the rumen. This is not consistent and it is subtle so the ewe may underfeed or over feed alternately gaining and losing precious pregnancy weight that will be needed for making milk later. But this can also bring the rumen into disorder….imbalance…upset and the many related disease and digestive processes such as bloat and it can cause the ewe to esperience a sort of malaise in her attitude about feed time. It is rare to lose a pregnant ewe to rumen imbalance and it more often will turn into something more difficult to treat. Most of us are well aware of the many diseases just waiting to be haplessly scooped up off the floor of the Winter shed and make it’s way through our unsuspecting pregnant flock!
I now have a ‘metals pile’ of scrap feeders that…well…’impressed‘ my poor misled alpaca breeding neighbor (I am biased towards sheep!). I needed to find a solution for effective and safe consumption without much more waste!
The solution I sought was to balance the intake so that they were getting the same balanced high protein diet in the same amount every day and do it in a way that even the lamb exerting pressure could not upset my program!
In a fit of desperation at the ‘Same Old Same Old‘ ‘V’-Feeder with a grain tray underneath or the open loop rail ’Stick Your Head In And Gorge’ feeders and the top suggestion of one neighbor “Just dump the bale in the pasture and let them do what they do best!” (He meant well and he has more money for feed than I !) I did something I almost never do….did a search on EBay! Here I found a Feeder that is a bag large enough to hold an entire bale, made of 1” webbing that is ’lifetime gaurantee tough’-yet only warranted for 1 year - it REALLY is sewn heavily together leaving 1-1/2” holes for the sheep to pull hay through but not big enough to get their whole mouth into and snatch great mouthfuls of food. I swallowed hard at the $100+ each price and ordered four to test them out.
Here is the AMAZING result! 1. They Are TOUGH. They are made to handle any animal bite and they do not fray or come unsewn at the joins. The rope and metal hardware make them perfect to hang on a hook at the right level for clean regulated feeding. They are truly a one time purchase. (…It is my personal belief that future archeologists will find that these bags outlasted nuclear decay and the cockroach!) 2. Healthier Sheep. This may seem like a panacea to some of you who have tried the cheaper baling string netted feeders that have frayed, broken and have too large holes allowing for gorging. But this is a different beast altogether. My pregnant ewes who were binging for an hour and then laying down bored or restless…who got either too much from greed or too little from internal lamb pressure…now spend 10 hours a day back and forth at the feeders. They are interested and occupied. There is less competition at the feed points. What this means in practical terms is that THEY ARE GRAZING. Feeding time has become a day of grazing and regulated nutrition for a balanced rumen and full allotment of both protein rich hay mix and it has changed their habits at the grain trough and mineral trough to a less frenzied attack style to a calmly shared meal in between stops at the bags. I am seeing evidence of evenly fed ewes and improved overall health assessments. I have noted lower worm load across the board…they are not eating off the floor. Since the start of this feeding experiment (now 6 months) I have had no sick animals among the bag fed sheep. As a proviso, I have had one ewe refuse to come in the barn to eat and experience rapid critical weight loss…but once I added a bag outside the barn for her she has quickly returned to full health!
I still feed a premium grain supplement 18% protein, a 40% sweet protein lick tub and I offer loose minerals and baking soda separately (ewes will do what ewes will do and are masters of self-regulated mineral intake) but coming up to the final weeks before lambing and not one ewe has demonstrated any malaise, hesitation, underfeeding or toxemia…not even a runny nose!
There is scant evidence that feeding method is linked to pregnancy toxemia. I am not suggesting I have found a ‘New Medical Breakthrough’…of course that would be silly! And though I am often silly (as silliness lends to healthy human rumen and a clean heart!), I believe the evidence shows that the cleaner, more balanced, even diet and the consistently balanced rumen and lack of ‘off the floor’ feeding….altogether might be having a positive impact on the ewe health and keeping their systems working stronger and reducing the opportunity for lowered immunities lending to system imbalance and disease.
my best practice has been to shred the bale and mix ingredients (Watergrass/Fescue/Rye/Alfalfa/Barleystraw ) with pitchfork and then stuff by hand for 10lb per pag allotment. Three ewes can easily share so if you stuff 12-15lb it will take it. The bag itself weighs 5lb and is rated to handle a 100+lb solid bale… so think about the total amount you are lifting
I think improving the feed sanitation and forcing them to eat IN the barn the same way they eat when they are OUTSIDE the barn…grazing all day…on clean feed has had a verifiable and notable positive impact on herd health.
I know some of my advice is ‘take it or leave it’ and this is really only feasible for the smaller herd shepherd (less than 50 sheep) AND it has added a half hour onto feeding time..(I will automate filling them this next Summer) but the results are undeniable!
I do not sell this product or make anything by recommending it. If you are interested in them you can follow this link: is the company that makes them. They are available on EBay but it is cheaper to buy direct from their site. And it is possible someone makes a cheaper product but these are so well made I am absolutely committed to sticking to them for all of my Winter Breeding/Lactating Season feeding!
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