BIGG benefits from containment feeding

BIGG benefits from containment feeding

Photo courtesy of MLA: Barossa producers achieved higher lambing rates and improved ground cover with strategic containment feeding
Photo courtesy of MLA: Barossa producers achieved higher lambing rates and improved ground cover with strategic containment feeding

When South Australia’s Barossa experienced a run of drier than average seasons, local sheep producers turned to containment feeding to meet the nutritional needs of their ewes and protect the value of lambing pastures.

MLA supported a Producer Demonstration Site (PDS) with the Barossa Improved Grazing Group (BIGG) to measure the effectiveness of ewe containment in:

  • increasing reproductive rates
  • maintaining stocking rates
  • protecting ground cover
  • improving ewe condition scores.

The project was facilitated by consultant Deb Scammell of Talking Livestock and ran across three major sites (each with at least 1,000 ewes in containment) and eight minor sites.

Confidence and control Deb explained how in 2019, many producers in the region had received only half their average annual rainfall and, while some had already built pens, didn’t have the knowledge or experience to contain their stock successfully.

“We started the PDS later that year to help provide the skills they needed to manage their containment feeding well,” she said.

“By the end of the project, we saw a 41% uplift in core producer confidence.”

As well as more confidence in their skills, the project also gave producers a sense of greater control in their business.

“Containment offered more choice in how they managed their stock,” Deb said.

“Instead of having to destock when conditions got too dry, they could put their ewes in containment and be confident their paddocks would recover quickly after some rain.”

Key points

  • Producers involved in containment feeding project achieved more than 10% lift in lambing rates.
  • Containment feeding supported more ground cover and improved pasture recovery.
  • The project found containment feeding had an economic advantage compared withpasture feeding.

Benefits of containment

  • Improved ground cover: The three major sites had 90–100% ground cover across the life of the project. The minor sites which contained most of their ewes exceeded the project’s 70% ground cover goal, apart from two where severe kangaroo grazing impacted ground cover.
  • Pasture recovery: Feed on offer from pastures on the three major sites was 570kg of dry matter per hectare higher compared to similar properties in the region without containment.
  • Increased lamb marking: The project aimed to achieve a 10% increase in lambing percentages. This goal was exceeded across most sites, with the three major sites recording an average increase of 12% over the duration of the project.
  • Economic advantage: The project quantified the time, labour and costs associated with pasture feeding in comparison to containment. As a result, it estimated a benefit of between $5.30 and $8 per ewe.
  • Improved stock management: Containment enabled better management practices, such as precise nutrition and opportunities for more frequent condition scoring, which allowed producers to get more ewes to their condition score targets for lambing. It’s likely the benefits seen in areas such as cost savings and increased lambing percentages are a flow-on effect of the improved management that comes with containment.