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Sheep and goats gain benefits from sugar beet feed

One of the most important factors in successfully feeding sheep and goats is the need to maintain a balanced fermentation in the rumen by supplying plenty of digestible fibre. Supplementary feeding is also needed at certain times of the year to ensure enough nutrients are available to keep stock healthy and productive.

The challenge is that grass lacks a good balance of digestible fibre, energy and protein during many of critical times in the sheep and goat production year. So if it’s the digestible fibre that’s vital for good rumen function, helping to maximise fertility, milk production and growth, it makes sense to provide any extra energy needed in the form of sugar beet feed, which is rich in digestible fibre.

Flushing success

Incorrect or inadequate feeding can have a big impact on the health and productivity of both sheep and goats, and this influence starts during the breeding season. Poor condition at mating will reduce the number of eggs shed during ovulation, limiting the number of offspring (i.e. less multiples, more singles) and reducing overall output for the year.

Bringing stock up to the right condition to maximise the number of eggs shed is called ‘flushing’, and will typically involve feeding supplementary sugar beet feed for 3-6 weeks prior to mating. Aim for a body condition score of 3.5 at mating (0.5 condition score is roughly equivalent to 3kg liveweight for a mature 75kg ewe), separating out animals as they reach the right condition – over-fit animals will also perform poorly.

 Include a mineral and vitamin premix, and feed up to 0.5kg/head/day in troughs.

Late pregnancy feeding

As pregnancy progresses through the winter, and particularly during the final eight weeks, the nutrient demands from the growing foetus increase rapidly (Figure 1) at a time when appetite is increasingly restricted by the lack of physical space available for the rumen. Meeting these rising nutrient demands requires an energy dense supplement that also promotes a healthy rumen and helps minimise loss of body reserves.

Figure 1 – Graph showing lamb foetus development during pregnancy

Include sugar beet feed as part of a high energy (12.5MJ ME/kg DM) blend or to balance home-grown cereals and avoid acidosis#, adjusting the feeding level according to breed size, whether likely to produce singles or multiples, and the number of weeks of pregnancy remaining. Table 1 shows guidelines for pregnant ewes, and the supplement should contain 16-18% crude protein if feeding hay or silage as the main winter forage, or 20% if fed straw.

Give no more than 0.5kg/ewe of supplementary feed in any one meal.

Table 1 – Concentrate requirements for late pregnancy ewes*

Concentrate requirements (kg/ewe/day)*

2-6 weeks before lambing

0-2 weeks before lambing

Forage (ad libitum)







Small breed ewe (50kg LW), twins







Large breed ewe (75kg LW), twins







* The allowances shown are guidelines only – actual allowances will vary according to body condition, forage quality.

Supporting lactation

The main challenge during lactation is that poor milk yield and quality due to inadequate feeding can reduce lamb and kid growth rates . Producing milk requires a lot of feed energy, so it’s important to keep feed levels similar to, or above, those used in late pregnancy.

Include sugar beet feed in any supplement to provide the digestible fibre needed to balance any cereals or lush spring grass in the diet, and to boost milk quality (digestible fibre is essential for milk fat production). Add a suitable vitamin and mineral premix, monitor body condition as an indicator for adjusting the level of feeding, and aim to lose no more than 0.5 condition score during lactation.

 Ensuring good growth

The sooner lambs and kids can be encouraged to eat dry feed, the quicker the rumen develops and the faster they grow. Relying on the natural development of the rumen on grazed grass is not a system designed to maximise growth and performance, and also increases the risk of a check in growth following weaning.

But relying on high levels of starchy feeds like cereals to act as a creep feed brings a risk of acidosis , so complement with sugar beet feed to supply the digestible fibre needed to keep the rumen healthy. Feeding a sugar beet feed-based creep has been shown to dramatically increase lamb growth rates (Table 1), allowing them to be finished and sold up to two weeks earlier.

Table 3 – ADAS Rosemaund lamb creep feeding trial results (all feeds offered ad lib)

Cereal-based creep

Trident Sugar beet feed-based creep

Lamb birth weight (kg)



Growth rate (g/day):










# Acidosis is a condition where the rumen fermentation is disrupted by too much rapidly fermenting starch, which lowers rumen pH (makes it more acidic), resulting in lower feed intakesand poor productive performance.

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