Judy Moses co-owns and operates a 142-acre farm, Shepherd Song Farms, LLC. With her partner, she has 300 ewes and does and markets approximately 500 lambs and kids per year. She has been actively involved in the sheep industry for 15 years and direct markets lamb and kid to culturally diverse families. Her flock was started on leased land using managed grazing philosophy. When the flock reached 300 breeding animals, she and her husband invested in a former cow dairy farm. Sustainable practices such as intensive grazing, pasture lambing and minimal confinement of animals have been practiced for the past 15 years.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
This project compared the growth rate of kids with early supplementation on pasture to kids on pasture without supplementation until weaning to determine whether supplementation would make a significant difference.
The objective of this study was to research the rate of gain of meat kids on managed pasture with and without creep supplementation. There are many variables that could influence the growth rate of kids including genetics, rumen development, parasites, nutrition of mother pre- and post-birth. Just one causal variable was controlled and measured in this study to determine if supplementation would result in a significant increase of gain.
Protocol: Selection of groups. Forty-four does were chosen during a three week kidding period from a group of ninety-five 3-5 year old does. This resulted in two groups of 22 does with 40 kids in each group. The selected does all twinned with kids between 5.5 to 7.5 pounds. The kids all were born without assistance and were mothered and nursed by the does in a timely manner. No kid showed stress due to lack of milk. Siblings were within 8 ounces at birth. The does were 50-75% Boer/Spanish cross. Three year old Boer buck twins were used as sires.
Randomization of the groups was accomplished using scrapie identification tag numbers. Odd numbers went into one group, even into the other group. More odd numbered does kidded with twins than evens. The last 5 odd numbered does went into the even group to balance the groups and to prevent a wider age spread that would have occurred if later kidding does were used. The kids were tagged with different colored tags specific to their group. Seven kids lost their tags over the summer. The kids were retagged and kept in their specific groups and their weights were included in the overall group average.
The does kidded inside the barn or 3-sided enclosure and were then moved to individual jugs for 2-3 days before being moved into small groups. The kids were born within 22 days of April 15th. There was minimal difference in weights during the first 30 days. The does were de-wormed with Valbazon before birth and before going onto pasture. The kids were given their first CDT shots when moved to pasture and their boosters two and four weeks later. All does and kids were on pasture by May 30th. There were no signs of respiratory distress or other illnesses during this time.
Narrative: This was a tough summer to study grazing. Between mid-June and late July our area received little or no rain fall. The pastures that we had planned on using for this study did not recover from the first round of grazing. By July 1st we were out of suitable grazing to keep both groups on comparative forage. Due to the drought some protocols were changed.
In early July we considered weaning and putting both groups of kids onto hay and creep. The youngest kids were 60 days old. We have not had good growth when kids have been weaned before 90 days in the past. We decided to keep the kids on the does and to move the two groups onto similar fields that had significant browse and wooded areas. We dewormed all does and kids with Valbazon 1 day before the move and held them in a pole barn until moved. After the move both groups were supplemented with 1st crop round bales of mixed alfalfa and grass. Two portable creep feeds were moved into the group on creep. The groups, counter to plan, remained in these locations until August 1st. At this time the browse was depleted and the group without creep supplementation was introduced to grain along with their mothers. On August 15th both groups were weaned. This coincided with rain that slowly began to revive the pastures with lush, spring type growth.
Three kids died during the study and two more did not thrive (one from each group). One death occurred when a kid was stuck in the creep feeder and appeared to have been stepped on or hit by another doe. The other two seemed to have developed respiratory problems. Upon examination of internal organs, both had dark red lungs and minimal organ fat. The does and remaining siblings remained with the group but received a black ear tag and were not included in the data collected and analyzed. The group on creep developed no over eating issues. There was high waste of soy protein so the protein level was dropped from 15% to 12% at 60 days. The does broke into the creep area twice but did not suffer any ill effects other than demolishing the set up and intimidating smaller kids.
Group one: creep supplementation: The range of weights on September 15th was from 37 to 97 pounds. Average weight for the group was 81 pounds on September 15th at approximately 150 days. The lowest weight was removed from the averages throughout the study.
Group two: no creep supplementation: The range of weights on September 15th was from 35 to 81 pounds. Average weight for the group was 67 pounds on September 15th at approximately 150 days. The lowest weight was removed from the average throughout the study.
Grain was started for group two on August 1st when kids were approximately 100 days old. Feeding the does the same grain mixture helped encourage the kids to eat the grain and by the time they were weaned, two weeks later the kids were enthusiastic eaters.
The data presented represents a very small sample under difficult environmental conditions. The difference between groups might not be as dramatic if the un-supplemented group had a more balanced supply of natural pasture and browse. We attempted to keep both groups on as similar forage as possible but as the browse was depleted the does stood on their hind legs to reach higher and kept themselves in good body condition. The kids were not able to feed as easily as their moms and would have to rely on their moms milk supply or creep supplementation.
Meat does do not have the lactation length or volume that dairy does have and the milk supply was probably not adequate for rapidly growing kids without plentiful, tender forage. The group without creep supplementation may have shown more limitation to their growth due to poor browse and low milk.
We were not prepared for the extent of the drought. What we initially thought was a few weeks without rain extended beyond our pasture and browse resources. Other livestock was moved to neighbor’s marginal land. Some groups were supplemented with 1st crop hay.
Worm load was insignificant, likely due to height of browse and limited grass growth and dry environment in the fields. We de-wormed out of management decision as a precaution upon moving to different areas of the farm, not due to need determined by color of inner eye lid or fecal tests
We would like to repeat this study next summer under better grazing conditions. Although there was a significant difference in growth between the supplemented and non-supplemented group we have not determined whether this would be the situation on adequate forage levels.
* Presented at a Train-the-Trainers goat conference sponsored by the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, Jeanne Meier. I spoke on ethnic marketing of goat products and hosted the afternoon farm visit for 18 extension agents and other agriculture professionals.
* Presented at the 52nd Biennial Spooner, WI Sheep Day on ethnic marketing and requirements of diverse families to 45 producers and agriculture professionals.
* 14 Farm tours and one-on-one support was provided to area goat producers concerning increasing herd size, genetics, pasture and browse options, supplementation options. Information was provided in folders that included copies of ATTRA articles and web based resources. Farm tours included spouse and frequently family members ranging in age from infant-in-arms to teenagers and grandparents and aunts for a total of 32 individuals.
* Presentation at a sheep and goat workshop at Stockman’s Farm Supply, Wilson, WI to 42 producers organized by Sue Mason, 4-H leader. Handouts were provided.
* Results are in the process of being posted on our website: www.shepherdsongfarm.com