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Meat goats on AAMU's Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station

In farm operations, nutrition may account for as much as 70 percent of total farm input. Sheep and goats need higher quality forage to achieve better health and production performance. The amount and the quality of feed that goat and sheep consume will vary by stage of production. For example, pregnant animals need higher quality feed compared to non-pregnant animals. After giving birth, goats and sheep need a greater amount of nutritious feed to nurse their kids.

Pasture and rangeland provide the most nutrients to sheep and goats. It is challenging to have good quality forage in the pasture all the time because of weather variability and the life cycle of several forage species. A breeding management plan should match forage production with different animal production stages. This process helps to reduce the amount of supplements to feed animals and subsequently, producers save money on supplemental feed purchases.

Forage Quality and Production Stages

Consider the following factors when matching forage quality with production stages:

Forage Species

Identifying forage species that thrive in a pasture allows producers to anticipate which forage is preferred by goats or sheep and the season that each forage is available. The two main forage species are grasses and legumes. Grasses are high energy sources, while legumes are generally high in protein. Goats prefer broadleaf plants over grass and sheep prefer a mixture of grasses and broadleaf vegetation.

Warm season forages grow better during the warm weather, while cool season forages perform better during cool weather. Having both warm and cool season forages in the pasture can ensure forage availability in the pasture for a greater portion of the year.

Forage Mass

Determining forage mass in the pasture helps to anticipate the number of animals that can graze in the pasture during a specific time. This will prevent over grazing and feed shortages that can negatively affect animal health and performance.

Forage Analysis

Forage sampling and analysis is necessary to determine nutrient content in forages. The nutrient content in forages is greater during vegetative stage. Knowing forage nutrient content ensures there are enough feed nutrients to meet feed requirements. Forage laboratory analysis results can also help to determine if a supplemental feed plan is necessary.

Number of Animals and Breeding Season

The size of the pasture or forage mass should be taken under consideration when deciding the number of animals that are allowed to graze in a pasture. A breeding season should be planned based on forage growth and availability. Generally, the pregnancy period for sheep and goats is between 147 and 152 days. It is important to have high quality forage during the last six weeks of pregnancy and the first 60 days after kidding or lambing. Therefore, farmers should decide the lambing or kidding season when forage yield is at its peak.

Key Questions to Ask

Ask the following questions when developing a forage and production plan for sheep and goats:

What is the ideal lambing and kidding season?

  • Early lambing: In March
  • Late lambing: Late April and May
  • Fall lambing: Between September and November

What forage species are present on the farm?

  • Cool, warm season forages
  • Annual or perennials
  • Grasses and legumes

How do I maintain existing pasture, and how is available forage going to meet certain production stages?

  • Forage mass should reflect the number of animals to feed.

What forage management strategies should I adopt?

  • Keep grazing height above 5 inches to reduce parasite exposure.
  • Allow 90 percent of larvae in bottom 4 inches from the ground.

Conclusion

A clear and detailed plan on a pasture management and breeding program is key to match forage quality with different production stages. Any decision about the lambing or kidding season should be taken under consideration when it comes to forage growth and availability. A production plan should also allow producers to make adjustments in order to achieve agribusiness objectives.

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