Get sheep and goats started on feed faster at the feedlot |

Get sheep and goats started on feed faster at the feedlot

A strong start at the feedlot translates to more efficient growth to get animals to market weight faster

ARDEN HILLS, Minn. — It’s off to the races as soon as newly weaned sheep and goats arrive at the feedlot. But any bumps in the road — big or small — during those first few days can put animals behind.

“The biggest challenge feedlot operations face is getting sheep and goats in and getting them on feed,” said Clay Elliott, Ph.D., and small ruminant nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “If we can get them eating right away and address any health issues, we can see a faster finish with more efficient growth and more pounds at market time.”

Start strong to finish strong by brushing up your receiving protocols with these tips:

Slowly ramp up energy

“The most important thing is getting newly arrived sheep and goats started on feed quickly, without disrupting their rumens and causing acidosis,” Elliott said. “The number one reason they could get acidotic is by eating too much high-energy ration to start with.”

If you’re seeing problems with acidosis (indicated by diarrhea and loss of appetite), work with your nutritionist to adjust your receiving ration. Start with a low-energy, high-roughage diet with 80-90% forage for seven to 10 days. Gradually increase energy until animals are on a high-energy diet that can maximize growth and get them to market weight as rapidly as possible.

“Most animals haven’t been exposed to any kind of supplemental diet other than forage before coming to the feedlot,” said Maggie Amburgey, small ruminant technical specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “Taking the time to get their rumen right from the beginning will pay off with more efficient growth later on.”

Water, hay…and more water

Lambs and kids entering the feedlot don’t know how to eat large quantities yet, and if the ration is too high in energy, they may not eat at all.

“If animals are without feed long enough, their rumens can begin to shut down, and you could see higher death loss,” Amburgey said.

One foolproof way to encourage eating is by providing hay and fresh, clean water immediately when animals arrive. Consuming hay will encourage animals to start searching for water, which in turn will encourage more feed intake.

To further support hydration, ensure multiple water sources are available and add an electrolyte to the water for the first several days.

Stop coccidiosis in its tracks

“Animals arriving at the feedlot are at risk for the perfect storm of conditions that encourage coccidiosis,” Amburgey said. “The most common time for a coccidiosis outbreak is shortly after weaning. Compound that with the stress of transportation, warm temperatures and a new environment at the feedlot, and an outbreak is likely to happen.”

Heading off coccidiosis before you see any visible symptoms is critical. Once symptoms show, the damage to the digestive tract is already done, resulting in reduced feed consumption, feed conversion and growth performance. [1] And most cases of coccidiosis are subclinical, with animals never showing outward signs of disease.

“Adding a coccidiostat like Bovatec for sheep, Rumensin for goats or Deccox for both, along with proper sanitation, is your first line of defense,” Elliott said. “If animals break with coccidiosis, work with your veterinarian to treat immediately and follow with B Vitamins, a probiotic and lots of roughage to help reactivate the rumen.”

Support high-risk lambs and kids

While most feedlots opt for a commodity blend ration, consider using a pre-made ration for high-risk lambs and kids. A pre-made ration can support faster growth and help address health issues, which can add more value at market and help offset the higher feed cost.

“Pre-made receiving rations can be top-dressed on hay or mixed with commodity feeds to get lambs and kids started quicker,” Elliott said. “And pre-made rations are usually pelleted to prevent sorting, which is especially important with medicated feeds where it’s critical for animals to eat a full portion to get the right dosage.”

A pre-made receiving ration can be fed for up to a month and slowly phased out as a more concentrated grain ration is introduced.

Set yourself up for success at market with a dialed-in receiving protocol that encourages feed consumption and supports optimal health. Contact your local Purina nutritionist or visit to learn more.


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