Monday, January 25, 2010

Feeding corn

The sheep know when they’re supposed to be fed – the same time as yesterday.

Dave feeds the ewes between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m.. When he’s gone, I feed them between 7:30 and noon at the latest, depending on my schedule. They always get to eat before I eat my lunch. But if I go outside and don’t feed them, their baas let me know that they’re hungry and almost certainly (in their minds at least) suffering. Of course, if I feed them at 7:30 one morning before I leave for a meeting, they expect to be fed at 7:30 the next morning, even though I have the whole morning to spend at home and don’t really want to go outside until it’s time to fill the wood box.

When we do go out to feed them, they hear the sound of the grain shovel in the grain bin and are standing at the gate when we climb the style into the feed area with their corn. At this time in their pregnancy, 5 – 8 weeks before lambing, each ewe should eat about seven pounds of hay and 5 cups of corn – not my ideal daily food intake, but it seems to do for them. We begin feeding corn the second week in January and feed it through lambing and nursing, until the sheep are out on pasture again in May.

We increase the amount of corn in their diet incrementally. Right now we’re feeding one and a half buckets of corn to fifty sheep. By the end of lambing we’ll be feeding seven buckets. The amount of hay they eat is limited by how much room there is in their stomachs. As they move further into pregnancy, and the uterus grows, the stomach has less room. That’s when we start feeding corn, to make up for the calories they no longer have room for. Unfortunately, sheep don’t have an internal regulator of corn intake, so we carefully control what we give them. A fat sheep has more trouble during lambing. Fat fetuses have more trouble during delivery. They get just enough calories to grow healthy babies. Next weekend, we’ll shear them, and then we’ll be able to check how well our feeding program is working. We’ll feel backbones and pelvic bones trying to judge how much fat the sheep are carrying. If they seem thin, we’ll increase their corn ration a little faster. If they feel fat, we’ll increase their corn ration a little slower.

It would be a lot easier to control Dave’s and my weight if we could just feel our pelvic bones and change the amount of one nutrient in our diet. Instead I have to do things like hide the chocolate chip cookies in the freezer (or even worse, not make them to begin with). I usually dish out our meals in the kitchen instead of at the table to cut down on my tendency to eat fast and then help myself to seconds; and I try to feed us lots of vegetables (read hay) instead of the fruit (read corn) that we’d rather eat. Dave and I both complain at times about our diet.

The sheep, on the other hand, don’t complain - as long as we feed them when they’re supposed to be fed...

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