Making More from Sheep Australian Wool Innovation Limited Meat & Livestock Australia
MODULE 11: Healthy and Contented Sheep
Procedure 11.1
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Achieving appropriate nutrition throughout the year is the cornerstone of efficient livestock production. Sheep maintained in adequate body condition will achieve production targets. They will also be healthier and have fewer disease problems.

The appropriate body condition of sheep will vary with the type of enterprise, class of sheep and time of year. If sheep fall below critical body condition or graze poor quality and too little pasture, this will result in:

Poorer reproductive performance of ewes (see procedure 10.1 in Wean More Lambs)

Lower growth rate of lambs and likely failure to meet market specifications

Increased risk of ill-thrift or death in Merino weaners

Reduced productivity for all classes of sheep

Higher risk of disease and health management issues.

Plan to match annual nutritional requirements with feed supply and achieve pasture utilisation without excessive use of supplements. But also know how to formulate cost-effective feeding rations for all seasons.



At a Glance
Maintain sheep in appropriate body condition to achieve production targets and minimise health problems

Match annual nutritional requirements with available feed supply

pt Develop a farm management calendar to achieve feeding and welfare standards

Key decisions, critical actions and benchmarks

Nutritional requirements

An important management skill is to know when and how much to feed, or when to sell. Be able to recognise when each class of sheep needs supplementary feeding to achieve production targets in a cost-effective way.

Successful management of the feed base will ensure you are able to balance enterprise profitability and pasture utilisation, and that sheep exceed minimum acceptable body condition guidelines (see procedure 8.3 in Turn Pasture into Product).

It is important to assess both livestock and pastures when considering nutritional requirements:

Assessing livestock

  • Know the feed requirements of different livestock classes (see tool 11.1).
  • Be able to condition score (see tool 10.1 in Wean More Lambs) and fat score (see tool 3.3 in Market Focused Lamb and Sheepmeat Production) all livestock classes and know critical minimum condition scores and fat scores (see tool 11.2) of all sheep. Key times to assess stock include weaning, 2- 3 weeks prior to joining, early-pregnancy, mid-pregnancy, late-pregnancy and lamb marking.
  • Draft sheep into priority feeding groups based on condition score when available feed is short or sheep are approaching critical limits. This may mean allocating priority mobs to the best available pasture or supplementary feeding.
  • Make supplementary feeding decisions early and if it is not profitable to feed some sheep consider options to reduce grazing pressure. Note: it takes nearly 4 times as much energy to increase liveweight than to maintain it.
  • Monitor bodyweight of sheep to accurately fine-tune feeding decisions. Weighing is most important when seasonal conditions are unfavourable and supplementary feeding is an option.
  • Consider scanning pregnant ewes – empty, single- and twin-bearing ewes have vastly different feed requirements (see tool 10.7 in Wean More Lambs)
  • Be aware of the implications on flock structure and future production of selling different livestock classes.

Assessing pastures

Assess pasture availability and quality and predict sheep performance (see pasture assessment techniques in tool 7.6 in Grow More Pasture).

Once livestock and pasture assessments are made, make decisions about feeding management or stock sales. Appropriate levels of supplementary feeding can be provided in a cost-effective way to enable sheep to meet production targets.

Assessing nutritional requirements of livestock (see tool 11.1) is important at all stages of the calendar year. Refer to the example of a farm management calendar (see tool 11.3) designed to map out key management tactics throughout the year.

Feed budgeting

When feed budgeting, understand seasonal growth patterns of pasture. Aim to fit the pasture supply curve with livestock demand. Comprehensive information on feed budgeting is available from a range of sources (see signposts). Within the constraints of pasture growth and animal demand, feed budgeting enables you to better plan feed supply and demand (see procedure 8.3 in Turn Pasture into Product).

Feed quality

Knowing the feed quality of a supplement is important for formulating rations, particularly if supplements vary in quality. Consider testing feed quality through laboratory services such as FEEDTEST® (see signposts).

Energy is the essential nutrient requirement for all livestock. Stock can consume higher quantities of feeds that have higher digestibility or metabolisable energy. Purchase feeds based on the cost of energy (cents/MJ). Refer to tool 11.4 or GrazFeed® (see signposts).

Protein is important for lactating ewes and growing young stock. If available pastures are green, protein will usually be adequate; otherwise protein supplements may be required to satisfy the stock requirements. The value of protein can be calculated based on the cost of protein (cents/unit of protein). Refer to tool 11.4 or GrazFeed®.

Roughage is required in some circumstances. Lactating ewes grazing very short pasture (less than 600 kg DM/ha) will require additional roughage in their ration to ensure lactose production in milk. All sheep in feedlots (whether for production or drought lots) require roughage in their diets.

Supplementary feeding

The basic principles for successful supplementary feeding are:

Introduction of grain

Grains such as wheat, triticale, barley or processed pellets – and, to a lesser degree, oats – that are high in soluble carbohydrates, must be introduced carefully as there is a serious risk of acidosis. Follow the guidelines for supplementary feeding by State Departments of Agriculture/Primary Industries.

Imprint feed lambs

Imprint feeding of lambs with ewes before weaning will reduce the time required to train lambs to eat grain. At least four to six feedings of grain are recommended over a 2‑4 week period so that lambs recognise the feeder and remember it.

Frequency of feeding

After the introductory period, ensure supplements are fed two or three times a week. Sheep perform better with less frequent feeding and it is more labour efficient. More frequent feeding is necessary when large volumes of feed are required for late-pregnant or lactating ewes.

Preferentially feed weaners and young ewes

Malnutrition is usually a major factor in deaths of young sheep. Young Merino weaners are the most likely class of stock to require feeding, usually when pasture feed is dry and quality is poor. Weaning weight is the major determinant of survival over summer and autumn in Mediterranean climates and winter and spring in summer rainfall regions.

The impact of poor growth in their first year will have flow-on effects for the reproductive performance of maiden ewes. Tool 11.1 provides guidelines for the bodyweight of weaners and maiden ewes up to their first mating.

Management strategies to ensure adequate weaner growth include:

  • Join ewes for 5 weeks to ensure a compressed lambing, and provide ewes with adequate nutrition (see procedure 10.1 in Wean More Lambs)
  • Imprint feed lambs at least four times with their mothers before weaning
  • Wean lambs at 14 weeks after the start of lambing
  • Wean onto high quality pasture, preferably with improved perennial species and about 10cm high
  • At weaning draft off the lightest lambs and allocate the best quality pasture
  • If lambs are below target weights start supplementary feeding before pasture senesces and quality deteriorates below 65% digestibility
  • Ensure worm control is adequate and investigate unexplained deaths
  • Keep annual death rates below 5%
  • Provide high quality, clean drinking water. Water quality and quantity are important. In hot weather sheep require up to 10% of their body weight in water. Tool 11.6 provides guidelines for water quality limits for different sheep classes and tool 5.2 in Protect Your Farm’s Natural Assets is an AWI information sheet on calculating stock water requirements.

Trace element deficiencies

In some regions, copper, cobalt, selenium and iodine deficiencies cause disease or ill-thrift. These occur seasonally in specific areas. High-intensity production systems can exacerbate deficiencies.

Trace element supplementation is only cost effective when deficiencies are identified.

Determine the risk of deficiency and if it is likely on your property, consult your animal health adviser.

Use diagnostic tests to determine if trace element deficiencies are present.

Determine the likely impact of deficiency and beneficial options for treatment and prevention (see tool 11.7 for management options).

Signposts Signposts


Lifetime Wool Regional Guidelines – a series of guidelines and recommendations for managing ewe flocks throughout the year. Visit the Lifetime Wool website:

Managing sheep in droughtlots, A best practice guide.

Managing fodder prices for drought, A guide to help sheep producers.

Which sheep do I keep? A guide to assist producers in droughts.

Feeding and Managing Sheep in dry times – a 72 page practical guide for farmers finishing lambs, feeding due to drought, designing a feedlot and much more. 

Order your free copies of these four publications from AWI by:

    Trace Elements for Pastures and Animals in Victoria (1986), by Hosking, WJ, Caple IW, Halpin CG, Brown AJ, Paynter DI, Conley DN, North- Coombes PL. Victorian Government Printer, PO Box 203, North Melbourne,3051. visit:

    Soil Analysis: An interpretation Manual (1999). Edited by K.I. Peverill, L.A. Sparrow and D.J. Reuter. Provides details of Australia-wide trace element deficiencies (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne). visit:


    NSW Department of Primary Industries Feed Cost Calculator – use this internet tool to calculate the value of feed on an energy and crude protein basis, and to examine the energy, protein and cost of any combination of up to four selected feeds. Visit:

    Feedlot Calculator Tool – uses production, economic and feeding scenarios to calculate if feed lotting sheep is profitable. Visit:

    Precision Sheep Management - keep up to date with new technologies for moving from manual, time consuming, imprecise flock management to high tech, fast flowing, accurate individual animal management, download the Sheep CRC Precision Sheep Management Glovebox guide.

    Sheep CRC Lamb Growth Rate Predictor Tool – calculate individual growth rates of lambs and predict finishing times. Visit:

    GrazFeed® – a decision support tool to help graziers improve the profitability of livestock production, through more efficient use of pastures and supplementary feeds. GrazFeed® can be purchased by contacting Horizon Agriculture on

    GrassGro® – a decision support tool which can help graziers increase profits, minimise risk and test new management methods before committing resources. You can purchase GrassGro® by contacting Horizon Agriculture on:

    Feed testing services analyse the quality of a range of feeds, and are provided by a number of organisations including:

    • Agrifood FEEDTEST call 1300 655 474
    • NSW DPI Feed Quality Service call 02 6938 1957
    • Independent Lab Services (WA) call 08 9242 5876
    • Livestock Logic (Vic) call 03 5572 1419

    The MLA Rainfall to Pasture Growth Outlook Tool: estimates pasture growth for different locations across southern Australia. Visit the website:

    Grazclock – a spreadsheet-based tool that matches animal feed requirements with pasture growth throughout the year. It allows sheep (and cattle) producers to select key management times to correspond with feed demand. Contact NSW DPI via email:

    The Lambing Planner (tool 10.2) in Wean More Lambs. It provides a systematic basis for planning the management calendar for the breeding flock.


    The MLA EDGEnetwork® program is coordinated nationally and has a range of courses for sheep producers. Contact can be made via:


    The Veterinary Handbook for Sheep, Cattle and Goats: Produced by Livecorp, available for iOS and Android. Allows users to search by species, disease or syndrome to instantly access veterinary advice. Can be used offline.