After seeing Spanish milking sheep being fed higher dry matter rations than milking sheep on his own farm, Simon Stott of Laund Farm, Chipping, delayed bringing in silage for 2-3 days to bring dry matters nearer the 50% mark rather than around the 30% mark normally made on his farm.
Simon, who milks about 400 sheep averaging 650 litres, had just returned from a whistle stop tour of sheep dairy units in the Castillay Ley area of Spain, with Peter Wormleighton of Dugdale Nutrition, Clitheroe and John Twigge of Frank Wright Trouw Nutrition. In Spain they joined up with a team of Spanish sheep nutritionists from Nanta, part of the same Nutreco group as FW Trouw.
While the focus of the visit was on feeding milking sheep, there was the broader agenda of learning about the Spanish sheep milk industry and looking for ideas and tips that might be useful at home in the UK.
Peter said: “Sheep dairying is a major industry in Spain with an estimated 3.2m. milking sheep. The problems faced by Spanish farmers is the poor state of the economy, pressure on credit and borrowing, high feed prices, and a shortage of skilled labour.
“Spanish sheep milk prices are based on 6 cents per percentage of fat and protein per litre. Taking a typical sheep’s milk at 7% fat and 5.5% protein, this works out at 75 cents per litre, at current exchange rates of 67p per litre compared to £1 per litre in the UK.
“We also saw a lot of irrigation with crops of barley, sugar beet, potatoes and alfalfa. Our first stop was with Lorenco Brothers where two brothers ran separate operations, each of about 400 sheep, in the same building. These were two very traditional units working with lambing three times a year and feeding based on alfalfa and straw.
“Next was Francisco Gonzalez, a breeder of pedigree Assaf dairy sheep, milking 700 ewes with lambing in March, June/July and November.
“Finally we saw Los Francos with just under 2,300 and including both twice a day and once a day milking groups.”
Simon added: “One thing that really surprised me was the massive dry matter feed intakes on the Spanish units which also contributed to the very low levels of lameness in the flocks over there. We were also impressed by the levels of cleanliness in the housing. The flocks were mostly housed where as our own flock go out to grass. This was simply down to the difference in climate between Lancashire and Spain! Milk yields in Spain were also impressive.”
The Dugdale Nutrition team are now working on a blueprint for feeding milking sheep largely based on the Spanish visit. “Essentially the message is simple. Don’t treat them as little cows, feed them as milking sheep,” added Simon.