The high cost of feed makes feeding decisions all the more difficult, which is why the Alberta Lamb Producers and Alberta Agriculture have launched a redeveloped program called SheepBytes.
“What we’ve found with our cost-of-production data collection is that there are top-performing flocks where it’s costing roughly $65 to get a lamb to market, and the bottom-performing flocks are looking at costing about $110,” said Susan Hosford, sheep industry specialist with Alberta Agriculture.
“This shows us that there are huge opportunities for improving management of feeding.”
The updated version of the old DOS program, available at www.sheepbytes.ca, features ration-balancing software.
Producers who don’t know the quality of their feed and the weight of their sheep tend to overfeed to be on the safe side. Underfeeding in pregnant ewes doesn’t allow fetuses to develop properly and reduces milk production.
“Underfeeding and overfeeding are both hugely costly to the industry,” said Hosford. “Because we know that, we wanted to improve some of the tools producers have to manage their flock and SheepBytes is one of them.”
Producers should sample feed and build rations this year to ensure the nutritional needs of their flock are being met because forage quality isn’t quite as good this year.
“Because of the costs of feed and the quality of feed this year, managing your feed by sampling and building rations is going to be really important,” she said.
New nutrition data
The new SheepBytes also incorporates new findings in sheep nutrition. Today’s lambs grow faster and bigger, and sheep are more prolific, so the updated nutrient requirements match today’s sheep. The new program is web based, updates automatically, and can be used from any computer.
“We wanted to have it finished for this fall because this is when everybody is buying their feed and getting their winter-feeding program in place,” said Hosford.
Fourteen feed companies have already taken part in both CowBytes and SheepBytes training. More courses for SheepBytes training will be held in Camrose, Airdrie, the Peace area, and Leduc. These four sessions will be hosted by Alberta Lamb Producers and local producer groups.
Producers can sign up for the program on the website.
“It’s a simple, easy way to do it that cuts costs to both producers and administrators,” said Hosford.
The program will be administered by Alberta Lamb Producers. The only requirement is that producers use Google Chrome as their web browser for the program to function properly. Since the program is web based, the data is immune to desktop crashes and hardware failures. SheepBytes was funded by the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and took about a year to develop.