Sustainable sheep diets focus of Eblex projects

The level of soya bean meal (SBM) used in British sheep diets is already very low, representing less than 3% of the soya used in animal feeds in Great Britain and only around 0.02% of world production

A farmer with his flock of sheep
A farmer with his flock of sheep

Further reducing the 'soya footprint' of English sheep production is the aim of two research projects which have been commissioned by Eblex.

The level of soya bean meal (SBM) used in British sheep diets is already very low, representing less than 3% of the soya used in animal feeds in Great Britain and only around 0.02% of world production.

However, diets for pregnant ewes generally include some SBM, as it helps provide the high-quality protein needed to meet digestible, undegradable protein (DUP) requirements. In addition, it is often included in creep feeds for lambs and various other mixes.

The Eblex-funded projects will investigate whether alternative protein sources, such as rapeseed meal, beans, peas and wheat distillers’ grains, can be used as substitutes for SBM in sheep diets without affecting performance.

The first piece of work, which is being conducted by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Harper Adams University, aims to update the nutritional recommendations used for formulating ewe rations, which were originally developed in the 1970s.

The project will ascertain whether the recommendations are still fit for purpose by carrying out a desktop review looking at the use of home grown protein sources and novel protein protection technologies.

Experiments will be conducted looking at different forages, protein sources and the level of metabolisable protein (MP) they supply.

The second project, which is being led by ADAS, focuses on how effective the various proteins are as part of a grass silage and fodder beat-based total mixed ration (TMR).

Various diets will be fed to groups of pregnant ewes, with the aim of providing information to the growing number of TMR feeders on how to provide high-quality and sustainable protein.

The results will also include lamb performance data to give an indication of whether diet during pregnancy affects subsequent growth rates and days to slaughter.

Eblex head of research and development Kim Matthews said: “Although the beef and sheep industry in Great Britain uses only a small amount of soya, we are continually looking at ways to reduce reliance on imported feedstuffs as part of the drive to improve the overall sustainability of the sector.

“Helping English beef and sheep farmers reduce their carbon footprint and mitigate the impact of climate change is a key focus of our research and development work.”

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