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Assessing economic benefits of confinement feeding

Project start date: 15 December 2021
Project end date: 31 January 2024
Project status: In progress
Livestock species: Sheep, Lamb
Relevant regions: Western Australia
Site location: South Coast WA: Green Range; Boxwood Hill; Tenterden


The purpose of this Co-contributor Producer Demonstration Site (PDS), partnering with Strilings to Coast Farmers Inc, was to demonstrate a range of sheep confinement feeding systems that optimise sheep management and supplementary feeding programs, by achieving appropriate pregnant ewe condition scores and increasing food on offer (FOO) in deferred pastures, for a profitable and sustainable sheep enterprise.  The condition scores measured were used to show the sheep were not declining in confinement, and pasture cuts were used to demonstrate how pastures that were allowed to establish produced more feed, other than those immediately stocked at the break of season.

The target audience was sheep producers in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. Outcomes will also have relevance to producers in the sheep/wheat belt of WA and other regions which experience a significant feed gap and would normally hand feed their sheep through this period. We have shared learnings from the project with groups such as MLA, Western Australia Livestock Research Council (WALRC) and other grower groups to expand the reach of project findings to sheep producers in other regions.



By the completion of the project, in the southern coastal region of Western Australia:  

  1. 6 site hosts will have demonstrated successful confinement feeding of a portion of their flock by  

    • Having pregnant ewes leave confinement in a suitable condition score for their pregnancy status (Condition Score- 3 for singles, 3.5 for twins and 3 for dries)  

    • Increased pasture production by deferring grazing through confinement feeding of stock, the amount of which will be seasonally dependent.  

  2. Carry out three workshops across the two years for core producer group members to discuss nutrition, economics, experiences and feedback.   

  3. Host a minimum of one open field trip to a confinement feeding PDS site, in addition to two site visits for core producer group members to showcase the sites and encourage peer to peer learning and discussions.  

  4. 6 site hosts will have a nutritional and economic analysis performed on their ration.  

  5. 10 out of 10 members of a core producer group will report an increase in confidence, knowledge and skills relating to confinement feeding practices due to workshops, field days and peer to peer learning.   

  6. 70% of observer producers will have improved their knowledge of and confidence in the benefits and strategies around confinement feeding.  


Late winter breaks are becoming more frequent in the Albany region of Western Australia, and stubbles are depleted before the next growing season starts. As such, livestock producers identify there is importance in providing feed for livestock in late autumn and immediately after the season break.  

Confinement feeding has allowed producers to maintain ewe condition score by reducing energy expenditure and allowed pasture growth to be maximized. From this project, economically, whole farm programs have been proven to be benefited when sheep are confined before and during the break of season. Over two years, a core group of eleven producers was established, of which six hosted confinement feeding producer demonstration sites (PDSs).  

Producer hHosts worked with Stirlings to Coast Farmers to closely record costs, measure pasture growth and monitor each individual confinement feeding system to establish whether confinement feeding was economically beneficial. Confinement feeding was profitable in all six cases, varying from $6,500 to $25,300 profit in the year it was implemented, analysis not including any infrastructure costs.  

The project showed that confinement feeding benefits our industry in many ways; the cropping enterprise, as confinement allows cropping paddocks to be destocked earlier, the livestock enterprise, as confinement allows stock to be monitored more closely and hence managed more optimally, and paddock groundcover can be maintained, reducing erosion, and maximising rain infiltration. 

The project is now complete, with the final report being published in the near future. The final report will be accessible on this page once published.  

Key findings

The key findings from the project have been broken up into various subcategories outlined below:

The demonstration site outcomes

  • The economic value of confinement feeding is significantly linked to autumn and winter growing conditions.
  • Confinement feeding was profitable in all six cases.
  • Pasture deferment makes up >95% of the economic value of confinement feeding.
  • Confinement feeding before the break of season is less profitable because pasture is not being deferred.
  • The value of confinement feeding for a producer’s enterprise is primarily due to reduced labour and costs of supplementary feeding, reduced supplement waste, increased energy efficiency of stock and importantly, increased pasture production due to deferring.
  • The project showcased a variation of vastly different confinement feeding set-ups which all proved to be profitable.

Cost benefit analysis and/or economic evaluation

  • All six confinement feeding systems proved to be economically beneficial to the producer’s farming enterprise.
  • The gross margin increase of all six PDS’s varied between $6,585 to $25,300 per year.
  • Pasture deferment value of the six hosts ranged from $19,034 to $126,797 per year.
  • Supplementary feed costs varied from $0.00 to $102,300 per year.
  • The economic value of confinement feeding varies due to external market and climate conditions, and internal management practices including: time of lambing, stocking rate, pasture area, grazing management prior to adopting confinement feeding, confinement set up and confinement period.

On average, core and observer producers increased their knowledge, skills and confidence in implementing confinement feeding. With 100% of survey respondents indicating they would recommend participating in a PDS to other producers. 

Benefits to industry

The PDS results prove that confinement feeding can benefit our industry in many ways.

  1. Even though many producers have varied confinement feeding systems/sets-ups and producer strategies, confinement feeding can continue to pay off.
  2. Confinement feeding allows sheep condition and feed intake to be closely monitored, with better ease and time management across various producer systems.
  3. Grazing pressures for farmers are decreased when confinement systems are put into place.
  4. Confinement feeding increases flexibility to cropping operations for mixed enterprise farmers.
  5. Confinement feeding has the ability to either maintain or increase ewe survival and thrift.

MLA action

MLA continues to deliver the Producer Demonstration Site (PDS) program, supporting livestock producers working in peer-to-peer groups to pursue new skills, knowledge and management practices applicable to their own commercial livestock production systems.

Future research

This PDS found that further recording of actual liveweight data of sheep in confinement compared to sheep not in confinement could help further demonstrate the economic benefits of confinement feeding. In this PDS project, liveweight data was not collected; only an average condition score was obtained for those in confinement. It was assumed that the stock that was not confined following the same condition score gains as those in confinement. However, this was not measured as liveweight in either group of stock.

Get involved

To find out more contact:

Lizzie von Perger