Confinement feeding is a drought feeding practice that aims to promote animal health and welfare while preserving ground cover and land condition across the majority of the property. This is achieved by confining livestock to a small area where they are fed a total ration.
Successful confinement feeding relies on good site selection, an appropriate mob size and stocking density, and the provision of appropriate nutrition.
Confinement feeding typically applies to sheep.
When selecting a site for confinement feeding, there are several important factors that must be considered:
- The site should be conveniently located near yards, silos, water and residence so as to minimise labour ,but far enough from the residence so as not to place an unnecessary burden (physical and emotional) on the occupants.
- The yards should be sited far enough away from waterways to prevent pollution from run-off.
- A slope of 3-4% is recommended to aid run-off but prevent erosion.
- The yards should be sited on a soil type, such as clay, that will compact rather than pulverise so that dust is minimised.
- Existing shade should be incorporated in the design if possible (trees within the enclosure must be protected from ringbarking).
Mob size and stocking density
Stocking density is a compromise between allowing livestock enough space to be comfortable, but not too much space so that excessive land is degraded and livestock lose condition by pacing. While the appropriate density depends on the livestock class, about five m2 is recommended for dry adult sheep.
Mob size is better kept as small as possible without adding unnecessarily to infrastructure requirements and labour. Mobs of 200-500 head are recommended, however, this will vary depending on livestock class. A sick pen should be maintained to allow shy feeders and poorer animals to receive additional attention.
Self-feeders can also be used.
Feed troughs are required to minimise wastage and animal health issues associated with grazing close to the ground.
The design of the feed troughs should prevent sheep from fouling the feed and provide sufficient space for each animal to access feed - approximately 15-20m of double-sided trough per 100 sheep. Consideration should also be given to how the troughs will be filled around the sheep in the yard. Troughs can be designed to be filled from outside the pen or sheep can be excluded from the trough area while the troughs are filled.
One of the main limitations of feeding animals through a drought is the availability of good quality water. If water is a limiting factor, calculating the total water available and the total water required by livestock will help determine how many livestock can be carried and for how long.
Water should be supplied through troughs, not dams which become boggy and dangerous, and sufficient trough space should be provided for all sheep to water readily.
Feeding in confinement involves the provision of a full ration. This means that the sheep's total requirement for energy, protein, roughage and minerals must be met. Grain, supplemented with some hay, is often the most affordable way to satisfy this requirement during drought. Mineral supplements may also be required depending on the type of livestock being fed.
The amount of feed fed should at a minimum maintain the livestock condition. A selection of livestock may be drafted and weighed on a regular basis to ensure the maintenance of condition.
The reintroduction of sheep to pasture after confinement feeding must be managed carefully to prevent rumen disruption and animal health conditions such as pulpy kidney.
Other issues of livestock management must be carefully considered and planned for when feeding in consignment including:
- Whether to join - joining in confinement presents issues and may result in lambing in confinement and significantly increased nutritional requirements if the drought is prolonged.
- Whether to mark and mules or defer the procedure - marking and mulesing can be difficult in confinement and lead to additional animal health issues.
- Whether to wean early - weaning early can allow ewes to regain or maintain condition.
- When to shear - dust can be a problem when sheep are fed in confinement and it may be best to salvage wool early to prevent dust damage in long wool.
- The MLA Tips & Tools: Looking after drought pastures and Managing weeds after drought
- Rainfall To Pasture Growth Outlook Tool
- Drought Feeding and Management of Sheep - A guide for farmers and land managers, Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
- Feeding and managing sheep in dry times, Australian Wool Innovation and he Department of Primary Industries and Resources of South Australia.
- Drought Feeding and Management of Beef Cattle - A guide for farmers and land managers, Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
- The Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation have a series of resources relating to the welfare of drought-affected livestock during transport as well as information relating to animal welfare in natural disasters.