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Ruminants inimitably transform the high cellulose biomass of grasses and woody plants produced on rangelands into a dietary source of energy and animal protein for human consumption.
What can be done on production to enhance continuous supply of high quality meat products that have such values?
One of the most successful and widely adopted strategies to favor the thrive of the best performing animals and species is flush feeding, a high protein or high energy dietary regime, which favors reproduction success in small ruminants.
What is flush feeding?
Prior to the breeding season, small female ruminants (does and ewes) are prepared with the intention of successfully increasing the ovulation to increase conception rates.
Approximately 14-17 days before breeding commences, the breeding herd including rams, is fed good quality hay to boost time of ovulating in does and ewes, whilst rams are generally prepared to ensure success during mating.
In precision farming systems, farmers implement this dietary phase, known as flushing, for optimal animal performance. Moreover, it is a common practice that enhances the prolificacy and so the chance of twins or triplets.
Importance of flush feeding
Successful embryo implantation in the early gestation phase is critical and sensitive to flush feeding. Therefore, small stock owners handle the breeding ewes and does with care to ensure high success of implantation, which is followed by good embryo development.
Body condition score (general score of one to five), is a grading tool used in small stock and ranges from extreme emaciation to obese.
Does or ewes with slightly lower body condition score are nutritionally boosted during the phase that precedes reproduction in order to improve their fertility and prolificacy rates.
Does (female goats) and ewes (female sheeps) that are extremely fat or thin, hardly respond to flush feeding, so it is necessary to calibrate nutritional elements properly: do not overfeed or underfeed the does and ewes during this phase. While overly fed rams tend to accumulate excess fat around the scrotum, which limits heat exchange and negatively affects fertility.
Flushing, if carried on correctly, may increase the proportion of females that exhibit estrus and enhances high lambing/kidding percentage.
In rams (male sheep) and bucks (male goat), inclusion of zinc, selenium and Vitamin E in the diets during flush feeding enhances good sperm production.
Fresh pasture, barley, oats, corn, sorghum, millet, wheat and legumes can be included in flushing diets.
Flush feeding should not continue for prolonged time as it increases cost of production for a farmer. Hence, farmers have preset guidelines that govern the different breeding seasons, and in so doing precision farming is practiced.
When done correctly, flush feeding results in an increase in production which is directly proportional to high profit yield.
Adequate spacing during feeding is vital, so as to minimize overfeeding and the goal of flushing is not achieved as one group consumes more than the other.
In summary, the practice of flush feeding is a good management tool which heightens success in conception in small ruminants.