Prospects for using nonconventional feeds in diets for Awassi dairy sheep in Syria
Hilali, Muhi El-Dine
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High feed costs are major obstacles for resource-poor dairy sheep farmers in West Asia, along with large fluctuation in grain and straw prices. Farmers need low-cost diets using locally available feeds that can provide sufficient milk of good quality. Two experimental trials were conducted on Awassi milking ewes to evaluate nonconventional and balanced low-cost diets against the traditional unbalanced diet used by farmers (control) on the total yields (milk, fat, protein, and total solids) and milk composition (fat, protein, total solids, and lactose), an important indicator of milk quality. The first trial was conducted at the research station of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA, Aleppo, Syria) to test 6 low-cost balanced diets using locally available feeds and agro byproducts against the control diet. Each diet was tested on 8 ewes that were kept on pasture as a basal diet, but received different supplements, including barley, wheat bran and nonconventional feeds (urea-treated wheat straw, molasses, sugar beet pulp, and cotton seed cake). Five balanced diets enhanced the total yields of milk, fat, protein, and total solids, in 2 cases, significantly. These diets increased total milk yield by 17.7 to 50.2% and decreased supplement feeding costs by 43% compared with the control. However, milk composition remained unaffected. The second trial was conducted on 3 different farms in northern Syria to assess in each farm a low-cost balanced diet on milking ewes (n = 15) in comparison to the farmer's control (n = 15). The balanced diet was a modification requested by farmers of the best performing diet in the on-station trial. Confirming the first trial's research results, the balanced diet outperformed the control in total yields; for instance, it increased total milk yield by 28 to 40% and raised net income by 30%, without affecting milk composition. Both trials showed that using locally available nonconventional feedstuffs, such as molasses, integrated into balanced dairy sheep diets can decrease feed costs of resource-poor farmers, while enhancing total yields of milk and milk constituents without compromising milk quality components. This will greatly improve the profitability of dairy sheep production in dry areas.