Sunn Hemp, Sheep and Goats
Sunn Hemp has been used in other countries for goat production for many years. Our research at Petcher Seeds and on many goat ranches has continued to prove that goats and sheep thrive on sunn hemp. We would like to especially thank Bob and Marilyn Seleska with the Southeast Kiko Association and its many members for continuing to spread the use of sunn hemp for sheep and goats.
Why goats thrive on sunn hemp
First of all the leaves of the plant are over 30 percent Nitrogen. This boost in protein results in phenomenal herd health. At present there are no known toxins in sunn hemp that reduce parasites in goats. However, the fact that the goats will be mostly upward browsing has another dynamic effect on the herd as they will be ingesting few, if no worm eggs. The plant grows straight up, with leaves coming off the main stem. It is very important to let the sunn hemp achieve at least 32 inches, preferably 40 inches in height, before allowing the goats to graze. This typically will be around 45 days after planting. This allows time for the main stem to become a bit steamy and then the goats will eat just the leaves. If the stems are mowed below 12 inches, the sunn hemp may die instead of producing fast regrowth. If the sunn hemp is too tall, six feet or more, the goats may walk the plant down to eat the leaves and this usually kills the plants. So control grazing is a must if you only have a small patch of sunn hemp. Allowing the herd to graze for one hour per day is ample. If unable to control graze everyday, allowing the herd to graze at least once every four days will produce dynamic herd health.
In 2010, “Sunn Hemp as a Summer Forage for Goats” research test was conducted in Southwest Alabama. An 80-head goat herd was control grazed on sunn hemp with no wormer or medication for the entire summer. At a second location ten miles away, a 100-head goat herd was managed on full feed, wormer and medication for the entire summer. Both herds had access to bahia grass pasture and woodland for forage. In South Alabama, goats typically do not survive the summer unless they are wormed. In late September fecal samples were taken: The goats on sunn hemp had very few worm eggs present. Each goat had gained 10 - 20 lbs. over the summer. The kidding rate of each doe doubled from 1.2 kids in 2009 to 2.1 kids per doe in the fall of 2010. Documentation and observations from two veterinarians proclaimed the goat herd on sunn hemp to out perform the goat herd on full feed but no sunn hemp.
Synchronizing Goat Breeding with Sunn Hemp
For the second year now we at Petcher Seeds have grazed goats on Sunn Hemp. Thirty-five does and three bucks were control grazed on Sunn Hemp starting June 1, 2012. On June 10 the does became receptive and, starting 146 days later, every doe gave birth within the next 10 days. A total of 65 kids were born at this time. The birthing rate was 1.9 kids per doe. The birthing period, covering only a 10-day span, greatly reduced our labor and stress of the kidding season. It will also help in having the herd of weaning kids ready for market at the same time.