Sheep are some of the most important animals on the planet because their products are used for food and clothing manufacturing. These soft and adorable animals are kept as livestock all over the world and many choose to keep sheep as pets because they can be so friendly.
There are over 200 sheep species or breeds and these different species are bred to serve different purposes. Short hair sheep breeds are kept for their meat and milk while others like wooly sheep in cooler climates are kept for their wool, meat, and milk.
Being herbivores, sheep only consume plant matter. These mammals have a complex digestive system that comprises of four stomach chambers. Food in stems, leaves, and seeds are broken down in these different chambers so sheep can absorb nutrients from these foods.
When sheep feed, their stomach chambers will process the food via different methods. For example; in one chamber, food is fermented, food can also be regurgitated for chewing and some food types will bypass certain chambers like the rumen altogether. Eventually, all foods are collected in the abomasum chamber where these foods enjoy final digestion before being passed by intestines.
With such a complex digestive system, sheep cannot consume just about any food. They rely on the right type of foods in the right quantities to maintain their health. Here is a quick look at the main food types of sheep;
Natural pasture grass is the most important food supply for sheep. The tongue and teeth of a sheep are designed to graze on short grass and they tend to avoid tall and woody plants that goats prefer. They love to select only certain parts of plants that are easier to digest or that are higher in nutrients. They will consume just about any variety of grass but do prefer natural varieties.
Sheep can also feed off different types of plants. They usually prefer short and softer plant types like legumes, forbs and other types of pasture plants. These plants are high in nutrients and can be a helpful food source when pasture grass levels are low. Sheep may also prefer some broad-leaf plants like forbs over natural pasture grass.
Many sheepherders collect, dry out and store feed for their sheep so there will be food available to them in dry seasons. Hay, Silage, balage, green chop, crop, and other by-products are terrific sheep feed and these foods can last a long time in storage.
Some crop farms will offer by-products to sheep as feed. By-products like soybean hulls, peanut hulls, corn gluten feed, wheat middlings and whole cotton seeds are often offered ad by-product feed to sheep.These food sources are especially used in dry seasons.
Distilling companies also use their distiller’s by-products like grains to feed sheep. This is a good way to prevent food wastage and it can be a very affordable and economical feed for sheep, especially during harsh seasons.
Sheep with higher nutrient needs are often fed on grains. Sheepherders choose to offer these and other supplements when sheep ewes are pregnant, nursing two or more lambs or when a sheep is recovering from an illness. They can also choose to offer supplements in time of need.
It is important to consult with a vet before adding supplements to your sheep’s water and especially before offering grains. Consuming too much gain will cause sheep to swell and serious health conditions can be triggered.
You should always offer your sheep lots of freshwaters, especially if these animals are kept in enclosures. When sheep become too dehydrated, their saliva production decreases and they are unable to digest foods correctly. Lots of fresh water keeps your sheep happy and healthy.
Sheep will occasionally try odd plants and objects as they graze. Young sheep will attempt to chew odd objects and they will even give dangerous items like plastics a try. It is important to keep your grazing pastures pollution-free to help protect your sheep from these contaminants.
Tame sheep or domesticated sheep are also very likely to grow a liking to many human foods. They will especially grow a liking to corn or wheat foods like porridge, bread, cake or rusks. These human foods often contain lots of unhealthy ingredients like salt and sugar that isn’t ideal for a sheep’s digestive system and should be greatly limited.
Natural sheep feed and by-products are the best food for your pet.
Sheep also love to enjoy fruits and vegetables like carrots, apples, grapes, lettuce, oats, and many other foods. These foods are healthy supplements that you can offer in limited quantities and are a much better alternative to human foods.
Sheep feeding schedules may vary depending on the season, their living conditions and the age of the sheep. It is important for farmers to pay attention to the environment and to offer supplementary feeds in times of need. It is also important to offer the right type of feed at the right growth stage.
Typically, sheep will graze for 7 hours of the day. They prefer to graze in the early morning and again at dusk and will choose to rest when the sun is at its hottest.
When sheep are kept in enclosures, you should offer feeding grounds. Self-feeders are very handy for reducing labor. You simply put out suitable foods and sheep will consume these without encouragement.
Many farmers also choose to offer lick feeders to add more supplements to their diet. These feeders are also very easy to offer. They are simply left on the grounds in addition to self-feeders and sheep will lick away whenever their bodies crave extra supplements.
Adult sheep – A sheep consumes 2.5 – 3% of their body weight every day. A 40kg sheep will consume 1 – 1.2kg feed per day. This feed should include grass and grain depending on the season. In spring, natural pasture has lots of minerals where dry foods can contain fewer minerals meaning you need to offer more supplementary grain feeds in winter.
Baby sheep – Sheep lambs require colostrum right after birth to encourage healthy growth. For the first seven days of their life, they will consume only milk from their mothers. If a sheep lamb is orphaned, the owner needs to ensure that the lamb receives the right amount of milk every day. For the first three weeks, a lamb requires 600ml of cow’s milk.
Young lambs – From seven days old, sheep lambs will start to graze with their mothers. At this point, it is important to offer feed in addition to milk. As the lamb gets older, he or she will increase food from grazing and sheep can be weaned at 6 – 8 months.
Baby sheep or sheep lambs have different nutritional needs depending on their age. Here is a quick look at the feeding requirements of lambs;
First 3 days – At this point, the lamb needs colostrum, that first bit of mothers milk. If a lamb is orphaned, owners can add one egg, 5ml cod liver oil, and 10g sugar to 750ml cow’s milk to give the lamb the needed boost.
3 – 7 days – At this point, the lamb will only feed off its mother. Orphaned lambs should enjoy at least 600ml cow’s milk per day.
7 days – 8 months – Lambs start grazing as early as 7 days of age. At first, they will nibble at small pieces of grass or grain. Lambs can consume any food types as adult sheep but will require smaller and softer foods at this stage as well as milk.
Wild sheep can only consume the foods they find in nature. They mainly live off natural pasture grass as well as other plant species. Sheep farmers that keep their sheep on pastures will choose to offer additional feed such as hay or grains in harsh conditions.
Sheep need daily pasture grass or hay to grow healthy and strong. But they also love to consume healthy treats like fruits and veggies.
You can offer your pet sheep or herd of sheep apples, carrots, celery, grapes, lettuce, oats, pears, pumpkins, squash, sunflower seeds or watermelon as a treat or to boost their nutritional intake.
Many common plant foods are not too healthy for sheep at all. Grains, for example, can be offered as supplementary feed but these foods should be offered in limited quantities because it can cause obesity. Some trees and leaves are also toxic to sheep.
To keep your sheep healthy it is best to avoid foods like animal products, avocado, azaleas, bracken ferns, buttercups, cassava, cherries, plums, chocolate, foxglove, kale, hemlock, holly trees, lilacs, lilies, oleander, poppies, potatoes, and other foods.
It is ok to offer bread in small doses. Bread is made of grains which can help boost sheep in harsh conditions. But these foods also contain lots of fats that can result in obesity. Sheep can also be very fond of bread and are very likely to overeat when they are offered these foods.
Sheep are some of the most important livestock species in the world. They offer many uses and they do make brilliant pets. The right care and foods are important to keep your sheep healthy and strong so you can continue to get the most out of these precious animals.