Daily Diet, Treats, & Supplements for Sheep
Daily Food for Sheep
Pasture or Hay
A healthy sheep needs to eat approximately .03 pounds of grass or hay per pound of their bodyweight each day, with more food potentially necessary if they are health compromised, very young or old, a new mother, or during colder seasons. The best food for sheep comes in the form of high-quality pasture, especially mixed grasses and clover varieties. Before letting sheep loose in their pasture, ensure that it has been thoroughly checked for toxic plants first! Some sheep will prefer to eat more interesting plant life like weeds before deciding to munch on the pasture. Your pasture should be divided up and their use rotated throughout the season to give the foliage time to regenerate and lower the chances of parasites from spreading in the pasture and infecting your residents. This is especially important with sheep, who eat pasture so close to the ground that they can defoliate an overused pasture quite quickly!
Lacking adequate pasture, you should feed sheep high quality sheep-approved hay, like timothy. Keep in mind that sheep will likely avoid eating any hay that has been trampled underfoot, so if you are primarily feeding sheep with baled hay, it’s best to utilize a sheep-friendly hay feeder that will keep their living spaces cleaner and limit waste. Avoid designs optimized for other animals such as horse feeders as sheep can get their heads stuck in them. These designs often have tapered vertical bars that have wider gaps towards the top that narrow at the bottom. A sheep may fit their entire head in the gap at its widest point but then become trapped when they bring their head closer to the ground. While this tends to be more of an issue for goats, who are more likely than sheep to stand up on their hind legs to eat, these feeders still pose a risk to sheep, so it’s best to avoid them. We’ve heard devastating stories of goats dying as a result of getting stuck in these feeders- either from strangulation or breaking their neck trying to free themselves- so we recommend using a safer type of hay feeder for both sheep and goats.
Sheep need to eat approximately a pound of fiber each day. If they aren’t getting enough from the food they eat, they may try to get it from other sources such as nibbling on wood or potentially the wool of fellow sheep.
Limit or Avoid These
Alfalfa pastures should not be used generally for sheep feeding as its high calcium and protein content can cause health issues like obesity and urinary calculi. Urinary blockages are especially dangerous in castrated male sheep, and therefore it is best to avoid feeding alfalfa to them. Alfalfa should only be fed to babies or females who are pregnant, recovering from an illness, or struggling to keep weight on.
Grain (and formulated sheep food from farm supply stores) should be highly limited on a sheep’s menu. It is extremely high in fat and can easily cause obesity and painful and dangerous urinary calculi in sheep. It can also cause laminitis. Grain should only be offered to sheep who need the extra nutrition due to weight loss or illness on the recommendation of a veterinarian, but there are alternatives that can do the trick without the risk; healthier options for supplemental feeding includes soaked timothy hay pellets or beet pulp. Incredibly young sheep, nursing mothers, and sheep who are significantly underweight can have their protein supplemented with protein blocks or with a soybean or sunflower meal rather than using grain. If you do offer grain to sheep, talk to your veterinarian about ammonium chloride supplementation to prevent struvite calculi. And if you opt to feed sheep a premixed diet, ensure that it is safe for sheep to eat, as fortified goat food may contain too much copper for a sheep to safely consume.
Water for Sheep
Like every sanctuary resident, sheep require a clean, freely accessible water supply. The average sheep drinks 1-2 gallons of water each day. Automatic watering systems with thermostats for automated heating are a good option to minimize spilling and keep the sheep well-hydrated in freezing conditions.
Sheep require more water in the hot season, when pregnant (requiring up to 4 gallons a day of water!), and when eating hay rather than grass.