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Feeding sheep isn’t really complicated. There are a few key things to keep in mind though. Buckle up were going to fly through 20 years of sheep feeding experience in 492 words. If you want more details, join my free group linked below. Let’s go!
First if you’re grazing sheep, keep in mind they prefer broad leaf weeds over grass. Perfect for chemical free pasture weeding. You will however need to have some kind of predator proofing. Sheep are favorite meals for several large predators, like coyotes. We’ll talk more on fencing in a later blog. Another good option is to run some kind of livestock guarding, either a dog, donkey, llama, or combination are the most popular for sheep. Dividing the pasture into small areas or paddocks and then moving them every 2-3 days, best utilize the pasture.
Forage is key for sheep as they are ruminants. Keep in mind when feeding any ruminant, or really any animal (human included), you are actually feeding the bacteria in the gut first. The bacteria then produce much of the nutrients, in the form of volatile fatty acids, in the rumen. The partly digested food, then passes through the rest of the digestive tract, where it is broken down into absorbable compounds.
If you do not have safe pasture for sheep, not all is lost. You can keep sheep in a dry lot. You will need to have forage, usually grass or alfalfa hay. They will need supplements for vitamins and minerals, as those may be lacking in dried hay. One thing with minerals for sheep is you must feed sheep only mineral. Sheep are very easily to give too much copper and become toxic.
Just prior to breeding season it is helpful to give the ewes some grain, such as corn. The nutrient boost helps to prepare them for breeding and ovulate more eggs, giving a greater percentage of twins. You could do this with pasture as well, by giving them access to new growth pasture, which tends to be higher in nutrients.
Sheep are also expert sorters. If you are unsure of what they are eating, watch them for a little bit and you will quickly see what they sort out. Be careful to give adequate nutrition during pregnancy, but not excessive. To many nutrients you will have very big lambs and need to pull or assist in birth. To few nutrients, you will have weak lambs. Sorting ewes by how many lambs they are carrying can be helpful, but not necessary.
After lambing, ewes will need supplementing if you are lambing in the winter months. Ewes have high nutrient requirements as they are lactating. As weaning approaches, you can decrease the grain to help the ewes naturally dry up. In a dry lot setting, make sure you have a creep area for the lambs to have access to grain formulated for their growing bodies. They will eat hay with their mom (alfalfa is best during lactation).
Remember, sheep need forage first. Pasture is ideal, but you can match hay with seasons and ewe cycle, supplementing with grain as needed. Always have access to clean water, that the smallest lamb in the pen can reach, as well.
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