What Not To Feed Sheep {7 Things To Avoid}

Sheep are pretty easy to feed. They do best on open pasture with fresh forage and hay. Unfortunately, many modern day shepherds have problems with limited grazing facilities. This can lead to dietary mishaps. In this article, we review what not to feed sheep. Read on to learn more.

Things To Avoid When Feeding Sheep

sheep feeding tips

1. Keep litter picked up

A cluttered barn or sheep yard is a dangerous barn or sheep yard. One of the worst things your sheep can eat is the string that often holds a bale of hay together. Be sure to pick up and dispose of all string properly. This also applies to feed bags, plastic bags and any other little thing a curious, bored sheep might pick up, chew and swallow.

2. Alfalfa is generally too rich for sheep

Although you might occasionally feed alfalfa hay or provide turnout on an alfalfa pasture for pregnant or nursing ewes and their babies or sheep recovering from illness, generally speaking alfalfa has too much protein and calcium for sheep. Ongoing feeding of alfalfa can cause obesity, urinary blockage and kidney stones. Alfalfa hay leads to waste.

Buying The Right Feed For Your Sheep

3. Grain is generally too rich for sheep

Even though you will find sheep grain formulas at your local feed store, you should use these sparingly, if at all. Like alfalfa, grain mixtures are just too high in protein and fat to be used on a regular, ongoing basis. Consistent feeding of grain can cause obesity, kidney stones and laminitis.

If you need to provide more nutrition for your sheep, try timothy pellets and/or beet pulp. Note that both of these must be soaked in warm water for at least half an hour before presenting.

4. Rich pasture can cause bloating

Sheep allowed to graze freely of fresh, rich pasture in the springtime may experience problems with bloating, which is actually a very serious condition requiring emergency veterinary attention.

Clover or alfalfa pasture, or pasture containing unfamiliar plants can also cause this problem, especially if the foliage is wet from rain or dew. Always limit browsing time when pasture is especially rich and wet.

5. Mineral supplements formulated for other animals can kill sheep

While it is very important to supply your sheep with a good quality mineral supplement on a regular, ongoing basis, be sure that the supplement you choose is sheep safe. Supplements formulated for other animals may contain minerals that are toxic to sheep. This is especially true of minerals formulated for goats, which contain copper.

6. Human foods and non-forage foods can kill sheep

Here is a list of human foods you should never give your sheep:

  • Dairy products
  • Tomatoes
  • Chocolate
  • Potatoes
  • Avocado
  • Turnips
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Meat
  • Kale

7. Some non-forage and ornamental plants can kill sheep

Ohio State University’s Sheep Team offers some useful information on plants that are poisonous to sheep.

In general, keep your sheep away from these:

  • Ponderosa Pine Trees
  • Lily Of The Valley
  • Red Maple Trees
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Rhododendrons
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Bracken Ferns
  • Chokecherry
  • Nightshades
  • Holly Trees
  • Plum Trees
  • Elderberry
  • Milkweed
  • Buttercup
  • Yew Trees
  • Foxglove
  • Hemlock
  • Oleander
  • Rhubarb
  • Azaleas
  • Cassava
  • Cherry
  • Lilacs
  • Poppy

Final Words

Feeding sheep the right way is very important if your farm relies on the meat or wool production from your sheep stock. Keep the above tips in mind when deciding on what not to feed to your sheep.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

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