As ruminants, sheep are naturally suited to being raised on mixed pasture. In some domestic settings, it is desirable to feed a richer quality of nourishments for greater milk or meat production, but even in these settings, forage should make up a great percentage of your sheeps’ diet throughout most of the year.
Unfortunately, you cannot always count on grass as the main source of your flock’s nourishment. Even if you have plenty of pasture space, grass is a seasonal plant. In most locations, you can only count on having it in abundance through the spring and summer and into the early autumn. Read on to learn more about what to feed sheep in winter.
What You'll Learn Today
What Can Sheep Eat In The Winter?
The quality of grass your pasture produces will depend a great deal on the type of grass you have planted, the quality of your soil and your climate. A good, healthy crop of grass may be able to continue feeding your sheep to some extent into the winter months.
Even in areas where fairly deep snow is the norm, sheep can quite a bit of benefit from thick, healthy grass by digging into the snow.
Of course, light, fluffy snow will present far fewer challenges to hungry sheep than thick snow drifts, but sheep who are accustomed to these circumstances will cope. Of course, if the snow turns to ice, the sheep will not be able to access the underlying grass.
It’s also important to understand that the dormant grass in winter will not benefit your sheep as much as the actively growing grass in summer. The grass is not as nourishing, and the sheep will have to work harder to get it, so they’ll burn more calories.
For this reason, even if your sheep are able to get some grass in the winter, they may also need supplementation with hay and other sources of nourishment.
Apparently, some people feed their sheep gigantic sugar beets in the winter!
What Do We Feed Our Sheep In Winter?
Many farmers supplement their sheeps’ diet with stored produce, such as squash and pumpkins. If you have oak trees on your property, your sheep are sure to enjoy the acorns. If you are unsure if there is anything that your sheep should avoid, read this post about what not to feed sheep.
What’s The Best Way To Feed Sheep Hay In The Winter?
Before winter begins, it’s a good idea to stock up on plenty of average and/or good quality hay. For the most part, sheep don’t do well on very rich hay (e.g. alfalfa) unless they are recovering from an illness or are pregnant or lactating.
Otherwise, providing plenty of fresh, clean, good quality hay, kept up off the ground in a manger is a good way to feed your flock.
If you do have pregnant ewes in winter, supplement their feeding with about 4lbs of very high quality grass or alfalfa hay a day during the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. During the last 4 weeks add a pound of corn to that ration.
When the lambs are born, increase the hay to 5 pounds daily and switch out the corn for a 15% crude protein sheep feed.
Grazing Livestock In The Winter
Sheep Always Need Water & Mineral Supplementation!
If you live in an area that receives consistent snow, your sheep will learn to eat the snow when they dig for grass.
Generally speaking, in an area that always has a good layer of soft, clean snow on the ground in the wintertime, sheep will have plenty of water; however, pregnant and lactating ewes should also be presented with buckets of warm water to drink in the winter as well.
Keep in mind that, even though sheep will learn to eat snow and can get enough hydration from snow, they prefer to drink water than eat snow. If it is fairly easy for you to provide them with non-frozen water, they will appreciate it.
In addition to fresh water, be sure that your sheep have free access to salt and mineral supplements in block or loose form at all times. Take care not to feed supplements intended for goats because these contain too much copper and can be toxic to sheep.
Comfortable Sheep Are Productive Sheep
Whether you are raising your sheep for meat, milk, wool or all three, remember that stress and discomfort have a negative impact on production.
It takes a bit more work to feed and care for your sheep in the winter, but keeping them comfortable and well fed through the cold winter months will pay off in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have mild winters, ample pasture and very good grass production, and your grass is not covered by snow, you may be able to get by allowing your sheep to graze on dry grass in the winter, but they will always be best off with free access to good quality hay.
Throughout pregnancy, a ewe should receive four pounds of mixed grass and alfalfa hay daily. During the last month, add a pound of corn to her feed.
After lambing, increase the amount of hay to five pounds daily and add a couple of pounds of high protein (15%) grain to her daily feed.
You should always place hay in feeders to prevent spoilage and waste. Feeders help slow down eating and keep sheep busy and occupied, as well. For more warmth in winter, spread a thick layer of straw or shavings on the floor of the shed, stalls or barn. (Note that straw is a better bedding choice for keeping wool clean.)
Free access to fresh water is always important. Sheep will not get enough water from snow in the winter, so it is essential to have fresh, unfrozen water on hand for them at all times. Invest in a heated waterer to keep a usable water supply constantly available.