Feed Stuffs for Our Sheep

While forages are the most “natural” diet for sheep and lambs and typically the foremost economical, a sheep’s nutritional requirements will be met by feeding a variety of feedstuffs. The rumen could be a very adaptable organ.

Feedstuffs can substitute for each other so long as the sheep’s nutritional needs are being met, dangerous nutritional imbalances aren’t being created, and the health of the rumen isn’t compromised. Feeding programs should take into account animal necessities, feedstuff availability, and prices of nutrients.

Pasture, forbs, and browse

Pasture, vary, forbs, and browse are usually the primary and most economical supply of nutrients for sheep and lambs, and in many cases, all that a sheep desires to fulfill its nutritional necessities. For example, from the time a ewe weans her lambs through her first 15 weeks of pregnancy, forage will probably meet all her nutritional wants.

Pasture is high in energy, protein, and palatability when it’s in a vegetative state. However, it can have a high moisture content when it’s rapidly growing, and sometimes it will be troublesome for prime-manufacturing animals to eat enough grass to fulfill their nutrient necessities. Vegetation with high moisture content can conjointly cause sheep and lambs to possess loose bowels.

As pasture plants mature, their palatability, digestibility, and nutritive worth decline, thus it is vital to rotate and/or clip pastures to stay plants during a vegetative state. Forbs typically have higher digestibility and crude protein levels than grasses at similar stages of maturity.

Sheep are excellent weed eaters and can often choose to eat weeds over grass. Because of their preference for weeds, sheep are usually used to control invasive or noxious weeds, such as leafy spurge, knapweed, and kudzu.


Hay is forage that has been mowed (cut) and cured (dried) to be used as livestock fodder. It’s typically the first supply of nutrients for sheep throughout the winter months or dry season when most forage plants aren’t actively growing. Hay varies tremendously in quality, and while hay quality will be laid low with plant species, quality is decided largely by the maturity of the plants after they were harvested for hay.

Proper harvesting and storage is necessary to take care of nutritional quality of hay. Hay that is stored outside without cover deteriorates rapidly in quality. The only method to know the “true” nutritive value of hay is to own it analyzed at a forage testing laboratory. A list of certified forage testing laboratories will be found at www.foragetesting.org.

Hay could be a moderate supply of protein and energy for sheep and lambs. Whereas good grass

hays sometimes have as a lot of energy as legume hays, legumes have fifty to 75 percent more protein and 3 times as abundant calcium. But, a good quality grass hay can be a better source of nutrients than an occasional or medium-quality legume hay if it’s a lot of digestible.

The vital thing about hay is to feed the correct hay at the correct time. The isn’t any “best” hay. From an economical standpoint, the “best” hay is the hay that provides nutrients at all-time low cost. Palatability is vital to the extent that the a lot of hay sheep refuse the higher cost it will be.

A decent grass hay is usually additional than adequate for ewes during maintenance and in early to mid-gestation. It almost always meets the requirements of mature rams and wethers. A mixed grass-legume hay will be fed to ewes in late gestation to satisfy their requirements for calcium.

At the same time, a pure legume hay ought to be saved for the lactation diet because of its higher level of protein and calcium. On the opposite hand, if a grass hay is fed throughout late gestation or lactation, it may be necessary to supply a further supply of calcium to pregnant ewes and supplemental calcium and protein to lactating ewes.


       Legumes                      Grasses

Bermudagrass Alfalfa
Bromegrass Birdsfoot trefoil
Kentucky bluegrass Cow peas
Native grasses Lespedeza
Orchardgrass Peanut
Reed canarygrass Red clover
Ryegrass Soybean
Tall fescue White clover/Ladino
Timothy Vetch

Ideally, hay should be purchased (or priced) in keeping with weight. A sheep’s nutritional necessities are based on weight not volume and you will not understand what it prices to feed your sheep unless you recognize how several pounds your sheep are eating and what the feed price per pound or ton is. Wastage (or refusal) conjointly factors into the price of hay.

The weight of hay bales (sq., spherical, and large sq.) varies significantly. When hay is purchased by the bale and you do not know what the bales weigh, you’ll be spending a heap additional for hay than you’re thinking that. Most hay auctions sell hay by the ton. If you get hay from a farm, you can ask the farmer to sell you hay by the ton and weigh the load of hay on a grain scale. Otherwise, you ought to weigh some representative bales, then negotiate a per bale value.

Purchasing hay: by the bale (volume) vs. by the ton (weight)

Price per bale Weight of bale Price per ton
$8.00 40 $400.00
$7.00 40 $350.00
$6.00 40 $300.00
$5.50 40 $275.00
$5.00 40 $250.00
$4.50 40 $225.00
$4.00 40 $200.00
$3.50 40 $175.00
$3.00 40 $150.00
$2.75 40 $137.50
$2.50 40 $125.00
$2.25 40 $112.50
$2.00 40 $100.00
$1.75 40 $87.50
$1.50 40 $75.00
$1.25 40 $62.50
$1.00 40 $50.00

If you turn out your own hay, the value to the sheep operation is that the “chance” value of the hay. An opportunity cost is that the value of a resource for its next-highest-worth various. Within the case of hay, this is often sometimes the income you’d receive from the hay if you sold it (less marketing costs).

Silage or Haylage (ensilage)

Silage (or ensilage) may be a generic term for livestock feed that’s produced by the controlled fermentation of high moisture herbage. Silage will be made from forage or grain crops. It has been successfully fed to sheep; however, special attention must be paid to quality, as moldy silage will cause listeriosis or “circling disease.” Listeriosis is an occasional reason for abortion in ewes.

As with fresh forage, the a high-manufacturing animal often cannot consume enough high moisture silage to fulfill its nutritional needs. Silage is usually wolfed large farms, due to the need for storage and automated feeding equipment. It will be a additional economical source of feed than traditional feeds. For small and medium sized flocks, silage baggage make silage feeding a risk. It is turning into a lot of well-liked to feed balage to sheep.

Concentrates (grain)

It’s oftentimes necessary to feed concentrates to supply the nutrients that forage alone cannot give. This is notably true within the case of high-producing animals. There are times and things where concentrates are a a lot of economical supply of nutrients than forages. Creep feeding and supplemental feeding of lambs has been shown to increase weight gains and market acceptability. The economics of supplemental feeding will vary by operation.

Energy feeds

There are 2 sorts of concentrate feeds: carbonaceous and proteinaceous. Carbonaceous concentrates or “energy” feeds are high in total digestible nutrients (TDN), however have a tendency to be low in protein (8-eleven p.c protein). The most common energy feeds are cereal grains: corn, barley, wheat, oats, milo (grain sorghum), and rye.

It is not necessary to method grains (grind, crack, roll, or crimp) for sheep aside from lambs that are less than six weeks old and lack a functioning rumen. In truth, whole grain diets are healthier for the rumen as a result of they require the animal to try to to its own grinding of the feed. Whole, uncooked soybeans may also be fed to sheep.

Whereas cereal grains are the most concentrated supply of energy, they are high in phosphorus and low in calcium. Feeding a diet that is high in phosphorus and low in calcium will cause urinary calculi in wethers and intact males. Inadequate calcium will lead to exploit fever in pregnant or lactating ewes.

Excessive intake of grain or sudden intake of grain will cause various digestive and metabolic issues in sheep and lambs, including enterotoxemia (overeating disease), acidosis (grain overload), feedlot bloat, and polioencephalomalacia. The rumen always wants time to adjust to a higher concentrate diet.

Energy feeds


Feedstuff Percent TDN
Whole cottonseed 91
Wheat middlings 90
Corn grain 89
Wheat grain 89
Milo (grain sorghum) 89
Barley grain 84
Corn gluten feed 83
Ear corn 82
Rye grain 81
Soybean hulls 77
Molasses 75
Beet pulp pellets 74
Oat grain 74

Protein feeds

Proteinaceous concentrates or “protein feeds” contain high levels of protein (over fifteen %) and are sometimes plant-derived. Examples embody soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and fish meal. Ruminant-derived meat and bone meal cannot (by law) be fed to alternative ruminants, as well as sheep.

Protein amount is mostly a lot of important than protein quality (amino acid content) in ruminant livestock as a result of the microorganisms in the rumen manufacture their own body protein. Livestock do not store excess protein; it’s burned as energy or eliminated (as nitrogen) by the kidneys. Overfeeding protein can not typically increase productivity or carcass quality.

Since parasites usually cause blood loss in sheep and lambs, higher levels of protein within the diet enable the animal to mount a greater immune response to parasites, particularly the blood-sucking barber pole worm.


Urea is not a protein supplement, however is a source of nonprotein nitrogen (NPN) that rumen bacteria will use to synthesize protein. NPN should be used solely together with high-energy feeds like corn. Urea, that is forty five p.c nitrogen and has a crude protein equivalent of 281 percent, ought to not provide over one-third of the whole nitrogen in a diet.
Protein feeds


Feedstuff Percent CP
Urea 281*
Fish meal 62
Soybean meal 48
Whole soybeans 42
Cottonseed meal 41
Linseed meal 34
Commercial protein supplement 36-40
Corn gluten feed 26
Poultry litter 26
Distiller’s grains 25
Brewer’s grains 24
Whole cottonseed 21
Alfalfa pellets 17
Lick tubs 16-24

Commercial Feeds

Several feed firms supply “complete” sheep and/or lamb feeds. These are textured (sweet) or processed (pelleted) feed products which are balanced for the wants of livestock of a explicit species, age, and production category. Complete feeds should not be mixed with different grain, as a result of this can “unbalance” them. For example, adding corn to an entire feed will alter the Ca:P ratio and could end in urinary calculi.

Pelleted rations have a bonus in that the animals cannot kind feed ingredients. Sorting can be a downside when animals are on self-feeders and allowed to eat all they need. Pelleted diets are ideal for free choice self-feeding. Complete feeds come in fifty or a hundred lb. sacks and have a tendency to be more expensive than home-created concentrate rations. For tiny producers, inexperienced shepherds, and 4-H members, commercial feeds are typically recommended.

Pelleted Supplements

To help management feed prices, producers will mix their own simple rations by combining varied feed ingredients, such as corn, soybean meal, and minerals. It’s possible to urge business pelleted supplements that contain vitamins and minerals, and high levels of protein (thirty four-forty%). These supplements will easily be combined with whole grains or by-product feeds to create a balanced concentrate ration.

For example, combining four lbs. of corn with one lb. of a 36% protein pellet would end in a sixteenpercent protein ration that includes vitamins and minerals, making it a “complete” ration. This ration would be appropriate for feeding lactating ewes or finishing feeder lambs.

By-product feeds

There are varied by-merchandise that may be fed to sheep and lambs. Most by-products are offered as a result of processing a ancient feed ingredient to come up with another product. For example, corn gluten meal is a by-product of the corn milling method. Soybean hulls are a byproduct of soybean processing for oil and meal.

Wheat middlings are a by-product of the flour milling business. Beet Pulp is that the vegetable matter, that remains once sugar is extracted from sliced sugar beets. Alternative by-product feeds are by-merchandise of the food and beverage industries. For example, brewers grains may be a by-product of the brewing industry. Citrus Pulp is that the dried residue of peel, pulp and seeds of oranges, grapefruit and alternative citrus fruit.

By-product feeds can typically be economical sources of nutrients for sheep; however, they have be analyzed to determine their nutrient content. The high moisture content of some by-product feeds may limit consumption of the diet ensuing in poor animal performance. High water content could additionally build by-product feeds tough to transport and store. By-product feeds are usually incorporated into least price rations or TMR’s (total mixed rations).


Feedstuff Percent CP Percent TDN
Alfalfa pellets 20 61
Beet pulp (dry) 11 75
Citrus pulp (dry) 7 79
Corn gluten feed 22 80
Corn stalks 5 59
Distiller’s grains (dry) 29 90
Ear corn 9 82
Grain screenings 14 65
Kelp (dry) 7 32
Molasses (cane, dry) 9 74
Poultry litter (dry) 25 64
Soybean hulls 12 77
Wheat middlings 19 82
Whole cottonseed 23 95

Vitamins and minerals

Choosing the proper mineral supplement for sheep will be terribly tricky. Sheep require macro and micro (trace) minerals and you would like to grasp what minerals are deficient (or excess) in your area and in your feedstuffs. Mineral supplements vary from trace mineralized salt (TMS) fortified with selenium to finish mineral mixes containing all of the macro and micro minerals needed by sheep.

In general, TMS fortified with selenium is all that’s needed during the spring and summer when sheep are grazing high quality pastures containing a lot of than 20 p.c clover. Complete mineral mixes are recommended when grazing low quality roughages, beginning four weeks before breeding, during breeding, and during late gestation and early lactation.

Studies have clearly shown that selenium supplementation for pregnant ewes via a mineral mix is superior to selenium injections in late gestation. When high grain diets, sure various feeds, or silage are fed to sheep, further calcium is required within the diet.

The most important minerals are calcium, phosphorus, salt (NaCl), and selenium.
Sources of calcium and phosphorus


Source % Calcium % Phosphorus
 Bonemeal 24 12
 Dicalcium Phosphate 25 18.5
 Limestone 38 0
 Sodium Phosphate 0 22
 Alfalfa leaf meal 2.88 0.34
 Dried kelp 2.72 0.31
 Trace mineral mix 14-18 8-10

It has been scientifically proven that animals are unable to work out the proper balance and amount of minerals required when fed free selection. Some animals might consume additional of what they are doing not want, whereas others might not consume enough (or any), even if they are required. It’s thus counseled, that minerals be thoroughly blended with the ration wherever possible to ensure proper supplementation. But if this is not doable, minerals will be mixed with loose salt.

Granular or “loose” styles of minerals are most well-liked to blocks. Blocks are onerous on the teeth and consumption could be less. Mineral feeders ought to be stuffed with contemporary mineral, placed in readily available areas and shielded from the weather. Sporadic feeding of minerals could cause animals to “binge”. Coccidiostats and antibiotics will be incorporated into mineral mixes.

Sheep ought to not be fed commercial feeds and mineral mixes that have been formulated for different animal species as a result of these product contain copper. Sheep cannot tolerate excess copper in their diets. Excess copper is stored in the liver and can cause a toxic reaction, ensuing within the death of the sheep.

Copper nutrition is difficult, involving interactions with alternative minerals. Producers should not provide supplemental copper to their sheep unless a deficiency has been documented via laboratory tests.

Feed Additives

A feed additive may be a compound added to the ration for a purpose other than to produce nutrients. Varied feed additives will be utilised to boost the health and performance of sheep and lambs.


As well as sub-therapeutic antibiotics (40 g/ton in feed) in lamb rations will help to stop enterotoxemia and respiratory disease in feedlot lambs. Antibiotics will be fed to ewes during the last six weeks of gestation to help prevent infectious abortion. Antibiotics are advocated throughout an “abortion storm” to forestall further losses.


Lasalocid (Bovatec®) and Monensin (Rumensin®) are ionophores that may be added to mineral mixes or complete rations. Ionophores improve feed utilization and gain in cattle by altering rumen fermentation. They are conjointly coccidiostats. They kill coccidia, primarily during the sporozoite stage. Lasalocid (Bovatec®) is labeled as a coccidiostat for confined sheep.

Rumensin® is approved to be used in goats and cattle. Its use in sheep should be approved by a veterinarian. Decoquinate (Deccox®) is additionally a coccidiostat. Deccox stops coccidia from growing. In distinction with Bovatec® and Rumensin®, Deccox may be a quinolone. It is safer to use than ionophores, however is more expensive. Bovatec® and Rumensin® will be toxic to equines.

Feeding Bovatec® or Deccox® to ewes prior to lambing might facilitate to reduce the extent of coccidia in the lambing surroundings. Rumensin® fed to ewes during late gestation could help to prevent abortions caused by toxoplasmosis. Alternative potential benefits to ionophores embrace reduced incidences of acidosis and feed heap bloat. Ionophores have additionally been shown to cut back livestock methane production (CH4) and nitrogen leaching.


Probiotics are simply the other of antibiotics. They are living organisms of beneficial bacteria. Probiotics could improve animal performance by keeping livestock healthy and improving their digestion. Several industrial feeds contain probiotics. Milk replacers typically contain probiotics.

Yeast is a probiotic and has been incorporated into livestock rations. Therefore way, there’s little printed knowledge to support an improvement in animal performance as a results of feeding probiotics or similar additives. More analysis is required before their advantages and economics can be validated.

Ammonium chloride is often added to lamb rations to stop urinary calculi (kidney stones). Ammonium chloride will facilitate to acidify the urine. It should be added to the ration at a rate of 0.five to 1.five percent. It can additionally be mixed as a drench and used to treat lambs with early signs of urinary calculi.

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