As with all other animals, the health of sheep stands and falls with the right feeding. Sheep are ruminants and therefore bring some special requirements. Since they are now becoming increasingly popular with private owners, here are some important tips that you should consider when feeding sheep.
The digestive system of the sheep and its peculiarities.
Sheep, like cows, are ruminants and have four different stomachs. Originally, they were once steppe animals and spent many hours grazing. The gastrointestinal tract is still geared to this way of eating, which is why you should pay particular attention to the sheep’s ability to chew hay and grass on a permanent basis when feeding them. How exactly the feeding looks, depends individually on the attitude. However, sheep should not be kept on meadows that are too rich – or very green. Due to the high protein content and the lack of coarse cell structures, the feed is transported through the gastrointestinal tract too quickly. As a result, diarrhea can occur, because the feed could not be extracted the liquid in the intestine. When choosing the right pasture, attention should be paid accordingly to a mixture of clover, grass and herbs.
What do sheep eat? – Feeding sheep according to their needs
Not every sheep makes the same demands on feed. In particular, pregnant or lactating ewes need hay and grass, which is very rich in nutrients, while more robust breeds of sheep are more likely to cope with lean pastures. However, sheep should also not be on pastures that are too lean or even bare. Otherwise, they may become deficient in cobalt, which is manifested by tear stains on the eyes. If the meadows are too bare, it is therefore unavoidable to feed roughage. As a general rule, sheep need rather coarse-fibered forage. In addition to hay and grass, straw is therefore also suitable for feeding. You can offer this to the sheep in a feeding trough or a hayrack. Sheep also like silage, but it should only be fed in moderation due to its high energy and protein content. You should make sure that both the hay and the straw are of very good quality.
The feeding of young sheep and lambs.
Lambs are basically fed with rearing milk. As the animals get older, they depend on roughage with plenty of structure. They need this to develop their rumen accordingly. It is easiest if you keep sheep with the same feeding requirements together, as you can feed them according to your requirements.
Do sheep need supplemental feed?
Whether or not you feed concentrate is up to you, but for sheep that are neither pregnant nor lactating, it is generally not necessary and may even be counterproductive. If concentrates are fed, care should be taken to ensure that the sheep do not eat too greedily. If the feed is not chewed extensively, esophageal obstruction may result. If the concentrate ration is too high, this may lead to acidosis of the stomach. A mineral lick is essential, but you should make sure it is specifically for sheep. The same applies to the concentrated feed. It is advisable to use feed or licks made specifically for sheep. Some breeds of sheep require very little copper and can get copper poisoning very quickly.
Fruit, bread and vegetables in sheep
Like many animals, sheep like small treats in between meals. In principle, there is nothing wrong with giving your sheep an apple or some bread. Bread or rolls should only be fed when dry. They have no added value for sheep, but are readily taken as treats. Fruits and vegetables, such as apples, carrots or beet, are readily eaten by sheep. The same applies to potatoes or potato peelings. However, moderation is needed with these feeds, as sheep only need grass and hay for good nutrition, although they will gladly accept unhealthy treats. If you’d like to offer your sheep some variety, nibbles and leaves or leaf hay are a more sensible alternative.
What should sheep not eat?
There are plants that sheep are not allowed to eat. And these are not few. However, not all poisonous plants are equally poisonous. How toxic the plants are to individual sheep as sheep feed depends on the amount ingested. With some plants, symptoms of poisoning appear only after the animals have eaten large quantities; with others, a small amount is sufficient.
With general precautions you can avoid that your animals get poisoned:
Make sure that the sheep have enough food on the pasture! Boundary ditches and depressions! Make sure that your pastures are mowed! Direct the management of the pastures to dense scars! In this way you will prevent the invasion of other species.
What ingredients make herbs toxic to sheep?
Glycosides: z. E.g. bracken, foxglove species, sweet clover, buttercups, marsh marigold, meadowfoam.
Alkaloids: z. E.g., ragwort, hemlock species, marsh horsetail, meadow saffron, yew, spindle tree
Tannins: Tannins strengthen the cell wall. They have a toxic effect only in high doses.
What are the poisonous plants in moist to wet meadows and pastures?
- Autumn crocus
- Marsh horsetail
- Water hemlock
- Poison buttercup
- Marsh marigold
Autumn crocus, marsh horsetail, and water hemlock are especially toxic to your sheep.
What are the poisonous plants of fresh to dry meadows and pastures and roadsides?
- Spotted hemlock
- Spring ragwort
- Cypress spurge
- Black nightshade
- Sweet clover
- St. John’s wort
- Giant hogweed
The most toxic to sheep are spotted hemlock and ragwort.
Which woody plants are poisonous?
Of the woody plants, for example, the yew, the spindle tree, the English oak and the broom are poisonous. Yew is the most poisonous of the listed woody plants.
Which plants are poisonous on forest meadows?
In woodland meadows, bracken and foxglove in particular are dangerous to your sheep.
IMPORTANT: Our lists of poisonous plants do not claim to be complete!
NOTE: The sheep do not only absorb the toxins through the fresh plants. The hay and silage can also be contaminated with poisonous plants.
Why are sheep prone to copper poisoning?
Copper is also a vital trace element for sheep. However, the animals are very sensitive to excessive copper intake. The reason for this is that sheep excrete copper only in very small amounts through the bile. When the storage capacity of the liver is exhausted, they suddenly release a lot of copper. This often happens during stressful situations. The red blood cells dissolve, the vessels are damaged and the transport of oxygen is prevented. The affected animal soon dies.
How to prevent copper poisoning in sheep.
Be careful when using copper-containing worming or mildew remedies! Do not feed milk replacers, mineral mixtures and feeds that are not approved for sheep! Be careful when using fruit tree sprays! The soil then contains a lot of copper, which is transferred to the plants growing there. Be careful when you apply pig slurry as manure on sheep pastures!
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