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What Should a Sheep's Diet Consist Of?

Nicks J
Sheep are herbivores and primarily graze on pastures for their survival. Apart from eating pasture and hay, they may also need grains to meet their increased nutritional requirements.

Did You Know?

Sheep were probably the first animals to be domesticated. It is believed that sheep have been domesticated as early as 10,000 BCE.
Sheep are ruminant herbivorous and commonly used for agriculture purposes. They are called ruminants because their digestive system is unique and have a large stomach that is divided into 4 compartments.
The 4-chambered stomach is what makes them efficient at converting grass into milk and wool. This livestock animal gets its nutrients mainly from a varied plant-based diet. Many times, along with plant material, supplemental food is also necessary to maintain their health.

Plant Material

Pasture is a natural source of food for the sheep. It is their primary source of diet from which they derive their nutrition. A pasture, as we know, is an open area or a landscape covered with legumes, grass or a mixture of grass and other species of plants such as weeds.
Although vegetation growing on a pasture is their natural diet, they appear to be less interested in grazing on fescue and the bluegrass variety of grass, which are generally used for home lawns.
It is observed that the sheep seem to have a liking for a coarser type of grass that include the following:

■ Ryegrass
■ Timothy
■ Orchardgrass
■ Reed canarygrass
■ Bromegrass
■ Bermuda-grass
As aforementioned, sheep also graze on legumes that are good sources of dietary fiber and some varieties of legumes also contain a great deal of calcium, iron, magnesium, thiamine, and niacin.
Sheep prefer to eat the following types of legumes:

■ Alfalfa
■ Cow peas
■ Vetch
■ Birdsfoot trefoil
■ Lespedeza
■ Soybean

Forbs - Favorite Food

Although they commonly graze on grass, forbs tops on a sheep's list of favorites. It is herbaceous flowering plant, and sunflower and clover are some of the species of forb plant that the sheep can eat. They simply enjoy grazing on forbs.
Moreover, forbs are an excellent source of proteins and contain other nutrients. So, if you want your sheep to gain weight, you must let it graze on this high-protein food.


Hay is nothing but the dried form of grass and legumes that is cut and chopped. During winter and the hot months, pastures essentially become dormant. So, in this period, sheep are mainly fed hay to meet their nutritional needs.
An adult sheep usually consumes around 3 kg of hay and grass daily. Whereas, lambs, after weaning, usually, have one kg of grain and one kg of grass or hay daily. Apart from hay, one can also feed siliage (fermented green forage) to upgrade the nutrition of livestock.


Many times, allowing sheep to graze on pasture and hay is not enough to meet their nutritional needs. This is especially true for larger and pregnant sheep. By adding grains, you can enhance the nutritional value of a sheep's diet.
Prepackaged grain feed made up of oats, barley, rye, wheat, and corn may be given to the sheep. Make sure the grain formulation you purchase is specifically recommended for sheep only.


Sheep also require proteins for their growth as well as to meet their energy needs. Plant-based protein feeds such as cottonseed meal and soybean meal are specifically formulated for sheep. Sheep may also be fed meat-based protein source such as fish.


Crops generate by-products, which can always be given to sheep. Crop by-products such as wheat midds, whole cottonseed, soybean hulls, peanut hulls, and corn gluten feed are usually considered farm waste products, but become a source of food for sheep.

Store Feed

Whatever feed you choose to store (grain, hay, proteins), they need to be dry and safe from rodents. Poor storage quality can negatively affect the nutritional value of the feed.
For instance, you need to store hay in barn or sheds, and moreover, cover with a high-quality material so as prevent them from getting wet. There is nutrient loss from uncovered hay, and molds tend to develop due to exposure to moisture.
Also, the nutritional value of the feed decreases, and mold begins to grow when stored for a prolonged duration.

Water Intake for Sheep

Water intake of a sheep on any single day will vary from 2 to 12 liters.
However, factors such as type of breed, weather, and the amount of total dissolved salts (TDS) in water, influence the water consumption behavior of sheep. This means that when the weather is extremely hot, there is an 80% increase in water consumption by the sheep.
In general, compared to winter, water intake by sheep increases by 40% during summer. Also, their water intake increases by a whopping 50 to 80% if the drinking water has over 2,000ppm TDS.