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Sheep Nutrition

Raising sheep that are healthy and productive — whether they're meat or fiber animals — depends on how you feed them. A sheep's requirements are similar to other farm animals: roughage, containing protein and fiber; concentrates with protein, fat, and fiber; minerals; and water.

Roughages are forages such as alfalfa, clover and other grasses, which are higher in fiber. Concentrates are grains such as corn, oats, and wheat, which are higher in energy or calories.

For your sheep to have a balanced, healthy diet, they must have both protein-rich roughages — which is pasture and/or hay — and concentrates. A salt block will help to ensure that your sheep get plenty of minerals.

Use this guide to help you figure out how to feed your sheep.


Before You Feed

Above-ground feeders are crucial to keeping your livestock healthy. Feeding on the ground results in considerable feed waste and contributes to the spread of disease, particularly parasites.

If your sheep are able to stand in their feed or feeders, they may defecate and/or urinate in the feed. Feeders should be raised off the ground and arranged so that sheep and lambs can't crawl in.

What to Feed Sheep


Most of a sheep's diet should be forage, which simply means the animal grazes on grass in a pasture or field, or eats some kind of preserved forage such as hay, haylage (regular hay with a higher moisture content), or silage (fermented, high­moisture stored fodder).

Sheep graze an average of seven hours per day, usually in the morning and early evening. They mostly eat grass, clover, forbs, nutritious plants, and other pasture plants.

When a good supply of forage is available, adult, non-producing sheep can do just fine on that, along with salt and mineral supplements. But forage quality will vary, depending on how it was harvested.

Ideally, alfalfa should be harvested when it's budding; this is when it contains the most protein and other nutrients. A plant's nutritive value drops as the crop matures, so if the field is not harvested at peak time, the hay's quality is reduced.

Second and even third cuttings from the same field tend to have fewer nutrients than the first cutting, so even though the hay that you buy looks good and green, it may not contain enough nutrients. That's when you need to make up the difference in nutrition and provide your animals with supplemental feed.

To make sure you're feeding quality hay, have it tested for nutrient content. Your county extension staff can help you with directions and the available laboratory. Cost is minimal — generally around $10 — and it's money well spent.


(expressed in pounds)
  Hay Haylage Corn Silage Grain Protein Supplement*

Ewe (150 lbs.)


















Early Gestation






Late Gestation












Ram (250 lbs.)






Feeder Lambs (30-110 lbs.)






*Protein supplement is normally needed when alfalfa hay is not used and corn is the grain.
Note: The chart assumes average weights (shown) for each class. Heavier animals will require larger amounts. For each additional 25lbs. of weight, feed approximately¼lb. more total feed per day.


Sometimes forage alone doesn't provide enough nutrition for maintaining proper body condition. That could be because hay isn't of the highest quality and lacks nutrients, but it also could be the case during the breeding season or times of peak production, when livestock requires more energy. Pregnant and nursing sheep also require more nourishment because of the physical demands placed on their bodies.

That's when you must feed a concentrate grain mixture to balance out what the hay does not provide. Grain is the seed part of cereal crops such as corn, oats, wheat, and barley, many of which are found in ready­made protein tubs.

If you choose to mix your own sheep feed, rather than using a pre-mixed protein tub, take note of the nutritional characteristics of each of these feeds and adjust the ration accordingly. A protein source, such as soybean or cottonseed meal, normally is then added to the grain ration, as well as vitamins and minerals, to make a completely balanced feed.

Urea is a protein source commonly used because of its convenience and availability. It can be used in a feed ration for adult sheep as about 1 percent of the total ration, or 3 percent of the concentrate portion of the feed. Urea should not be used in rations for very young lambs because they can't digest it.

If you do add urea to your sheep feed, introduce it gradually — over a period of two to three weeks — to allow your sheep's digestive system to adapt. Be aware that if a very hungry animal eats too much urea, it can kill it.

Be careful, as well, when starting your sheep on grain; they love the taste and tend to eat it too fast, causing digestion problems. Introduce it to them slowly and then gradually increase the amount in their diet.

Sheep feed comes in three forms:

  • Pelleted feed has the ingredients milled and formed into pellets.
  • Sweet feed is feed in the form of fresh grains plus pellets.
  • Block feed has the ingredients milled and formed into solid blocks.


As in all animals, salt and minerals are necessary to sustain life, so it's a good idea to offer free-choice salt. Without sheep minerals, your animals will experience low fertility, weak lambs, lowered milk production, and impaired immunity.

Be sure, however, to offer only white salt block — sodium chloride — because trace mineral blocks contain copper, which is highly toxic to sheep. Because of this sensitivity, sheep should not be fed mineral blocks that contain added copper, or complete feeds that are not specifically formulated for sheep.



Adult Sheep

1-2 Gallons

Lactating Ewes

2-3 Gallons

Feeder Lambs

1-2 Gallons

Baby Lambs

1-3 Gallons