There’s a sense of satisfaction in using garden waste to feed your animals.
Many backyard farm enthusiasts think feeding lawn clippings to their livestock is a fine idea.
Using the debris from mowing is thrifty and a treat for your sheep, but some will question this practice of feeding sheep grass cuttings.
Sheep can eat fresh grass clippings without problem, but not old grass clippings. Feeding anything but small amounts of freshly cut grass or fully dried grass to your sheep is not recommended. If the grass has begun to ferment, it will upset the balance in the sheep’s digestion and cause serious problems such as bloat.
Mowed grass starts fermenting soon after being cut, especially if it is humid.
If your sheep eats the fermenting grass, the grass keeps fermenting in its gut and makes the sheep sick.
A dense pile of grass clippings may also develop botulin because there is little oxygen in a pile.
To find out more about feeding your sheep, keep reading!
Grass Clippings Are Fine For Sheep, Without Fermenting
Live grass is the healthiest form of grass to feed sheep.
They have evolved to eat plenty of it!
A pile of grass clippings begins to ferment fairly soon after cutting.
Fermenting grass gets warm and gives off ethanol, which produces the sickly-sweet smell we associate with a bag of grass clippings.
In really hot climates, grass clippings may even combust!
After the grass has fermented and dried, it is OK for your sheep to eat in moderate quantities.
Related Reading: Will moldy hay make your sheep sick?
Why Do Sheep Eat Grass?
Sheep Eat Live Grass As Part Of Their Diet
Sheep graze on clover, grass, alfalfa, and brush.
They will even eat weeds and woody vegetation.
They graze like lawnmowers, leaving about 2″ inches (5 cm).
Sheep have specially shaped teeth and mouth structures to grind grass into small pieces, and saliva starts the digestive process.
Their cleft lips nimbly bring food in, and the teeth on their lower jaw sever the blades of grass against the dental pad on their upper jaw.
Their lips also enable them to avoid mixing poisonous plants with the grasses.
Further Reading: Why sheep eat grass and weeds
Why Do Sheep Like Grass?
Grass has a lot of sugar compared to other feeds.
It has three kinds of sugars: fructose, glucose, and fructans, formed by several molecules of bound fructose.
Fructans do not get digested in the stomach and small intestine and cause harm when passed into the animal’s hindgut.
Excessive fructans can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Large quantities of grass at one time are advised against.
Fresh cut grass should not be fed excessively or as the sole food source.
Do not feed your animals grass clippings instead of a balanced diet.
Fresh lawn clippings tend to be eaten whole and more quickly than they should, leading to overeating, obesity, and other health conditions.
What to Feed Sheep
You do not have to use formulated sheep feed, but they need a balanced diet for maximum health.
Sheep are herbivores, which means they eat mostly plant material.
They spend a lot of time grazing on grasses, bushes, weeds, and leaves of trees, or, if living in an enclosure with no access to pasture, eating hay or silage.
The average sheep consumes about a third of a pound of pasture or hay for every pound of body weight.
A sheep’s diet must include water, an optimal balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein from plant material, minerals, and vitamins.
Adult sheep always need free access to sheep-only minerals.
Good quality hay is superb for sheep as it is full of healthy fiber, carbohydrates, and protein.
Nutritional levels will vary by type of hay, alfalfa being one of the most nutritious and higher in protein.
Adult sheep can eat hay, fully fermented silage, and crop by-products.
Sheep can have freshly mowed or fully fermented grass clippings as feed in moderate amounts.
The best way to cut grass for sheep is with a scythe; fresh lawn mower clippings are not as desirable as there may be pollutants from the mower.
On the other hand, who has time to cut their lawn with a scythe?
Grain supplemented by fresh clippings helps sheep gain weight and produce meat at less cost per pound than grain alone.
Related: Can sheep safely eat bread?
Can Sheep Eat Grass Only?
Sheep can do well on eating only grasses as they are well-adapted to digest them.
When able, sheep eat grass, hay, legumes like alfalfa, broad leaf plants, and other pasture plants.
Sheep naturally select a more nutritious diet from what’s available in the pasture, so eating only grasses would not be their natural choice.
Do Sheep Eat the Roots of Grass?
Sheep do not have top front teeth but have a tough dental pad about 1.6″ inches wide, enabling them to eat plants close to the ground.
This also keeps them from pulling up plant roots, thus preserving their food source on the lands they graze.
Sheep graze for about seven hours a day in the early morning and early evening near sunset.
If you supplement grazing, it is best to feed them in the middle of the day, so you do not disrupt their normal grazing habits.
With proper management to prevent overgrazing, sheep are great for pastures.
How Sheep Digestion Works
As ruminants, sheep have a digestive process using a four-chambered stomach consisting of the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum.
Their digestive process begins in the rumen, the first chamber of their stomach.
Chewing cud helps them break down fiber and nutrition in their food.
The food is eaten, regurgitated, re-chewed, and re-swallowed, which enables the bacteria, fungi, and protozoa in their gut to aid digestion.
Lambs do not use their rumen right away.
Baby lambs begin on milk from their mothers, which includes colostrum.
Colostrum establishes a healthy gut biome, and nursing lambs begin to nibble on food slowly to develop their rumen.
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