The focus of your sheep’s diet is likely high-fiber pasture grass and hay.
But what about supplemental treats?
Is bread safe to feed your sheep?
Sheep should not be fed bread. Due to high levels of carbohydrates and fat, bread may cause health issues like obesity and grain overload. If sheep must be fed bread during a food shortage, bread should only be fed in small amounts, and sheep should be monitored for problems afterward.
Whether you are a larger livestock producer or a backyard hobby sheep farmer, proper nutrition is crucial to your sheep’s overall health.
Sheep have a digestive tract adapted for a specific type of diet.
Keep reading to learn what your sheep’s diet should contain and the risks of feeding bread, such as grain overload and obesity.
Sheep as Ruminants and Their Digestive Tract
Sheep are classified as ruminant animals because of their digestive tract.
Ruminants are herbivores with four stomach chambers.
Ruminants have bacteria in their stomach, which ferment carbohydrates.
Because of this, sheep are better equipped to digest plants that are high in fiber.
Given the nature of their digestive system, sheep should have access to pasture and be fed a primary diet consisting of high-fiber grass and hay.
Sheep are not meant to eat high-grain or high-concentrate foods like bread.
If sheep eat bread, they produce more lactic acid, leading to stomach ulcers.
Excessive lactic acid may also significantly alter and disrupt your sheep’s normal, healthy population of stomach bacteria.
Bread May Cause Health Problems In Sheep
Bread contains high grain levels and may cause grain overload or lactic acidosis in sheep.
Grain overload, also known as grain poisoning, occurs when the stomach bacteria ferment grain too quickly.
Rapid fermentation results in high levels of lactic acid, lowering the pH of the stomach.
This acidic environment kills the healthy gut bacteria and inhibits stomach contractions necessary for normal digestion.
Lactic acidosis may progress to more severe medical issues such as dehydration, acidemia (acidic blood), and heart or kidney damage.
While a small amount of bread is unlikely to be fatal, severe cases of grain overload can, unfortunately, be life-threatening.
Other potential sequelae include rumenitis (inflammation of the stomach wall) and laminitis (inflammation of the hoof wall leading to mobility issues).
Signs of grain poisoning or lactic acidosis:
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain (sheep may kick their hind limbs)
- Bloat or abdominal distension
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Elevated heart rate
Obesity And Upset Stomach Caused By Bread
In addition to being a grain-heavy food, bread also has high-fat content and contains a relatively high number of calories.
Food choices like bread are not recommended due to concerns about obesity.
Considering sheep’s digestive tract, bread is fairly rich and may cause stomach upset, especially if fed suddenly or for the first time.
If you must feed your sheep bread, it should only be fed in moderation as an occasional treat.
Furthermore, gradually introducing it rather than suddenly feeding a large amount of bread will reduce the chance of problems like stomach upset.
In general, bread should not be fed to sheep, given the potential to cause problems like obesity and grain overload.
However, an exception to this rule would be a food shortage due to a drought.
In this situation, adequately nutritious pasture may not be available, and you may need to get resourceful about what to feed your sheep temporarily.
Bread should not be part of your sheep’s regular diet.
But if you must feed your sheep bread, there are ways to do so more safely.
Tips if feeding your sheep bread:
- Feed in small quantities
- Introduce gradually (slowly increase the amount over multiple days)
- Monitor your sheep after for signs of grain overload
- Do not feed moist or wet bread (higher choking risk)
- Whole grain bread is a better choice than white bread or whole wheat bread
- Avoid white bread due to the higher sugar content
- Avoid whole wheat bread because it will be fermented too quickly
The Ideal Diet for Sheep
Sheep need a lot of fiber in their diet.
Most of their food intake should occur while grazing pasture space.
Therefore, it is critical to eliminate any plants that are poisonous to sheep.
We recommend familiarizing yourself with which toxic plants could threaten your sheep.
You also need to periodically evaluate your pasture so you may keep your sheep safe.
Although most of your sheep’s diet will be made of grazed pasture as the primary food source, you will likely need to supplement with extra feed like hay.
There are certain instances when you may also need to supplement with alfalfa or grain.
For example, pregnant sheep or young, growing lambs need greater nutritional support.
If you supplement your sheep’s food with alfalfa, it is important to do so cautiously since over-supplementing alfalfa may lead to medical issues like kidney stones and resultant urinary blockage.
All sheep also need constant access to clean, fresh water.
Sheep consume several gallons of water daily, depending on their life stage.
|Life stage||Weight (lbs)||Water Intake (gallons per animal per day)|
|Lambs||5 to 20||0.1 to 0.3|
|Pregnant ewes||175+||1.0 to 2.0|
|Rams||175+||1.0 to 2.0|
Mineral supplementation depends on the nature of pasture available and the types of forages being fed.
For example, certain geographic regions may be more prone to certain mineral and vitamin deficiencies.
What Types of Treats Are Safe for Sheep?
While the staple of a sheep’s diet will be pasture grass and supplemental hay, many sheep farmers may want to offer their sheep an occasional treat.
While some human foods like bread are not recommended, there are other options you may consider.
Safer treat alternatives for your sheep:
Please remember even these safer fruit and vegetable options must still be viewed as treats and thus, only fed occasionally in moderation.
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