Sheep are one of the most popular and fun to own farm animals and provide various resources, including wool, milk, and meat.
They also make great pets who can keep the grass short and provide endless entertainment, roaming fields and playing with one another.
One of the most important requirements of sheep is providing enough food to maintain healthy body weight and adjust the amount of feed per day as needed.
As a rule of thumb, adult sheep should have access to feed equal to 2-3% of their body weight daily. Sheep will prefer grazing a pasture of grass and weeds but will happily eat hay if needed. Skinny or bloated sheep need alterations to their diet as weight is an important indicator of general health.
Read on to learn more about how much feed sheep need per day, how often they will eat, and what kinds of feeds they need.
How Much Food Do Sheep Need Per Day?
Adult sheep who are not breeding or are in the early stages of pregnancy need between 2% and 3% of their body weight in feed per day.
This percentage is safe for maintenance feeding to keep sheep at their current body weight rather than becoming undernourished or overfed, which can result in bloating and other health issues.
Generally, sheep need only 2-3% of their body weight in feed per day.
However, this will need to be increased when ewes are in the late stages of gestation or while they are lactating.
For the first 16 weeks, a pregnant ewe should be fed the same ratio as a normal adult; however, after 16 weeks, the lambs will develop much faster, and the ewe will need additional nutritional requirements to keep up with this development during late pregnancy.
In the final five or so weeks of pregnancy, feeding should be 3.3.5% of the sheep’s body weight to give the necessary boost to produce healthy lambs.
While lactating, female sheep need 4-5% of their body weight in feed per day, the highest ratio a sheep will need due to the high energy requirements needed for producing milk.
Sheep breeds come in many sizes, and their weights will vary significantly, and sheep farmers will need to adjust based on the breeds they keep.
However, the average sheep weighs 150 pounds meaning they will need anywhere from 3 pounds of feed per day up to 7.5 pounds during the period they are nursing.
The table below is based on 150-pound sheep who are eating hay only to give an approximation of how much each animal will eat a day at different points of development.
Your herd will vary in size and may require less feed if the sheep can supplement their feed on pasture.
|Type Of Sheep||Feed/Weight Per Day||lbs Hay/Day (Approx)|
|16+ Weeks Pregnant||3-3.5%||4.5-5.25|
|Lamb <1 Year Old||3%||1.5-4.5|
*Additional costs associated when breeding ewes, based on increased feed during the last 5 weeks of gestation and weaning lambs after 8 weeks.
Add these to typical Adult Ram/Ewe costs for estimated yearly feed costs.
Further Reading: Cost guide for raising sheep
What Are The Best Feeding Strategies For Sheep?
While sheep can survive on a diet of mostly hay, not all hay is created equal.
The livestock may need sheep supplements of other nutrients and minerals depending on what the local hay is missing.
Pasture access will greatly improve the health of sheep by providing a balanced diet and greatly reducing feed costs.
Seeding a pasture with alfalfa and white clover can help provide a well-balanced diet and keep sheep healthy, and using a rotational grazing strategy will be best to keep healthy.
Depending on local climates and accessibility using pastures may be an option to keep sheep fed all year, half the year, or somewhere in between.
Depending on how productive your pastures are, keeping anywhere from 5-10+ sheep per acre of pasture is possible.
However, this varies significantly depending on climate, fertility, and other factors.
However, if pasture access is unavailable, then hay in combination with formulated sheep feed and mineral supplements is an option to keep sheep fed and healthy.
How much grain consumption will be necessary, along with other additional feed to supplement with, will depend on the quality of hay available and will require specific research for your area.
No matter what feed sheep get, fresh water is just as important as quality feed to keep sheep healthy.
Keeping a constant supply of clean water is best as a single sheep can drink over 5 gallons a day in warm weather and even more if they are lactating, although 1.5-3 gallons per day in most cases is a good estimate.
Related: Will sheep drink from running water?
What Else Can Sheep Eat?
Being ruminants means sheep benefit from highly efficient digestive systems for eating plants and grains.
While sheep are primarily fed on pasture and given hay when pasture grazing is unavailable, other feeds are important to maintain a balanced diet.
Sheep formulated grain should be fed sparingly as overfeeding them can result in bloat; however, they can provide additional energy in cold weather or help an underweight sheep back to a healthy weight.
Loose minerals powders or formulated grains are highly recommended to be mixed into feed to supplement what the hay might be missing, most commonly copper, selenium, phosphorus, and cobalt.
Before adding supplemental minerals to feed, consult a vet and measure accurately, as overdosing is likely to cause problems in sheep.
Silage is another great feed option using fermented corn stalks or hay and offers an easy-to-digest forage option.
Offering different fruits and vegetables from your garden is another way to provide treats for sheep, including:
- A wide variety of other plants
Just be sure to research before feeding anything unusual to ensure it is safe for sheep.
Further Reading: Fun treats for healthy sheep