When caring for a flock of sheep, it’s important to watch their diet and adjust as needed.
At the same time, sheep will eat a variety of plants too.
Are pine needles bad for sheep, or are they a safe snack?
While some pine needles are a safe snack for sheep, there are cases in which it’s best avoided. For one, you’ll need to consider the type of pine trees, as some types are toxic to livestock. Pine treated with pesticides, colorants, fire retardants, or other chemicals is also dangerous.
At first glance, these conditions might seem confusing but don’t worry!
Keep reading, and we’ll look at all the ins and outs of your sheep eating pine needles.
Are Pine Needles Safe for Sheep?
There are some pine needles safe for consumption by sheep, and, by and large, they make a good snack.
Yet, a few types of pine trees are toxic to livestock, including sheep.
Also, you’ll want to ensure there aren’t any chemicals on the pine tree your sheep have access to.
This includes some of the chemical defenses you might expect, like pesticides.
If the pine tree in question is a Christmas tree, it may also be treated with fire retardants and colorants.
These are often dangerous to livestock animals, including goats and sheep.
Even if you have safe pine clippings without chemicals, it’s a good idea to offer this treat in moderation.
While your sheep may enjoy it, it’s not an alternative to sheep feed.
Which Pine Needles are Toxic?
There are a few different types of poisonous pine needles.
A true pine called the Ponderosa pine is one of the most often talked about toxic plants in this family.
Ponderosa pine can cause a variety of problems in livestock.
For instance, this plant can cause problems such as abortion in cattle.
As for sheep, this can present in premature births and abortions. According to Colorado State University, sheep have also given birth to dead lambs after consuming these pine needles.
The same observations included other species that don’t have the same effects.
It identifies most other pines, including red pine, are safe from this effect.
Some trees are in the genus pine, but not true pines are also toxic.
For example, Norfolk Island pine (also known as Australian pine) isn’t good for animals.
Likewise, yew pine, Japanese yew, or Buddhist pine isn’t a true pine but will cause illness in animals.
Do Sheep Eat Spruce Trees?
This still leaves plenty of room for your sheep to forage on fresh needles safely.
After all, plenty of different types of pine trees out there are still safe for consumption after you strike options like Australian pine, Ponderosa pine, and Yew pine off the list.
One option is spruce trees.
These trees are non-toxic to sheep, and pine clippings won’t hurt them.
However, some sheep may have more of a preference for them than other sheep.
Can Livestock Eat Christmas Trees?
Livestock can eat Christmas trees under certain conditions.
First, the trees must remain green.
This isn’t because your sheep and goats care about the attractiveness of pines, though.
You won’t want to feed your animals branches and needles, which have since died.
This plant quality isn’t as beneficial to them or nearly as tasty!
Secondly, you’ll want to pay attention to chemicals once again.
It isn’t uncommon for Christmas trees to include flame retardants for safety or colorants.
Untreated plant material is a safer choice for your animals.
How to Identify Poisonous Pine Trees
The best way to identify any plant – pine tree or otherwise – is to become familiar with a plant’s defining features.
Identifying these plants is impossible if you aren’t familiar with pine trees.
You’ll also want to ensure you look carefully into how to tell these plants apart from other pine trees.
For example, Ponderosa pine is often identified by its dark orange bark and scent.
Some compare the scent of fresh pine bark from this tree to the smell of vanilla or even butterscotch!
But, a lot of plant material looks the same to the untrained eye.
It’s best to double-check your identification with a reliable source before feeding an evergreen plant to your sheep.
This will help avoid any consequences of misidentification.
How to Keep Sheep Away From Pine Needles
If you’re unsure about the plant material, you may want to keep your sheep away, just in case.
Luckily, there are a few ways to keep your sheep and pine apart.
These ideas can work for almost any plants you want to keep your sheep away from.
One of the first approaches of sheep owners is often fencing.
This can keep your sheep where you want them, which, in this case, is far enough from your plants to prevent unwanted foraging.
When considering the pine needles, specifically, you’ll want to ensure the needles won’t fall over the fence line.
There are a few different options you have here.
Farmers usually use livestock fencing to minimize the effects on plants sheep have.
Some use a tree guard to protect the tree itself, but this doesn’t help keep your sheep from the pine needles falling from the tree.
This is because tree guards usually sit close to the tree’s trunk rather than protecting branch tips, allowing livestock to walk beneath the tree.
They’re more focused on preserving plant quality, while livestock fencing set up further from the base of the tree can also help keep sheep away from pine needles on the ground.
Some farmers also opt to add an unpleasant smell to a tree like garlic when they want their sheep to steer clear of it.
While this may work to protect the tree itself, it’s not as helpful in keeping them away from the pine needles falling further from the tree’s trunk.