Sheep Feed 101
It might seem like a somewhat silly question to ask, but inquiring deeper into the diet of sheep is important to keep a happy and healthy flock. Sheep are among the pickier eaters of the farm animal world and will have their own favorites, as well as feeding patterns particular to them. Most importantly, the climate of your pasture will affect the nutritional content of your feed, so making sure you supplement feed with something other than what grows from the land in advance is important. Not that there would be a shortage of it on the market, but so that you budget accordingly.
If you want to avoid spending on supplemental feed, even more careful calculations need to be made. Simply put, you need to make sure you have enough land for the size and composition of your desired flock for them to able to comfortably graze within the climate of where you are. That means looking at factors such as rainfall, types of plants, primary purpose of the breed of sheep you have selected, and how much litter you want them to produce. In warmer climates the rainfall is going to be less, so more land will be needed per lamb on average. If an ewe is preparing to lamb, you might need to multiply that calculation. Warmer climates usually focus on producing fine wool, as keeping a meat or a dairy flock is more resource intensive. So you’ll need to examine the quality of your land and the kind of rainfall you get to see if it is worthwhile to invest in stored feed, supplement feed or even an irrigation system to maximise the useful output per acre of pasture, especially in arid regions.
If you’re located further north, you’ll find the task somewhat simpler. The rainfall that is abundant in the northern states, or places like the United Kingdom make for a fantastic foridge. You’ll certainly be able to keep more sheep per acre, but there is something to account for. Rainfall usually also means snowfall in the winter months, making fresh grass, however much there might be down there, inaccessible to sheep. This makes stored feed absolutely necessary, regardless of the quality of your land. This means calculating the time when this feed will be most needed so to make sure you deliver it as fresh as possible. Dry feed, like hay, silage can be used, but is less nutritious. Remember, the quality of what you feed the sheep will have a direct impact on the quality and volume of produce that you’re looking for, regardless of what it is.
If you can’t keep feed fresh, then you need to keep it dry. Moulded feed can cause nasty diseases in sheep, so isolating it from moisture and even air are a must in otherwise advantageously damp climates. Make sure you have the infrastructure for that. Grains are an excellent option as supplementary feed due to their high nutrient content. That’s why it is often given in generous amounts to pregnant ewes. But don’t go thinking that an all-grain diet is the Holy Grail. Removing fresh grass from a sheep’s diet will quickly have detrimental effects on its health.