SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Feeding sheep the right diet

Sheep are grazers and eat plant matter usually in the form of pasture.

Sheep must be fed a wholesome diet that satisfies their nutritional needs and allows them to maintain appropriate body condition according to their life stage.

Grazing pasture

Sheep eat grass, clover, and other pasture plants. You should ensure there are appropriate amounts of pasture for your sheep to eat. This can be done by rotating pastures and ensuring there is always feed available in other pastured areas.

If your pasture is of low quality, sheep require more of it to fit their dietary requirements. This will reflect on whether supplementary feed is required.

Some plants are poisonous for sheep to eat, therefore ensure they do not have access to garden areas, and where they are housed, is well fenced (e.g. azaleas, chrysanthemums, acorns, buttercups, daffodils, holly, elderberry, and black locust bark).


Sheep need constant access to fresh, clean water.

Sheep will drink more water in high temperatures, high humidity or if given supplementary foods, such as grain.

Supplementary feeding

If quality pasture is unavailable, supplementary feed should be given. It can also be given to animals in poor condition, or animals that are young or old animals, or any that require extra energy. Supplement feed can include:

  • Hay, silage, sheep pellets, grains, and mineral licks (appropriate for sheep).

These are additional, nutrient sources, and should not be fed as the sole diet alone.

  • Any new feed should be introduced gradually.
  • Feed must be free of animal-derived protein (with the exception of milk for lambs).
  • Any feed that is contaminated with mould or fungus should not be fed out.

How much to feed?

As sheep are grazers, quality pasture should be available at all times. Exceptions are prior to pregnancy scanning, shearing, or transport.

When presenting flocks with supplement feed, ensure feed is presented in a way that allows all individuals access.

Special considerations should also be made for sheep that have teeth problems or difficulty eating. Veterinary care must be sought for sheep that are losing weight (body condition).

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