SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Feeding sheep the right diet

Sheep are grazers and eat plant matter usually in the form of pasture (e.g. grass, clover and other pasture plants).

They should be fed a wholesome diet that satisfies their nutritional needs and allows them to maintain appropriate body condition according to their life stage. Ensuring there is an appropriate amount of pasture for your sheep to eat is important, and this can be managed by rotating pastures and ensuring there is always feed available in other pastured areas in which the sheep will be moved into later on. Sheep will graze for around 8 – 9 hours during the day when feed is plentiful and longer when feed is in short supply.

If your pasture is of low quality, your sheep will need more to fulfil their dietary requirements. This might result in needing supplementary feed. However, it is recommended to talk with your local veterinarian before supplementing your flock.

Supplementary feeding

If quality pasture is unavailable, supplementary feed should be given, based on recommendations from your local veterinarian. It can also be given to animals in poor condition, or animals that are young or old animals, or any that require extra energy. Supplementary feed:

  • Can include hay, silage, sheep pellets, grains, and mineral licks.
  • Should be introduced gradually and in small amounts only, as sheep take time to learn to accept novel feed.
  • Must be free of animal-derived protein (with the exception of milk for lambs).
  • That is contaminated with mould or fungus should not be fed out.

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

Beware garden plants

Some common garden plants, such as azaleas, chrysanthemums, acorns, buttercups, daffodils, holly and elderberry are poisonous for sheep to eat. Therefore, ensure they do not have access to garden areas, and when gardening ensure you don’t throw garden waste into your paddocks, and that your paddocks are well fenced.

Sheep need constant access to fresh, clean water, and can drink around 4 litres a day in normal circumstances. Sheep will drink more water in high temperatures, high humidity or if given supplementary foods, such as grain.

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