Something for the Aussies

Sheep Management 101

Q. What do sheep eat? Can they get by just eating the lawn? Do they need grain?

A. Sheep are pretty easy-care critters for a farm animal. They are basically a grazing animal, and pasture or hay should make up the bulk of their diet. That doesn’t mean they can survive on burned-out brown lawn grass! We’ve found that sheep don’t care very much for bluegrass or fescue, which are typical lawn grasses. They seem to prefer coarser, pasture-type grasses such as canarygrass or timothy. And they do eat some weeds.

Sheep will eat grain, but it’s not essential if they have access to real good quality pasture and/or hay. A young, lactating, or elderly animal will especially benefit from a grain supplement. You can use a basic mixed corn/soy/oats, or you can buy specially formulated sheep/goat chow at your local feed mill. If at all possible, try to avoid a steady diet of horse formula as it usually contains more copper than is healthy for sheep. Sheep are ruminants, and feeds formulated for goats or cattle are more appropriate than those formulated for horses. DON’T OVERDO THE GRAIN! You CAN kill a lamb by overfeeding grain.

Q. Should sheep have access to salt or minerals? What else do they need?

A. Yes. Provide them with a salt block or a loose mineral salt. And ALWAYS, provide plenty of fresh, clean drinking water!

Q. We have planted some fruit trees in the pasture and wouldn’t like for the sheep to eat them, but they are enclosed in 5′ high wire mesh fence. Is that enough?

A. Probably. Sheep love fruit trees. They will strip the bark from young trees and kill them, and prune the lower growth off of older trees. But unless your pasture is a barren sandlot, I can’t imagine any sheep being motivated to hop over a 5′ fence just to pull some leaves off a tree! Young agile sheep will stand on wire fences, though, and moosh them into the ground if there’s something on the other side they’re trying to reach. Hardware cloth, cyclone fencing, or similar fencing with mesh too small for sheeps’ hooves is best. Electric fencing works well, too, but the sheep must be trained to respect it.

Later if all goes well and you and your new sheep gets along….

Q. We’ve got a bottle baby that we just love! Is there anything special we should be doing for it other than feeding it store-bought milk?

Cow’s milk isn’t really the best food for a bottle lamb, although some people do get away with it. It’s certainly better than nothing! But a better substitute is milk replacer formulated for sheep. It will contain the higher fat and other nutrients that lambs really need. (Calf milk replacer is NOT the same thing, by the way.)  Second choice would be goat milk.

Having said that, we must admit we have heard of a few instances where bottle lambs did NOT do well on sheep milk replacer. Apparently some baby lambs develop an allergy or problem with milk products, just as some human babies do. If the lamb replacer flat does not seem to be working (the lamb does very poorly on it, or seems to have a reaction to it), you can always try cow’s milk. Try to avoid switching back and forth, though. There have been cases where cow’s milk or even soy milk worked out, but be aware these cases are definitely very unusual!

Try to expose the critter to grain and/or hay as early as possible, as this is the food they’ll be consuming for the rest of their life. We’ve seen young lambs munching on hay at just a few days of age.

By the way, you didn’t mention if the lamb is a ram or a ewe. If it is a ram, we’d very much recommend that you neuter him before you try to turn him into a pet. An intact ram that is handled a lot can be quite dangerous when mature. A wethered (sheepish term) male will make a much tamer and safer pet, and won’t be so hard on your equipment either.

Please read this and enjoy.

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