A Sheep's Diet and Other Considerations

15 March, 2020
If you're interested in becoming a sheep farmer, there are many factors you need to consider. For example, you must consider a sheep's diet.

Sheep: The main characteristics of their morphology and nature

The name “sheep” is a generic term for the variety of breeds that belong to the mammal species Ovis orientalis aries. Like cows and goats, they are ruminant animals that possess a polygastric digestive system that consists of 4 separate stomachs. As for their morphology, they have robust bodies covered by heavy wool and muscular legs that end in sturdy hooves.

Sheep stand out for their agility and resistance. At the same time, they are very sensitive animals with a great capacity for learning. They tend to be active in nature, distrustful, and very aware of the stimuli in their environment.

A mother sheep and her baby.
Source: Ana Rey

It’s worth pointing out that sheep have accompanied humanity over the course of history. They are believed to have been domesticated for the first time in the 5th century. Therefore, human beings have benefited from these animals–their wool, meat, and companionship–for quite a long time.

The raising of sheep for the commercialization of wool and meat is a very common practice. What’s more, it guarantees the subsistence of many producers. What’s more, in Europe and Israel, farmers even raise sheep for their milk.

Sexual dimorphism in sheep

Sheep display one of the most notable sexual dimorphisms among mammals. This means that males and females possess very obvious morphological differences when they become adults. Males without horns are known simply as “sheep”, while those that do possess horns are known as “rams”. We call baby sheep “lambs”. Other animals with a high degree of sexual dimorphism are pheasants, elephant seals, African lions, and orangutans.

The main breeds of sheep and their purposes

Every breed of sheep can be productive when farmers raise them in conditions that are optimal for their development. Just the same, it’s best to understand the difference between each breed before getting into sheep farming. That way, you can make the most of your investment by choosing the breed that most fits your expectations and needs.

  • Merino and Rambouillett sheep are the best sheep breeds for the production of wool
  • Dorset, Hampshire, North County Cheviot, Texcelk, and Suffolk sheep are the best sheep breeds for the production of meat.
  • The best breeds for the production of milk are: Latxa, Churra, Manchega (Spain); Basco-Bernaise, and Laucane (France); Awassi and Assaf Sarda (Israel); Sarda (Italia).
  • Some bivalent breeds (good for both meat and wool): Corriedale, Polypay, Columbia, and Targee.

Tips regarding a sheep’s diet

A sheep’s diet is a key part of maintaining good health and maximizing production. What’s more, proper nutrition should go hand in hand with the right preventative medicine and environmental conditions. These three factors work together to assure a sheep’s optimal health.

Proper nutrition for sheep

A sheep’s diet should include structural carbohydrates, which represent the main source of energy for this animal. Like all ruminant mammals, the digestive system of sheep needs a large supply of these nutrients in order to function properly.

Proper nutrition for sheep.
Source: James Stringer

Good quality hay is ideal as the main component of a sheep’s diet. Many farmers tend to offer a mix of very high-quality grains and corn silage to complement the hay.

The right nutritional proportions for a sheep’s diet will vary according to several factors. These are age, sex, size, and the purpose of sheep farming. It’s common to include fattening techniques and commercial feed that’s right in carbohydrates.

Forced hydration

Ruminant mammals require an abundant about of water in order to stay in good health. An adult sheep can ingest more than 4 gallons of water per day. In the summer, when temperatures increase in the countryside, the amount of water sheep drink is usually more than 5 liters.

Therefore, it’s extremely important for sheep to have clean, fresh water available to them throughout the day. What’s more, it’s important to keep food and water containers clean and make sure not to leave them out in the sun.

Preventative medicine for sheep

Sheep tend to be very tough when they live in optional conditions and receive proper nutrition. However, they can become ill due to microorganisms that are present in the country.

Therefore, making sure that sheep have all of their vaccinations up to date is fundamental. The same is true regarding regular visits to a specialized veterinarian. Of course, you may also give your sheep vitamins and supplements to strengthen their immune systems.

It’s important to point out that a sheep’s diet is a key part of health sheep farming. Keeping your animals well-nourished and healthy isn’t just a matter of luxury. It’s a matter of respecting the life of your animals and caring for a species that’s very important to humanity.

Source of images: Robert Linsdell, Ana Rey and James Stringer