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Nutritional needs of sheep

Sheep get their energy, protein, vitamins and minerals from the pasture or through supplemental feed. A limited supply of nutrients in the sheep's diet can lead to:

  • weight loss
  • low fertility
  • high mortality
  • increased risk of disease
  • poor wool growth.

Sheep need a balanced diet containing energy (fat and carbohydrates), protein, vitamins, minerals and water.

Different nutritional needs of sheep

Nutritional needs vary greatly, depending on the size, age and physiological status of the sheep. For example:

  • larger and older sheep sometimes need more nutrients than younger and smaller ones
  • lactating or pregnant sheep need more nutrients than dry animals
  • young, growing, pregnant or lactating animals sometimes need more protein than older, empty or dry animals
  • in some cases, lactating sheep need more phosphorus than non-lactating sheep.

Use the healthy and contented sheep tool or read about the nutrient requirements of sheep to find out more about the needs of sheep at different stages.

Energy requirements of sheep

The energy component of a sheep's diet is the major driver of its performance. Sheep get their energy from pasture, hay, grains and soil seeds. If sheep are not getting enough energy there will be a decrease in wool and meat production and reproduction, and an increase in mortality and disease.

Protein requirements of sheep

When dietary protein levels become low, sheep cannot maintain weight and they start to mobilise body tissues to make up the shortfall in protein.

Low levels of protein reduce weaner growth rates, conception, pregnancy and lactation in breeding ewes, and productivity in general.

Mineral requirements of sheep

Major minerals that sheep need include phosphorus, sulphur and calcium. Small amounts of these minerals are needed to ensure sheep remain strong, healthy and produce good wool. Sheep can get minerals from water supply and various mineral supplements if necessary.

Vitamin requirements of sheep

Although vitamin deficiencies rarely occur in sheep, it's important to make sure they receive enough of the right vitamins to remain healthy, strong and productive. The most important are vitamin A, D, E, and the B group. Sheep can get vitamin A and vitamin E from green plant matter, hay and grain, and vitamin D from sunlight and fresh and dry feed.

Newborn lambs receive B complex vitamins from milk, and once weaned an active microbial population in the rumen will then usually make sufficient B vitamins to meet nutritional requirements.

Water requirements of sheep

Water is one of the most important daily requirements of sheep. They need between 2.5-18L per day. Water should be clean and contain minimal chemicals. Sheep generally consume 2-3 times the amount of water to dry feed, and if receiving high salt supplements may need more.

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