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. I feel it is necessary to feed my sheep a grain supplement of some sort because our pasture is poor. What sort of grain mix should I use? A. If you are just raising a very few sheep, your best bet is probably a pre-packaged grain feed formulated for sheep. Generally, you won't want to store feed for more than a month (especially in hot weather) as it will start to mold and such molds can be VERY toxic.
For a larger flock, if you have access to a feed mill, you may want to consider having a special mixture made up just for you. Explain to the mill operator that you want to have your own feed mixed, and ask if they have a recommendation. Mills in our area usually carry some sort of pre-mix, which is manufactured by a large company which will furnish formulation recommendations. Such mixes can often be customized to complement your forage type and quality.
A word of caution about pre-mixed "generic" feeds: We've seen "all-purpose" animal feeds, comprised of various grains and feed additives. We don't advise using such feeds for sheep, as they usually contain too much copper. While copper is an essential nutrient, sheep are particularly sensitive to an excess. To avoid problems with copper toxicity, use only feed specifically formulated for sheep.
Corn usually makes up a good portion of the mix. Sheep like it, it's relatively inexpensive, and they do fatten well on it. (Corn does NOT need to be cracked or ground for sheep.) Soybeans or meal are often added for protein. Other possible supplements in our area include (but are certainly not limited to) spent distillers' and brewers' grains, oats, peanuts or peanut skins, and alfalfa pellets. In other areas of the world, different grains are probably used quite successfully. Q. Can sheep live year round on graze only (and, of course, water?) Yes, they can...if you live in an area that provides adequate grazing year 'round. In many climates, there are times of the year when it's too hot and dry for grass to grow OR there are times of the year when it's too cold and snowy. If you're fortunate enough to live in an area where neither is a problem, grass can sustain your sheep all year. It's a good idea to provide mineral salt in addition to the graze. Corn silage is a high energy, low protein fermented feed suitable for sheep feeding. However, some guidelines should be followed when incorporating corn silage in ewe and lamb diets. Silage is an essential feed for livestock-based agriculture. Silage is the feedstuffs resulting from the preservation of green forage crops by acidification. Acidification is the result of the fermentaion of the forage in the absence of oxygen. When properly harvested and stored, silage poses little or no pollution threat, but improper handling can lead to a significant flow of silage juices (or leachate) from the silo.