How to Feed Cracked Corn to Sheep & Goats

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Sheep and goats are both ruminants, herbivores that chew a cud and have stomachs with four chambers: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum. While they share similar eating habits and appearance, sheep and goats are distinct species with different needs. Both sheep and goats can eat a limited amount of corn in their diets; however, adult sheep should only be fed whole corn while goats should be fed cracked corn, when they are fed corn at all. Feeding the improper form of corn, feeding too much corn or feeding corn at the wrong times can have serious consequences for both sheep and goats.

Be Aware of Your Animal's Needs

Sheep, meat goats and dairy goats all have slightly different energy and protein needs. Different breeds may also have different needs based on their size or due to other physical differences. Ewes may eat up to two pounds of grain per day without threat of acidosis, while dairy does' needs vary based on how much milk they are producing or on their stage of pregnancy. Meat goats should eat no more than 1 percent of their body weight in grain daily, including corn, although lactating does may consume a higher percentage.

Tip

  • Adult sheep should only be fed whole corn, never cracked corn, to reduce the potential for developing acidosis. Acidosis is a serious condition that can cause the rumen to stop working and may lead to death.

Better Too Little than Too Much

Sheep and goats love corn. They find it very palatable and will eat it when other feed is unappealing. However, corn only provides about 9 percent protein. While this protein percentage is fine for ewes, a non-lactating doe requires 10 percent protein, bucks and does in late gestation or producing an average amount of milk require 11 percent protein and weanlings or does producing a great deal of milk require as much as 14 percent protein in their diets. Feeding a grain diet higher in protein, such as wheat or barley, is better than feeding corn, no matter the form of the corn.

Tip

  • Lambs need a protein supplement when corn is fed. Ewes do not need a protein supplement except during the final stages of pregnancy.

Warning

  • Corn and other grains contain a high percentage of calcium. Neutered rams and bucks, called wethers, may develop urinary calculi if their feed contains more than 50 percent cracked or whole corn in their daily diet.

It's All in the Timing

Cracked corn should be fed to different animals at different times in their lives. Goat kids should never have corn added to their diet before they are about 14 days of age, before their rumens start functioning, regardless of whether it is cracked or whole corn. Cracked corn can be added to their diet at approximately 2 weeks of age. Lambs can be fed cracked corn when they weigh 65 pounds or more. After lambs reach approximately 6 weeks of age, when their rumens are fully functioning, they should be fed whole corn.

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