How to Feed Goats & Sheep

Raising farm animals correctly takes practice and diligence.
Raising farm animals correctly takes practice and diligence. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

As with any livestock or pets, one of the keys to raising goats and sheep is keeping them well-fed with the proper nutrition. It’s really not much more difficult to feed goats and sheep than it is to feed other livestock as they are grazers that primarily feed on grass, shrubs, and weeds. But there are still important rules to follow if you wish to raise goats and sheep.

Pay close attention to the size and age of the animal, as that will determine its nutritional requirements. Most mature goats and sheep that are not pregnant or nursing do not have very high nutritional requirements. They normally only need to consume 2 percent of their body weight per day to remain well-fed, which usually means that 3 pounds of hay will feed a 150-pound animal for a day. Animals that are still growing or may be pregnant or nursing require a little more food than adults that are not pregnant. These requirements will normally be met when the animals are allowed to graze naturally. They require very little protein.

Feed grain to goats and sheep only when they are mature or as a reward during training. Sheep and goats can live almost entirely off of grass when they graze, but they enjoy the taste of grain. When you introduce grain to an animal’s diet, you must do so slowly. It also should not be a replacement for grass eaten during grazing. Too much grain can also be a bad thing, since it can cause health problems such as acidosis, polioencephalomalcia, and urinary calculi.

Do not make any drastic changes to the diet of your sheep and goats too quickly. Sheep and goats have four stomachs that act as fermentation vats. They are filled with bacteria and, as the bacteria consume what is in the stomachs, this provides energy for the animals. The bacteria in the stomachs require time to adjust to any new food. Overfeeding animals with a food that they are unfamiliar with can throw off their digestive system and cause them to bloat.

Provide feed in a trough or manger. While sheep and goats get most of their food from grazing on fresh grass, they will not eat other foods if they have been contaminated with feces. Grain-based feed that falls to the ground or a pen floor will be ignored. They will, however, gladly eat from a trough or manger as long as it is kept clean. This food is uncontaminated and therefore deemed safe.

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