Sheep, as most people know already, are herbivores. That means they eat nothing but plant matter. But more than this, sheep subsist primarily on forage in the form of hay, grass, and other, similar plant matter.
But sheep can also eat fruits and vegetables in limited quantities, including several that people eat. How about corn? Can sheep eat corn?
Yes, sheep can eat corn, but they should only have very limited quantities. Corn can give sheep a boost of energy and has decent nutrition, but it is tough for them to digest…
It can cause some problems when they overindulge, namely diarrhea, inflammation of the intestinal lining, and more. So long as you don’t let your sheep eat too much they should not have any issues.
Unlike some other herbivorous livestock, sheep should not live primarily on a diet of corn. You can give it to them as a treat or occasional supplement, however. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about giving corn to your flock.
Health Benefits of Corn for Sheep
Corn is a staple crop in many parts of the world, used equally as livestock feed and also in all sorts of food for human consumption.
Corn is very filling, provides plenty of calories, and has a well-rounded nutritional profile of carbohydrates and protein along with plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Corn has a good variety of the B complex vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6 along with folate with a good shot of vitamin C and just a little bit of vitamin A.
Corn also has a well-rounded profile of minerals, with phosphorus and magnesium being abundant along with a good amount of manganese, iron, potassium, and zinc.
These vitamins and minerals are all important for sheep, although sheep can make their own vitamin C in their liver and so don’t need much from their diet.
Aside from that, the B vitamins are essential for all sorts of cellular functions while folate is used for the production of a new DNA.
Vitamin A is vital for the repair and growth of nervous system tissue and also plays a big part in the health of a sheep’s wool.
Manganese, iron, and magnesium are all used in various places throughout the body for organ and skeletal health, but perhaps most important for sheep is the potassium that corn contains.
You might already know that potassium is vital for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balances in mammals, but sheep need even more potassium than most animals because it is necessary for the proper fermentation of bacteria in their rumen. A lack of potassium can lead to a debilitating domino effect of digestive issues.
Corn, however is quite calorie dense and is mostly carbohydrates, meaning it is an easy thing for sheep that eat too much of it to gain weight, and furthermore the sugars in corn can lead to digestive problems on their own.
Aside from this, corn is a generally well-rounded supplement for sheep that can be fed to them periodically when they need a quick boost of energy or just a nice treat.
Sheep Should Not Eat Too Many Grains
Corn is not a vegetable. Corn is a grain, and although among grains it is one that sheep have a pretty easy time digesting it can still cause problems for them.
Sheep are vulnerable to a condition known as grain poisoning, one that can be brought on by eating too much grain too often, or a large serving of grain all at once when their system isn’t used to it.
The sugar in corn can also cause a serious condition where the lining of the sheep’s intestines can become inflamed, resulting in diarrhea, pain, poor absorption of nutrients, and more.
In lesser amounts, the sugar might just cause bloat or disrupt the delicate balance of gut flora that sheep depend on for good digestion.
Neither outcome is good, and these conditions are always painful, even agonizing for sheep. Accordingly, you don’t want to make corn a regular or large part of your flock’s diet.
Can Sheep Eat Corn Raw?
Yes, sheep can eat raw corn and this is often the best way to serve it to them. Fresh corn has the best possible nutritional profile, and individual kernels are tender enough for sheep to eat easily.
Can Sheep Eat Cracked Corn?
Sheep may eat cracked corn, but this is generally not advisable. Cracked corn has the tendency to cause bacterial infections in sheep, and may even lead to such serious problems as acidosis that can disrupt or even halt proper digestion in sheep and easily lead to death.
Can Sheep Eat Corn Cooked?
Sheep may eat cooked corn, but you don’t have to cook it for them prior to serving.
Never Feed Corn to Sheep that Has Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
Since we are on the subject of cooking, now is a good time to mention that you should never feed corn to sheep that has been prepared with harmful ingredients that they cannot have.
This could be things like butter, salt, sugar, or any other seasonings. While this will certainly make corn a delicious dish for our own dinner tables, these ingredients are all dangerous for your sheep.
Extra calories are not what corn needs if sheep are going to eat it. It already has plenty of its own! Extra calories in the form of butter or sugar can lead to precipitous weight gain in sheep, and are highly likely to cause digestive upset, diarrhea, and other maladies.
However, it can get much worse than that, with the aforementioned acidosis, inflammation of the intestines, and other problems being quite possible.
None of these are good outcomes for your poor sheet, and though you might want them to enjoy some delicious buttered corn you really shouldn’t give it to them.
If you’re going to cook corn for your sheep, stick to plain corn only!
Beware of Pesticide on Grocery-bought Corn
Another possible hazard that is attended with serving corn to sheep is the likely presence of pesticide or pesticide residues on grocery store purchase corn.
Sadly, pretty much all of our modern produce is heavily treated with various pesticide chemicals from planting to harvesting, and these chemicals, when ingested, can cause serious harm in mammals and other animals, including sheep.
Where she at, these pesticides have a way of slowly building up in tissues over time, and may eventually result in such devastating health conditions as cancer, loss of reproductive ability, endocrine system problems, nervous tissue damage, and more.
Your very best bet is to grow corn yourself so you always know what it has or has not been treated with.
But barring that, try to buy organic corn in the grocery or at the feed store if you’re going to give it to your sheep.
But lacking either of these two possibilities, make sure you thoroughly wash any corn prior to serving it to the flock.
How Often Can Sheep Have Corn?
Contrary to some assertions, corn should not be a majority part of a sheep’s diet. It is not nutritionally complete, and we have already discussed at the length of the potential problems that are associated with excess consumption.
However, that doesn’t mean your sheep should not have corn at all or that they can’t. You can give it to them, and they will enjoy it and get nutrition from it.
But you should only give them corn on a limited basis as a treat or supplemental food. A few servings a week is more than enough.
Remember this rule of thumb. Sheep should only get about 25% of their total calories from supplemental foods like fresh produce, including corn. The majority of their calories should come from their forage, particularly grass and hay.
Preparing Corn for Your Flock
The best way to give corn to your flock is to cut kernels off of the cob and then serve it to them out of hand, and at feed stations or mixed in as an ingredient with other wholesome foods.
Sheep can eat corn off the cob, but will generally struggle with it
Can Lambs Have Corn, Too?
Baby sheep can also have corn, but only on a highly limited basis even compared to adults and only once they have reached the appropriate age.
Broadly speaking, you’ll want to wait for a lamb to reach about 2 months of age before you allow them to have corn for the first time.
This is because their digestive system is still developing, and corn is already a little tough for sheep to digest.
What’s more, lambs are particularly vulnerable to sugary foods, and corn has plenty of sugar.
Don’t be surprised if they get an upset stomach or even diarrhea, and diarrhea can cause dehydration in lambs very quickly so keep an eye out for that.
So long as you wait for them to get a bit bigger and sharply limit the amount of corn that they have, lambs can enjoy it as a treat now and then.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.