Sheep love to graze. That is pretty much all they do when they are awake. Grass, hay, and all sorts of low-growing greenery are on the menu.
But did you know that sheep actually need a fairly varied diet of pasturage to get all the nutrients they need to be healthy?
How about something like alfalfa? Is that something that sheep can eat?
Yes, sheep can eat alfalfa. In fact, it is a good source of nutrition for them. Alfalfa is high in vitamins, iron and phosphorous that sheep need. Sheep that are fed a diet that includes alfalfa will typically have more milk than those that do not get this type of forage in their diet. You should be cautious to not allow sheep to eat too much alfalfa since it is known to cause bloat in high quantities.
Alfalfa has a great reputation as sheep pasturage so long as you are careful to control how much your flock is allowed to eat. As long as you do that, alfalfa can be a great addition to a sheep’s diet.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about giving alfalfa to sheep.
Health Benefits of Alfalfa for Sheep
Alfalfa, also known as lucerne, is packed with good nutrition that sheep need, including a wide array of vitamins and minerals.
Alfalfa has the B vitamins in quantity, including B1, B2, a little bit of B3, plenty of B5, B6 and folate.
Also present is a good shot of vitamin C, which sheep don’t really need in their diet, and a great amount of vitamin K, which sheep definitely need in their diet!
The mineral content of alfalfa is also worthwhile, they decent amount of calcium and potassium and plenty of iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc and phosphorus.
Together, these vitamins and minerals will promote a healthy skeleton and connective tissue, proper muscle function, heart health, cellular regeneration and even their creation of new DNA.
Caution: Eating Too Much Alfalfa Can Cause Bloat in Sheep
While alfalfa is a good source of nutrition for sheep, it is critical to be careful not to allow them to eat too much of it at any one time, eat too much too often, or be allowed to eat a large quantity when they aren’t used to it.
Eating too much alfalfa can cause a condition called bloat in sheep. Bloat is a condition in which the stomach becomes bloated with gas and can even twist, trapping the gas inside.
This can be a very serious condition for sheep and can even be fatal.
If you think your sheep may have bloated, it is important to get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. There are treatments that can be given to relieve the condition, but if it is not caught in time, the sheep may die.
This is only a small concern so long as you are diligent about not allowing your sheep to overgraze on alfalfa.
If you are concerned about bloat, you can also feed your sheep a small amount of baking soda along with their alfalfa.
This will help to prevent bloating by neutralizing the acids in the stomach that can cause it.
Can Sheep Eat Alfalfa Raw?
Yes, sheep can eat alfalfa raw, and live alfalfa is one of the best ways for them to eat it. When alfalfa is cut and baled, it begins to lose some of its nutritional value. The longer it sits, the more nutrients it loses.
However, if you grow your own alfalfa or can buy it fresh, it will be packed with nutrients that your sheep need.
Can Sheep Eat Alfalfa in Other Ways?
Yes. Alfalfa is common in hay and haylage, which is typically fed to sheep. Hay is made by cutting and drying alfalfa, and then packaging it for storage.
While the drying process does cause some loss of nutrients, hay is still a good source of nutrition for sheep.
Beware of Pesticides on Wild or Unknown Alfalfa
If you choose to harvest or buy wild or unknown alfalfa for your sheep, you should take care to verify that it has not been sprayed with pesticides.
Many farmers spray their crops with pesticides to protect them from insects and other pests. However, these chemicals can be harmful to sheep if they eat enough of them.
Pesticides can cause a variety of health problems in sheep, including gastrointestinal distress, neurological damage, and even birth defects or death.
If you are unsure whether or not the alfalfa you are considering feeding your sheep has been sprayed with pesticides, it is best to be prudent and not feed it to them.
How Often Can Sheep Have Alfalfa?
Alfalfa is a good source of nutrition for sheep, and is even a primary component in the form of fresh, live pasturage or hay, but it should not be the only type that they eat.
A diet that consists primarily of alfalfa can cause health problems for sheep, (like bloat) and it also isn’t nutritionally complete. Therefore it is important to feed them a variety of other foods as well.
Also, it is critically important that sheep are introduced to alfalfa slowly, over time. Sheep that aren’t used to it and are allowed to gorge themselves on alfalfa will almost certainly develop severe bloat.
A sheep’s digestive system, or rumen, needs a good while to adapt to a steady diet of anything, and since alfalfa is so rich in protein it produces a ton of gas, very quickly when unprepared.
Accordingly, if you are going to feed your sheep alfalfa as a regular part of their diet you need to give them a little bit every day for a few weeks until their system adapts to it.
Preparing Alfalfa for Your Flock
If you are going to feed your sheep fresh alfalfa, you can simply let them graze on it, although you’ll have to keep an eye on them the whole time to prevent overindulgence.
If you are feeding them hay or haylage, make sure it is whole and free of any contaminants like plastic, wire and other debris.
Can Lambs Have Alfalfa, Too?
Yes, but you are strongly advised to let them grow up quite a bit first. Lambs have very delicate digestive systems and are easily prone to bloat from overfeeding, and alfalfa will only exacerbate this tendency.
If you want to give them alfalfa, do so in sharp moderation and only after they nearing adolescence.
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.
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