Sheep can eat just about anything that is plant matter, or made from plant matter. All sorts of pasturage, hay, grass, weeds, you name it; sheep eat it all. But sheep can also eat processed food that is just for them in the form of sheep feed.
Sheep feed, like all other animal feeds, is a processed food that contains everything that sheep need to be healthy.
But how about other all-plant animal feeds, like horse feed? Are those safe for sheep to eat all the same? Can sheep eat horse feed?
No, sheep should not eat horse feed. Even though both sheep and horses are herbivores, they have different digestive systems that require different types of food.
Horse feed is made for horses and their nutritional requirements and metabolism, which means that it is not good for sheep to eat even if it is generally safe.
If you’re looking for a good feed for your sheep, make sure to get one that is specifically designed for them.
This is one of those times where a different animal’s food is not overtly harmful for sheep, but ingesting significant amounts at once or over a longer period of time could still result in poor health or illness.
You don’t need to worry if your sheep sneak a few bites of your horses’ food, but you don’t want to feed it to them on purpose or replace their usual feed with horse feed.
They are not interchangeable! Keep reading to learn more.
A Few Bites of Horse Feed is Probably Nothing to Worry About
Just to be perfectly clear, and in case you landed on this article after discovering that your sheep indeed did manage to nab some, know that horse feed is not overtly toxic for sheep.
This doesn’t mean it cannot hurt them, but a bite or two is unlikely to cause a healthy sheep any ill-effects.
This is because both sheep and horses are herbivores, and their processed feed is accordingly made entirely from plant matter (usually!).
So, while the nutritional requirements of each are different as we will discuss in more detail momentarily, there is nothing in horse feed that should be an issue for sheep in small quantities.
Again, though, large quantities could still cause problems because of a few reasons that we’ll explore now.
Namely, the different digestive systems of sheep and horses means that what is nutritious and easy to digest for one might not be so much for the other.
Feeding your sheep horse feed on purpose is therefore not recommended, but a few incidental mouthfuls should not be harmful.
Horse Feed is for Horses, Not Sheep
It is the most elementary assertion imaginable. Of course horse feed is for horses, and sheep feed is for sheep.
But since both animals are herbivores and actually eat many of the exact same things, why is this so?
This has much to do with the biology and nutritional requirements of each animal; they differ thoroughly! Different animals have different digestive systems that require different types and amounts of food to function properly.
Their metabolism is also distinct, as is the way they process nutrients. All these factors contribute to why one animal’s feed cannot simply be used for another, even if they are both herbivores.
For example, horses are non-ruminants, while sheep are. A ruminant is an animal that has a four-chambered stomach that ferments food before it enters the intestines.
Non-ruminants, on the other hand, have a one-chamber stomach and do not ferment their food.
This difference in digestive system means that sheep and horses need different ratios of nutrients and quantities of food to be healthy.
Additionally, horses are much larger animals than sheep on average. They weigh more and have a higher calorie requirement as a result.
Their metabolism faster, meaning they need more nutrients to maintain their baseline energy levels. Sheep, being smaller with a slower metabolism, do not require as many calories or nutrients.
This is reflected in the content of their feed; horse feed has more protein and fat than sheep feed does, for example.
These slight but significant differences between the two animals’ needs is why you cannot simply give a sheep horse feed or vice versa.
To do so would be to put the animal at risk of not getting the right amounts of nutrients or getting too much of a nutrient, which could lead to malnutrition or toxicity respectively, and the health problems associated with each.
Consuming to Much Horse Feed will Harm Sheep
And this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to sheep eating horse feed: if they consume too much of it, they will become sick one way or the other.
If a sheep were to eat a large quantity of horse feed, they would not be able to properly digest all the nutrients contained therein.
This would lead to problems such as malnutrition, diarrhea, bloat, and intestinal blockages. Conversely, an excess of other nutrients can lead to toxic accumulation.
Because horse feed has more protein and fat than sheep feed, and eating too much of it could cause obesity in sheep on top of all the other issues.
This would put them at risk for developing health problems such as joint issues, heart disease, and difficulty breathing.
How Often Can Sheep Have Horse Feed?
To sum it up, can sheep eat horse feed? Yes, but they shouldn’t, period.
A few sneaky bites here and there likely won’t hurt them, but allowing them to eat horse feed on purpose is a bad idea.
The different nutritional needs of sheep and horses means that feeding one the other’s food will cause problems eventually.
Don’t give it to them as a snack, don’t give it to them for convenience and definitely don’t give it to them as a replacement for their usual feed!
Can Lambs Have Horse Feed?
It should be obvious by now, but no, lambs cannot have horse feed. For all the same reasons as why sheep can’t have it, lambs also shouldn’t have horse feed.
Their nutritional needs are different, and feeding them horse feed will only cause problems down the road.
Worse, lambs are even more vulnerable to the harmful effects of consuming too much horse feed than sheep are because they are still growing and developing.
So, to answer the question once and for all, can sheep eat horse feed? No, they shouldn’t.
A few bites once in a blue moon is no cause for alarm but horse feed is not meant for sheep, and feeding it to them in quantity will only cause serious problems over time.
If you have sheep, make sure to get them the proper sheep feed to keep them healthy and happy.
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.