Sheep typically live on a diet of grass, hay and other pasturage, but they can eat all sorts of other leafy greens in addition, including many vegetables.
In fact, sheep and their owners might depend on some of these vegetables to supplement their diet with nutrients that might be lacking in their usual food.
How about kale? Well regarded as something of a superfood, can sheep eat kale too?
Yes, sheep may eat kale but they must only have it in moderation to gain maximum nutritional benefit while minimizing the risks of certain compounds. Kale is fantastically healthy, with a huge variety of vitamins and minerals that sheep need.
Kale has a reputation as a superfood for a reason, and it can be a great secret weapon or supplemental food in your flock’s diet.
However, eating too much kale might result in health problems in sheep and other ruminants. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about giving kale to your sheep.
Health Benefits of Kale for Sheep
Among the leafy vegetables, kale has a nutritional profile that can hardly be beaten. Kale contains abundant vitamin A equivalent, most of the B vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and folate, trace amounts of choline, loads of vitamin C, vitamin E and tons of vitamin K.
And the good news continues when you assess the mineral profile of kale, with calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and potassium being present in abundance, along with a little bit of selenium, sodium and zinc.
All told, this is a total body nutritional supplement for sheep, one that will help them grow luxurious and healthy wool, a strong skeleton, healthy connective tissues, and more.
Problems Associated with Excess Kale Consumption in Sheep
Kale is definitely healthy for sheep, but overfeeding on it and other plants in the brassica genus is associated with pretty significant health issues. Among them bloat, acidosis, nitrate poisoning milk fever and “red water.”
Bloat is a condition where the animal’s rumen becomes filled with gas, and it can be fatal if not treated quickly. Acidosis is a drop in pH levels in the animal’s blood, which can also be fatal.
Nitrate poisoning occurs when animals consume high levels of plants that contain nitrates, and can result in all sorts of health complications.
Milk fever is a condition that affects lactating ewes and can cause serious problems during lambing.
Red water is a condition where the animal’s urine turns red, indicating the presence of blood in the urine resulting from low hemoglobin concentrations.
So, while kale is healthy for sheep, it should only be given to them in moderation to avoid any potential health problems, and sheep that aren’t used to it should be slowly acclimatized to kale in their diet.
Additionally, some individual sheep just don’t seem to handle kale and other brassica plants well no matter what, and should not be allowed to eat it.
Can Sheep Eat Kale Raw?
Yes, sheep can eat kale raw, and this will ensure they get maximum nutrition from it.
However, some of the harmful compounds in kale are also present in highest concentrations when raw, especially in mature plants.
Can Sheep Eat Kale Cooked?
Sheep can and will eat cooked kale, but cooking breaks down some of the nutrients, so it’s not as good for them as raw kale.
On the other hand, thoroughly cooked kale will lose some of the compounds that can lead to health issues, so this is something to consider.
Never Feed Kale to Sheep that Has Been Prepared with Harmful Ingredients
On the subject of cooking kale, you should never feed kale to your sheep that has been prepared with harmful ingredients. This includes kale that has been cooked with salt, sugar, oil, dressings and the like.
All of these can be harmful to sheep, resulting in weight gain, bloat, peritonitis, and severe diarrhea.
Any of these will make your goat miserable, and can be fatal in their own right, so only ever give them kale that has been cooked without any seasonings or additives.
Beware of Pesticide on Grocery-bought Kale
Another thing you must be cautious of if buying kale to serve to your sheep is the likely presence of pesticide residues on it.
All commercial crops are heavily treated with pesticides, but kale is among the very worst when it comes to volume and also retention of pesticides.
These pesticides have been linked with all kinds of health issues in mammals, including sheep, everything from endocrine disruption and neurological damage to reproductive harm and cancer.
So, if you’re going to feed kale to your sheep, it’s very important that you only buy organic (pesticide-free organic), or better yet grow your own. In any case, thoroughly wash any store-bought kale before giving it to your flock.
How Often Can Sheep Have Kale?
While kale is healthy for sheep and can be given to them every day in limited quantities, it’s best to give them a variety of greens so they get a wide range of nutrients.
Kale can make up a part of their diet, but shouldn’t be the only green they’re eating.
Also, remember that you must slowly acclimatize sheep to kale when they aren’t used to eating it, a process that can take weeks if you are only giving them a little every day.
Allowing sheep that aren’t getting kale in their diet to just start chowing down on it is all but certain to make them gravely sick or even kill them.
Preparing Kale for Your Flock
Assuming you’ve decided to take the plunge and add kale to your sheep’s diet, there are a few things you should know about preparing it.
Most importantly, it is helpful to chop it up into smaller chunks that are easy for sheep to eat. Sheep and other herbivores have been known to choke on kale.
Second, keep an eye on all your sheep after feeding them kale to make sure they are acting normally. Some signs of distress associated with excess kale manifest quickly after eating it.
Can Lambs Have Kale, Too?
Lambs can have kale, but you should take care to introduce it slowly into their diet as well, just as you would with adult sheep. Due to their small size, lambs are even more susceptible than adult sheep to the harmful effects of kale if they eat too much of it.
Once a lamb is old enough to start eating solid food at all times, start with small quantities and watch them closely for any signs of distress.
Remember: it will not take nearly as much kale to result in health problems in lambs! A mistake in portion control or a moment’s inattention could mean you have a dead lamb on your hands.
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.