It’s hard to say, because a quick search on the internet will show that some owners claim their sheep seem to enjoy other animal feed that has meat in it, and there are even some claims of wild sheep eating small mammals. Is any of this true? Can sheep eat meat?
No, sheep should not eat meat under any circumstances. Although sheep might incidentally consume animal derived proteins for any number of reasons, sheep cannot properly digest meat and will become very ill if they eat meat regularly. You should never feed meat to your flock in any way.
It turns out that common sense is common for a reason. Sheep should not eat meat, as they cannot digest it properly and repeated or regular consumption will lead to devastating health consequences. Keep reading to learn why meat is a dietary no-go for sheep.
Sheep are Herbivores, Not Carnivores
It is something so simple that even grade school kids know it. Sheep only eat plant matter, not meat. But why is this so, and why can’t they eat meat every once in a while?
The stomachs of sheep, and all other ruminants for that matter, are specifically designed to extract nutrients from plant-based material. Ruminants have a four-chamber stomach that ferments food before it ever reaches the small intestine.
This fermentation process is what allows ruminants to extract nutrients like proteins, essential lipids, minerals, and vitamins from plants that would be otherwise indigestible.
One of the most important things to understand about the stomach of a ruminant is that it contains bacteria, protozoa, and fungi (collectively known as microflora) that are absolutely essential to the digestion process.
These microflora actually produce enzymes that break down complex carbohydrates and other plant material so that the animal can absorb them. Bear with me, because this is important.
The microflora in a sheep’s stomach is specifically adapted to digest plant material. If a sheep were to consume meat, the microflora would not be able to properly break it down, leading to digestive issues.
In fact, consuming meat can actually kill off the microflora in a sheep’s stomach, as the acids and other components of meat are hostile to these beneficial organisms.
Consuming meat means that a series of biological dominoes might start to fall, leading to severe illness or even the death of your poor sheep.
Sheep Can Eat Some Animal Products, but That Doesn’t Mean They Can Eat Meat
You might be thinking, “But I’ve heard of people feeding their sheep milk and other dairy products.
Surely those must count as animal products.” And you would be right! Dairy products are, in fact, animal products. However, there is an important distinction to be made here.
Dairy products are designed to be consumed by young mammals that are still growing and developing. The milk of a mother sheep, for example, is specifically designed to nourish a lamb so that it can grow into a healthy adult sheep.
A ewe’s milk is meant to nourish her lamb so that it can develop properly, and their digestive systems are tailored accordingly.
The same cannot be said of meat. Sheep are not intended to consume meat, nor any other ruminant for that matter.
In fact, as we have already established, consuming meat is harmful to mammalian herbivores. So, while it is technically true that sheep can consume some animal products, it is not true that they can eat meat.
Can Sheep Eat Meat Raw?
Absolutely not. Aside from lacking all the necessary tools to be successful predators, or even chew meat, their digestive system is in no way able to handle meat even if they do swallow it.
Can Sheep Eat Meat Cooked?
No. Cooking meat does not make it safer or nutritious for sheep in any way.
How About Animal Feed with Meat and Plant Ingredients?
This is a common question, and the answer is still no. Even animal feed that is designed for other carnivorous or omnivorous animals should not be fed to sheep.
Just because the stomachs of sheep are specifically designed to digest plant matter, and the microflora in their stomachs are specifically adapted to break down complex carbohydrates and other plant material, does not mean that it can handle some processed meat in the mix from a single source.
Feeding sheep animal feed that contains meat will likely cause digestive issues as detailed above: their bodies will not be able to properly break down the meat component of the feed.
In fact, feeding sheep other animal feed that contains meat could still kill off the microflora in their stomachs, as the acids and other intrinsic components of meat remain hostile to these beneficial organisms.
Stealing a few bites of dog food or chicken feed is unlikely to cause any serious harm, but it’s best to avoid feeding any such feed or allowing them access to it, just to be sure.
Consequences of Meat Consumption in Sheep
So, what happens if a sheep does eat meat? Unfortunately, the consequences can be quite severe.
As we have already established, sheep lack the necessary enzymes to break down and digest meat. This means that the meat will sit in their stomachs undigested, fermenting and putrefying.
This can lead to diarrhea, dehydration, bloat, gastritis, enterotoxaemia and an increased susceptibility to disease, all of which can be fatal.
In addition, as previously mentioned, consuming meat can actually kill off the beneficial microflora in a sheep’s stomach.
This can lead to malnutrition, as the sheep will no longer be able to properly digest what plant-based material they eat after eating the meat.
This collapse of the gut “ecosystem” is difficult to reverse and often requires significant supporting care in the meantime.
Finally, eating meat can also introduce parasites, bacteria, and other pathogens into a sheep’s system. These can cause disease and illness all their own, some of which may again be fatal.
Never Feed Lambs any Meat
It should go without saying, but you should never allow lambs to eat any food with meat or meat-derived products in it. Every vulnerability that adult sheep have is present in lambs, and the effects multiplied.
Lambs are still growing and developing, which means that their digestive systems are not yet fully matured. This makes them even more susceptible to the negative effects of consuming meat.
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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