You’re a shepherd, and you’ve recently embarked on the exciting journey of breeding season with your flock. As you bring your ewes and ram together in one pasture, it’s easy to wonder if you are meeting all of their nutritional needs.
I think it’s important to look at the specific nutritional requirements of sheep, a topic often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of daily shepherding. Your sheep can thrive on pasture, grain and clean water, but don’t underestimate the importance of vitamin and mineral supplementation.
For example, your ewes may be bred, but the fetuses are only growing a small amount during the first and second trimester. Ewes can be fed on pasture or a good quality grass hay. According to Purina Mills, ewes should be fed a sheep mineral and vitamin mix to complement the nutrient content of the forages fed.
Later in the gestation period, however, the ewes will need a substantial increase in their energy and protein requirements. The ram will also need top-drawer nutrition during breeding season, when they can actually lose up to 12 percent of their body weight!
Also, never forget that keeping clean, fresh water available to them all the time is really essential.
Minerals by the Book
The Merck Veterinary Manual provides valuable insights into the essential minerals your sheep need:
- Salt (Sodium and Chlorine): Vital for overall strength, health, lactation and reproduction.
- Calcium and Phosphorus: The amounts vary based on pasture composition, but supplementation is crucial.
- Magnesium and Sulfur: Low magnesium can lead to “grass tetany,” and sulfur is essential for wool and hair growth.
- Potassium: Critical for optimal growth, particularly among growing lambs.
- Trace Minerals (Cobalt, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Zinc, Selenium): Often insufficient in forage alone, necessitating supplementation.
The reality of copper toxicity, however, highlights the importance of choosing a mineral mix specifically designed for sheep. While copper is necessary for sheep health, excess amounts can be harmful. Opting for a well-balanced mixture tailored for your flock minimizes the risk.
Delivery Method: Loose or Block?
Now we have to ask the question: Are loose minerals or mineral blocks better?
The Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends loose minerals. While mineral blocks resist weathering, they can be tough for sheep to access. The hardness designed to shed rainwater poses challenges for your flock, and there’s the added risk of broken teeth from gnawing.
The key is providing minerals in a form that allows sheep to consume them easily whenever they need to. After all, you really don’t want potential dental issues with your flock.
Here’s a pro tip: Store the pan of minerals in a covered place to shield it from rain or snow. Countless times, a bowl of watery minerals greeted me, untouched by the flock. Now, with the pans sheltered in the covered shed where the sheep bed down at night, they consistently find and consume them.
When purchasing sheep minerals, scrutinize the labels. The cheapest option is not always the right option and may not offer the necessary ingredients for your flock’s health. It’s an investment in your flock’s well-being, and skimping on quality can have long-term consequences.
Ensuring your flock receives the nutrients they need is the key to their growth, vitality and reproductive success. As a shepherd, you hold the well-being of your flock in your hands—make those hands knowledgeable and caring.