I noticed something when I put my ewes and ram together in one pasture so we could get the breeding season off to a start. With 11 adult ewes and an adult ram, the sheep minerals were getting eaten at a very fast rate.
Earlier in the year, the ewes were in different pastures. I hadn’t noticed them going through the minerals as quickly.
But it got me wondering about a sheep’s nutritional needs beyond grass or hay and grain (if you feed it). As it turns out, sheep have very specific requirements that differ from other livestock–including goats.
A Matter of Minerals
As a shepherd, it’s important for you to understand the needs of your flock of sheep. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, sheep need the following:
- Salt (Sodium and chlorine): Sheep need salt to remain strong and healthy, to lactate and to reproduce.
- Calcium and Phosphorus: The amount of these minerals varies depending on your pasture make-up of grasses and legumes. But rather than depend on forage alone, it’s best to supplement these in a mineral mix.
- Magnesium and Sulfur: Low magnesium in forage can result in a disease called “grass tetany.” Sheep need sulphur for growing both wool and hair.
- Potassium: An adequate amount of potassium is necessary for good growth, especially among growing lambs.
- Trace minerals, including Cobalt, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Zinc and Selenium: Most of these are not available in great amounts in many parts of the country.
I had heard about copper toxicity, but did not realize that small amounts of copper are necessary for healthy sheep. It’s just when they get too much that they can have copper toxicity. There are not a lot of signs of this except when your sheep dies.
So, making sure that you use a special mixture of minerals made for sheep makes the most sense to me.
Loose Minerals vs. Block
Another question I had was whether loose minerals or a mineral block is best for a flock. The Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends feeding loose minerals. The mineral blocks are made hard enough to shed rain water. But that also means sheep may have a more difficult time getting the minerals they need by licking.
And even worse, sheep can break their teeth trying to gnaw on these blocks.
The key is to put out enough minerals so that your sheep can eat them whenever they need them. You don’t need to worry about them overeating the minerals. They know what they need.
Tips for Purchase & Use
When you purchase sheep minerals, read the label to make sure that your purchase has the right ingredients to keep the animals healthy. The cheapest is not always the best to buy in this case.
And here’s my pro tip: Keep the pan of minerals for your sheep in a covered place in case of rain or snow. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone out and found a bowl of watery minerals that no one will eat.
I now keep my pans of loose minerals in the covered shed where we put our sheep up at night. Believe me, they will find the pan just fine!
Your sheep can do well on pasture, grain and fresh, clean water. But don’t neglect the need to ensure they have the vitamin and mineral supplementation that they need to grow, thrive and reproduce.