Should You Feed Your Sheep Kelp Meal?

The official science may still be out on feeding sheep kelp, but anecdotal evidence supports supplementing a flock's diet for overall benefits.

by Jana Wilson
PHOTO: Jana Wilson

Many farmers and homesteaders say that kelp is a great source of filling in micronutrient deficiencies probably missing in our pastures. 

I mean, after all, humans eat kelp in lots of forms. First, the obvious is the nori seaweed sheets wrapped around your sushi rolls. But there’s also kelp in your dairy products, frozen food, salad dressing, store-bought baked goods, and even shampoo and toothpaste. 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), each year 100,000 to 170,000 wet tons of kelp is harvested from California waters alone.

But Kelp for Sheep? 

To be perfectly honest, there really isn’t a lot of research out there about the specific benefits of kelp for sheep. What I have been able to find shows that it has several micronutrients that help with digestion, reproduction and immune system.

So the first thing you should know is that much of this information is anecdotal at best. You definitely should consult with your own vet if you decide to feed your sheep kelp meal. 

Read more: Are your sheep getting their daily vitamins and minerals?

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Help with Heat

One interesting fact that I have been told and have read (mostly on websites that advertise their kelp meal) is that it will help the animals with heat stress.

Here in the midwest, that’s probably a good thing for those of us who raise wool sheep. Of course we shear in the spring. But wool begins to grow back over the summer. I often feel very sorry for my sheep in the heat of the late summer and early fall. 

sheep kelp feed
Jana Wilson

Prebiotic Fiber & Other Good Stuff

Kelp meal also has been shown to be a good source of prebiotic fiber. This nourishes the good bacteria already in the sheep’s colon.

Kelp also contains a good amount of iodine and cobalt, while being low in copper (something that can be toxic to sheep in larger amounts). 

Read more: Considering sheep? Get to know the Jacob Sheep breed!

Looks Good to Me

Some sheep farmers I know use kelp and have seen good results. And I have seen what I suspect are the results of feeding kelp meal to the sheep. 

I have gone to help with the shearing at a friend’s house for about three or four years. She began feeding kelp last year, just for reference.

What I noticed this year—as the shearer zipped through each sheep in less than 10 minutes—was that the wool on her sheep was longer, fluffier and easier to shear than it had ever been in the past! The sheep shearer, who has been doing these sheep for many years, confirmed that the wool was far easier to cut through than it had ever been.

The only thing that changed? Addition of kelp meal in her salt pans. 

So I’ve decided to add some kelp to my sheep salts as well. I use a salt that is fortified with selenium, a trace element that is deficient in most of our soil in the U.S. I’ve mixed the kelp meal into my salt, and the sheep seem to love it.

So I’ll report back on the results of my kelp experiment in about a year or so.  

In Other News…

Meanwhile, on the farm, lambing has begun! We had a single ram lamb born Saturday and a lovely, large ewe lamb born today just before I went out to the barn to check on the pregnant ewes.

Both are doing well and healthy. I look forward to seeing the rest of the lambs over the next month! Thankfully, the cold weather seems to have passed here in the Midwest … though the young ram lamb was born while it was snowing outside! 

And just for fun, check out a video about a unique group of sheep in Northern Scotland who eat nothing but seaweed.

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