All sheep must have access to clean water and a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Freedom from hunger and thirst provides sheep with their most basic needs by allowing them to remain in good health and full of energy.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom from Hunger and Thirst. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your sheep have what they need to be free from hunger and thirst.
Sheep need a lot of clean, fresh water available to them at all times of the day. Sheep will drink anywhere from 2 – 14 litres of water a day, depending on how hot they are and how much they have eaten.
Sheep do not like their water to be too warm, or too hot, so setting up your sheep’s water supply is best somewhere in the shade. The trough that contains the water should be raised off the ground so that it doesn’t spill over and go to waste or turn the ground to mud.
You can use raised troughs, automatic waterers or big heavy buckets for your sheep’s water supply. Remember to make sure your sheep can reach into its water safely without the risk of falling in.
The main part of your sheep’s diet should be pasture. This includes grass, clover and other pasture plants. Sheep love pasture and will feed on it for up to nine hours a day, sometimes more!
If you have good quality pasture and lots of it, then your sheep will only need a diet of pasture and some hay at different times.
Your family can also offer commercial sheep food to your sheep – this comes in the form of grains or hay and is called ‘supplementing.’ However, this is only recommended if your sheep is not eating enough pasture, or you don’t have enough pasture.
If you feed both pasture, hay and a commercial grain food to your sheep, your sheep could easily end up overweight. It is a good idea to get a veterinarian or other experienced sheep guardian (owner) to check the quality of your pasture and they will be able to tell you if your sheep should be eating a commercial diet as well, or if grass and hay will be enough for your sheep.
There are some plants that are poisonous to sheep and should not be fed to them at all, or else they could become very ill and possibly die. Some of the plants which are poisonous to sheep include:
An adult will need to check to make sure that your sheep’s housing area has none of these plants present. If you suspect your sheep may have eaten something poisonous, you should call a veterinarian immediately.
Sheep are herbivores, meaning they eat only plants. Sheep and many other farm animals have a really interesting way of eating and digesting their food. You might notice your sheep chewing their food, swallowing it, regurgitating it and chewing it all over again.
This is because sheep have four-chambered stomachs (the special name for this is a ruminant). Your sheep swallows their food multiple times and then all four special compartments of the sheep’s stomach work very hard to digest the food.
This may seem like a lot of work, but it is actually a very efficient way for a sheep to eat, as it means your sheep get lots of nutrients from grass to make it healthy. Sheep will often lay down while they are eating in this way.
Since sheep eat mainly pasture and other roughage (hay or grain), they do not always get all the nutrients they need to be healthy from their food - because of this, it is recommended you feed your sheep mineral licks/blocks if your veterinarian advises.
These are special rock like, hard blocks which contain important ingredients in them such as salt, calcium, cooper, iodine, selenium and zinc. These ingredients will help your sheep stay healthy and fit.
Be sure to only feed your sheep a mineral lick/block designed for sheep. Your local farm store will be able to find you a mineral lick/block that is made especially for sheep.
As your sheep will eat a lot of pasture, your family will need to look after your pasture to make sure there is enough for your sheep to eat. If your sheep have finished eating all the pasture in one area, ideally your family should have another area of pasture that your sheep can have access to graze on.
This is called ‘rotating your pasture.’ Otherwise, an adult can pre-prepare and store pasture to give to your sheep when the grass has run out. Remember though, if you run out of a good pasture and are waiting for it to grow back, you will need feed more hay to your sheep and may need to supplement feed your sheep which we described earlier.