Sheep and goats have different nutritional needs

Sheep and goats can both be classified as small ruminants. Livestock classified as a ruminant must have adequate roughage in their diet to ensure the rumen continues to function properly.

Roughage is defined as any feed ingredient that has a high concentration of fiber that breaks down slowly. While both sheep and goats have a common physiology, are docile and suited for either hobby farm use or commercial production, they do have different feed requirements that need to be managed appropriately.

As a general rule, sheep are classified as intermediate grazers. Intermediate grazers prefer a variety of high-quality grass, weeds and they browse. While goats are browsers and tend to eat a large variety within their diet, including, grass, weeds, and leaves from woody plants, goats are able to eat things that sheep (and cattle) cannot, like cedar.

When considering feedstuffs, total mixed rations should be formulated for the correct species at the appropriate life stage. For example, a young growing animal vs. an adult maintenance animal vs. an adult late gestation or lactation animal will all require different feed rations. While most feedstuffs contain basic, general nutrition, additional supplementation may be required and specific nutrients should be watched very closely.

A very critical nutrient to pay attention to, in sheep specifically, is copper. Copper toxicity is the primary feed related disease that differs among species, but is especially pertinent in sheep.

“Sheep need copper at 10 ppm in the diet,” explained Reid Redden, Sheep and Goat Specialist with Texas A&M University. “Goats and cattle need copper at 30 ppm in the diet. Copper at 30 ppm is toxic to sheep when they are on this feed for prolonged periods of time.”

It’s also important to pay attention to molybdenum in relation to Copper.

“Molybdenum interferes with copper and changes the requirements,” said Redden.

This is why is crucial to be cautious with supplementing your small ruminant nutrition. Most supplements are high in grains or feed-byproducts. Many times these items don’t have a correct mineral profile, so they must be corrected for this.

Most supplements have minerals added to balance out the feed ingredients. Supplements or grains should be fed with caution because they can cause rapid shifts in the rumen bacteria, which can lead to major digestive issues.

It’s also important to pay attention to parasites. Round worms are a major problem for both sheep and goats.

“Round worms feed on their (sheep and goats) blood and can cause them to become anemic, ultimately leading to death,” explained Redden.

Managing round worms can be a very complex process and may require a variety of methods to control. Deworming, pasture rotation, refugia, genetic selection, body condition and breeding season are critical aspects and require consistent practice and attention in sheep and goat management.

While small ruminant nutrition may involve a watchful eye, ultimately, they are easily manageable animals. Producers with questions regarding feed rations or small ruminant production, should reach out to their local livestock specialist or feed professional.


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