Rearing sheep and goats on the same farm isn’t complex; it can be a great idea as both of them are ruminants of similar size (it can be hard for a novice to differentiate them). However, they also differ in certain aspects, which brings me to ask, can sheep eat goat feed?
You can feed your sheep goat feed, such as grain and hay. However, avoid giving them commercial goat feed and supplements because the animals have different protein needs, and goat feed has more copper, which can cause copper poisoning in your sheep.
While feeding your sheep and goat similar feed saves you some money, that may be at the expense of the sheep’s well-being. Keep reading to learn more about the topic, including comparing these animals’ nutritional requirements.
Feeding Sheep Goat Feed (What You Should Know)
As mentioned, it’s best to feed your sheep and goats food specifically made for them. However, your sheep can eat goat feed in dire situations, like if the dry season leaves you with limited forage to provide proper nutrition.
However, do this only for a short period, and switch to sheep supplements or get hay as soon as possible. Nonetheless, you must understand your sheep’s nutritional needs before feeding them goat food.
Although goats and sheep are small ruminants, meaning they have four-compartments stomachs and hence break down food the same way, they have different eating habits.
For instance, sheep are grazers, meaning they eat low-lying vegetation, such as grass, while goats are browsers and thus feed on high-growing parts of the plants, like shoots, fruits, and leaves.
Reasons Not to Feed Sheep Goat Feed
Here’s why it’s essential to stick to feeds and supplements specifically formulated for sheep.
a) Protein Requirements
Goat feed has protein content explicitly measured to meet the animals’ requirements. Typically, goats need 10 to 15 percent crude protein, while sheep require 9 to 15 percent crude protein in their diet. The correct amount varies depending on the animal’s age.
Note that the protein amounts and other nutrients that sheep of a specific age need aren’t the exact amount you will find in goat feed. Therefore, you risk giving your sheep more or less protein by feeding your sheep goat feed.
b) High Amounts of Copper in Goat Feed
Goat feed has high copper amounts because goats require more copper in their diet, similar amounts cattle need.
On the other hand, sheep don’t need as much copper; hence feeding them goat feed can cause copper poisoning.
Sheep are susceptible to chronic and acute copper poisoning (toxicosis), so you must pay close attention to what you feed your sheep.
Primary chronic copper toxicosis happens in sheep if they ingest a lot of copper over an extended period.
An increase in the concentrations of liver enzymes can warn about the impending crisis early before the situation worsens.
The concentrations of copper serum increase acutely, leading to intravascular hemolysis and lipid peroxidation.
The hemolytic crisis might be precipitated by many factors, including weather conditions, transportation, strenuous exercise, lactation, deteriorating nutrition, handling, and pregnancy. In addition, coyote or dog attacks have been linked to sudden chronic copper poisoning outbreaks in sheep.
Ingestion of some plants, like subterranean clover, leads to too much copper retention and mineral imbalance, causing chronic copper toxicosis.
Additionally, eating plants like Senecio spp or Heliotropium europaeum for many months might lead to hepatogenous chronic copper toxicosis.
Moreover, too much copper can impair your sheep’s tolerance to heat and compromise their ability to fend off parasites.
Generally, you should ensure your sheep have a strong immune system, but their tolerance to heat and parasites is especially vital if you live in a warm and humid area.
Before noticing any liver problems stemming from too much copper, you will realize a dip in your sheep’s heat tolerance and a rise in parasite vulnerability.
However, the most detrimental effect of excess copper ingestion in sheep is copper flooding which occurs when stress causes the sheep’s liver to release the stored copper, which could kill the sheep.
Key Tips for Feeding Your Sheep Goat Feed
Below is what you should remember before feeding your sheep goat feed.
1. Check for Copper Availability
As you already know, too much copper isn’t good for your sheep, and goat feed has high copper content.
Most goat feed has enough copper to cause copper poisoning in your sheep, so ensure the goat feed you are about to feed your sheep doesn’t have too much copper.
2. Examine the Feed Instructions
Typically, goat feeds unsuitable for sheep have clear warnings and instructions telling you to avoid feeding them to your sheep.
Therefore, before giving your sheep goat feed from a brand specifically formulated for goats, ensure you carefully read the instructions or consult an expert at your local feed mill.
3. Don’t Feed Your Sheep Excessive Goat Feed
You can occasionally feed your sheep goat feed but don’t give them too much or do it frequently to avoid copper poisoning and depriving your sheep of proper nutrition.
If your sheep fully rely on goat feed over a prolonged period, they can get nutritional deficiency or excessive amounts of certain nutrients.
Which Goat Feed Is Suitable for Sheep?
Sheep and goats have exceptionally fast metabolism rates, so they eat plants with low protein content almost continually. The natural diet of goats comprises fresh and dry hay, among other forage.
Goats eat legume hay, such as alfalfa and clover, or grass hay, such as timothy, and brome, among other orchard mixtures. The sheep diet also resembles the goat diet, with a huge part of the diet comprising forage and hay.
While legume hay costs more than grass hay, research shows it’s better for pregnant and lactating ewes. Typically, farmers provide 50-50 of these hay types to their animals.
However, when feeding your sheep, please don’t give them excess alfalfa because it can cause bloating.
READ ALSO: Bloat in Sheep | Symptoms, Causes, and Cure!
Moreover, your sheep and goats can also share grains. However, this should be only in moderation, ensuring you don’t give them too much of it because it can cause ruminal acidosis and bloating.
Your sheep can also eat vegetables and fruits you would give your goats. However, ensure to give them moderate amounts because too many vegetables and fruits can cause several health problems.
Goat Feed You Shouldn’t Give to Your Sheep
Goat supplements and feed have all the nutrients goats need to stay healthy and thrive, giving you a return on your investment. However, despite being well formulated, it doesn’t mean goat feeds and supplements are ideal for your sheep.
Goat supplements have enough copper to poison your sheep. Hence, it would help if you avoided this because sheep have a low dietary copper threshold. Therefore, your sheep will probably not get hurt by eating a single bag of goat supplements.
However, you risk hurting them by feeding them goat feed exclusively or any other feed not specifically formulated for them.
In addition, avoid giving your sheep mineral blocks or loose minerals made explicitly for goats. Instead, you are better off offering your sheep simple loose salt or a plain white block of salt that doesn’t contain any minerals to avoid copper poisoning.
How to Keep Sheep from Eating Goat Feed
Sheep and goats can live together peacefully. They get along pretty well and can even be excellent friends and great teammates.
However, before mixing these animals, you must consider certain aspects like social structure, diseases, diet, and nutrition.
Regarding diet and nutrition, these animals can share a grazing field without competing for food. However, you must ensure your sheep don’t eat your goat feed which is easier said than done, especially if you place their feeding troughs close to each other.
Therefore, avoid this problem by placing the sheep feeding trough close to the sheep section of the barn and the goat feeding trough nearby the goat barn section.
Moreover, consider feeding these animals in their compartments or pen if you give them processed feed frequently.
If possible, stick to feeding your sheep supplements and commercial feeds meant for them to ensure they receive all their nutrients and minerals needs in the right portions.
However, if you must give them goat feed, ensure the quantities are small, don’t do it regularly, and check the protein and copper levels beforehand.