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Can sheep eat acorns?
Like many others, I also have a few old oaks on one of my pastures. They’re a great landscaping tree, but also useful for their deep shade and their nuts that wildlife seems to be crazy about. Some years ago, we tried making flour from acorns and also a coffee acorn substitute. Last few years, we just didn’t manage to find time to do it all over again. You’ve probably heard that acorns are not recommended for livestock, and now you’re looking for more details. So, let’s focus on our ruminants. Can sheep eat acorns?
Acorns are not recommended for sheep. They should not be a part of the standard sheep diet and should not be consumed on a regular basis. You should provide your sheep with a nutritionally balanced diet that largely consists of hay or pasture. Acorns contain gallotannin which gets broken down into gallic acid and tannic acid which can be toxic to sheep if consumed in larger quantities. It can cause digestive problems, like diarrhea or bloating in sheep. However, like with any toxin, the dosage is the most important. There are some steps that you can take to make sure that your sheep can inhabit the same location as your oak trees.
You should note that sheep tend to eat acorns if they have nothing else to eat at the location. To date, I had no problems with my sheep, but I’m keeping a keen eye on them when I let them run freely in the pasture where I have several oaks.
If the sheep are local and are familiar with your oak trees, then they will know not to gorge on acorns, but only taste them when in need.
How many acorns can sheep eat?
There are various factors that we have to consider to answer this question. From your sheep size to the type of acorns, maybe even the breed of your sheep. The best amount is zero, the second best is as little as possible. As long as you provide your sheep with adequate basic feed, you should be fine if occasionally they do get a taste.
Older sheep with more mature digestive systems seem to be less susceptible to acorn poisoning.
Can sheep eat cooked or in any way processed acorns?
Soaking acorns in water may remove most of the tannins and in that way can reduce the risk of poisoning your sheep. But, be aware that you can never get rid of all of them and you should still not use them as basic sheep feed. Additionally, soaking acorns is time-consuming and if you do get into that process, you might even use them yourself, like for some homemade acorn flour.
Green acorns seem to be the most toxic for any livestock.
Can sheep eat oak bark or oak leaves?
Both oak bark and oak leaves can be harmful to sheep. They also contain high levels of tannins with all the potential issues just like acorns. Also, depending on the oak species, they might contain other toxins like urushiol (found in poison oak). Luckily, sheep don’t really have a taste for them. I’ve never noticed my sheep trying either oak bark or leaves. So, if you have any other feed available for your sheep in that location, they should not decide to eat oak bark or oak leaves on their own.
Oak leaves are most problematic when still green.
Are any acorn species safer for sheep?
Tannin in the acorn can vary between species of the oak tree. Most toxic for sheep, and any other livestock, are red, black, and scarlet oak. Their tannin amount is the highest. Safer are bur, white, and swamp white oaks. However, tannin content is still high even in white oak to cause serious problems if your sheep overeat them.
Sheep can develop a craving for oaks.
What are the symptoms of acorn poisoning in sheep?
There is a various range of symptoms of acorn poisoning in sheep. The more acorns your sheep ate, the more the likelihood of more severe symptoms appearing:
- Acorn pieces in the animal’s feces
- Diarrhea: pretty self-explanatory. Can get quite frequent. Some sheep may develop constipation, not diarrhea.
- Loss of appetite: Your sheep might even stop eating altogether for some time.
- Dehydration: Because of the two symptoms above. Watch out for this one.
- Bloating: like with excess corn, sheep stomachs bloat. Can get quite problematic.
- Anemia: one of the symptoms of an upset stomach can be a loss of ability to process nutrients in the right way, which can lead to anemia.
- Other digestive issues: Like weight loss or some other damage to the digestive tract.
- Heavier symptoms: birth defects, death
Watch out for all of the mentioned symptoms and seek professional help if needed.
What is the acorn poisoning treatment for sheep?
Treatment of your poisoned sheep will depend on the severity of the symptoms. But, first, remember to remove your sheep from further access to acorns
- Fluid therapy: in case of dehydration.
- Anti-inflammatory meds: in case of an upset or inflamed stomach
- Probiotics: after therapy, to restore healthy gut bacteria
- Activated charcoal: to help eliminate as much tannin toxin as possible
Sometimes, prompt treatment from the vet is the best thing you can do for your sheep. In case of severe poisoning, treatment is a difficult task as there is no specific antidote to poisoning.
How to restrict sheep to access acorns?
If you do happen to experience acorn poisoning problems with your sheep, then the best option is to restrict access to acorns. Here are some ideas:
- Fencing area off: permanently or temporarily when most of the acorns start falling down. Some years are especially problematic as the abundance of acorns varies. Also, when the wind is strong and it starts bringing down lots of green acorns (the most problematic ones).
- Provide basic feed: make sure that your sheep are not starving and have access to hay or grass. This is a sure way to reduce the number of acorns your sheep might digest.
- Provide supplemental feed: sometimes the solution is to provide your sheep with more options, like something that can provide them with high amounts of energy. Maybe grain or bread, but be careful with those as well, you don’t want to replace one problem with another. More about bread and sheep.
Additional info and final words
Acorns can be problematic for sheep if consumed in larger quantities. But, there are some regions in the world that actually use oak leaves for feed when the pasture is not available. Here is a research paper that I’ve found on that topic if you’re interested in more details.
Make sure that your sheep have adequate basic feed provided and you should be able to bypass any acorn problems. If problems do occur, contact your veterinarian and restrict further access of your sheep to oak trees.