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Can sheep eat goat feed?
Some sheep and goat breeds are so similar, they’re really hard to differentiate. You can usually have them together on your farm. They’re the same size, they’re both ruminants. But can they eat the same food? Our main goal in this post is to answer the question of whether sheep can eat goat feed, but we’ll touch on the reverse question as well. So, let me give you a straightforward answer immediately, and then we can delve deeper into more details later on. Can sheep eat goat feed?
Sheep can eat regular goat feed like hay or grain. Sheep and goats are both ruminants and their natural diet is somewhat similar, with forage as their primary, regular foodstuff. On the other hand, sheep shouldn’t eat commercial goat supplements for two reasons. The first reason is the different protein requirements for sheep and goats and the second reason is the increased amount of copper that can be found in goat supplements. Those increased amounts of copper are especially not recommended for sheep.
You can give your sheep some amount of goat supplements if you’re in a dire situation and you were hit with a very dry season that has left you without an adequate forage quantity to support sheep. But try to keep this arrangement running for a very limited period of time. Switch to supplements recommended specifically for sheep or acquire hay in one way or another. Even larger reason to avoid giving sheep goat supplements is if you don’t have a deep understanding of your sheep’s nutritional requirements. To avoid errors, you should minimize or completely avoid giving your sheep any commercial goat supplements.
Are Goats and Sheep Similar?
Sheep and goats are both ruminants. They’re herbivores with four-compartment stomachs specialized to act as fermentation tanks. Their stomach breaks down grasses and other various plants into useful and viable nutrients.
While sheep and goat digestive tract is similar, their eating habits are not. Goats are browsers, which means they feed on high-growing plant parts like leaves, fruits, and shoots, while sheep are grazers, which means they feed on low-lying vegetation like grass. So basically, there should not be much competition for food if you decide to have goats along with your sheep on a farm.
Goat feed that is suitable for sheep
There is one major rule when talking about the sheep and goat diet. These animals have very fast metabolism rates. What that means is that they have to eat low-protein plants almost continually.
And now to the specifics. As mentioned before, a goat’s natural diet should in a major part consist of hay and other forage, either dry or fresh. Hay that goats can eat can be grass hay (like brome, timothy, or other orchard mixtures) or legume hay (like clover or alfalfa). Exactly the same applies to sheep. No way around it, a major part of their diet should be hay and forage. Legume hay is more costly, but some research says it’s better for lactating and pregnant does and ewes. A lot of farmers go 50-50 with those two types of hay on their farms. Only one small consideration here, be careful not to include too much alfalfa hay into the sheep diet. Bloatness can appear in sheep if alfalfa is used as a major food source.
Another often-used food source that goats and sheep share are grains, but they should be used as a food source only in moderation. Too much grain is known to cause bloatedness and ruminal acidosis. You can check more about grains in one deeply-researched post filled with interesting details and focused on one type of grain, corn. Check the post here.
There is one more food source that both sheep and goats can eat. Fruits and vegetables. An important note here is that fruits and vegetables have to be consumed in a very limited fashion by both animals. Many health issues can arise if giving them fruits and vegetables in excess quantities.
On this site, I’ve tackled many different fruits and vegetables and the quantities that are suitable for sheep. You can check them all if interested:
Goat feed that is not suitable for sheep
Goat supplements have a high level of copper, all in accord with goat needs. Sheep, on the other hand, have a low threshold for dietary copper. Goat supplements contain toxic levels of dietary copper for sheep.
One bag of goat supplements probably wouldn’t hurt your sheep. But don’t feed them exclusively goat feed or any other feed not recommended for sheep.
So, is there any particular reason that copper is so problematic and toxic for sheep? Too much copper in the sheep diet can actually undermine their ability to fight off parasites and tolerate heat. And you probably want to give your sheep every edge they can get against these issues. If you live in a humid and warm location, these two problems will definitely appear before you notice any liver problems due to copper. In the worst case, too much copper can kill your sheep. This is called copper flooding and it happens when the liver releases all stored copper due to stress.
Another goat accessory that is not suitable for sheep are loose minerals or mineral blocks that are specifically made for goats. Most mineral blocks made for goats will contain copper. Check the labels of those, and if sheep are not specifically mentioned, then don’t use them with your sheep. Better stick with plain white salt blocks or a simple loose salt without any minerals.
We give our goats their minerals inside their second-story shelter where the sheep can’t get to.
Can goats eat sheep feed and supplements?
Sheep feed is just fine for goats to consume. Just add the sheep feed gradually and carefully as with any other new food that you’re introducing. You don’t want to upset your goat’s stomachs and in that way waste the feed. If you plan to use sheep feed for a longer period of time in your goat’s diet, then consider giving them access to goat minerals or licks as well.
The same principle applies to minerals as well. It’s fine to give sheep minerals to your goats. Just remember to give them an additional lick of copper every so often.