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Can sheep eat grapes?
People have been using and cultivating grapes for a very long time, we’re talking thousands of years here. Grape cultivation was first mentioned in places that are now modern-day Egypt, Iran, Cyprus, and Israel. Before we jump to answering the question from the title, allow me to educate you on a few interesting facts about grapes. Raw grapes consist of 81% water, 18% carbs, 1% protein, and almost no fat. 70% of grapes grown today are used in wine production. More than 10000 grape types/sorts exist today, but only around 1000 are used in the winemaking process.
Did you know grapes are considered berries?
Now let’s get back to the question at hand. Can sheep eat grapes? Sheep can eat grapes. Grapes are packed with various important vitamins and minerals. The list is huge, but the most noticeable ones are vitamins C and K, fiber, and potassium. In a restricted amount, grapes can be a nice part of a healthy diet and balanced sheep life. So, yes, sheep can and will eat grapes. Not just the berry, they’ll eat the whole cluster. They’ll eat grape barries, stems, pumice, and skins. Sheep’ll eat leaves, spurs, and younger canes as well.
Parts of grapevine for reference:
The next question in line here is should sheep eat grapes? We should treat grapes as just another treat for sheep, and treats should not be given freely to sheep. Sheep are grazers and the majority of their diet should be in grassy form. Too many treats can make them overweight and suffer from bloatedness, enterotoxemia, or even urinary calculi. So, you can let them eat grapes, just don’t make grapes the bulk of their diet.
The local food bank provides me with all kinds of fruit. My sheep love tomatoes, cucumbers, and especially grapes…
Many people love giving treats to their sheep in small doses. This can actually be quite a simple way of making them come to you when you need them, like when you need to move them to another pasture or when they escape your farm and you have to lure them back. A quick way to a sheep’s heart is through its stomach. Quite a good taming method.
Also, everyone needs to remember to provide treats so that they’re sheep bite-sized. You don’t want your sheep choking on fruits or vegetables that are too big.
There are many sheep that won’t just gobble anything you put in front of them. You might have to train them to try it. Once they do try it, they’ll usually like all kinds of treats.
Purple or white grapes for sheep. Is there any difference?
From my experience, there is no real difference between providing your sheep with purple or white grapes. There are some differences in their composition, but nothing that would impact the sheep in any way.
When we say white grapes, we actually mean the one colored green. They have been bred from purple grapes by turning off their ability to produce anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are pigment chemicals that give the purple color to purple grapes. More anthocyanins, the more red the wine. Anthocyanins are also present in e.g. blueberries and raspberries.
If there’s anything to note here is that until now anthocyanins have not been approved for use as food additives in the European Union. It seems that there is still no conclusion of their effect on human biology. But, still, this is about artificially added pigments and not the ones naturally present in the fruit.
Can sheep eat grape vines?
Grape is the berry, the grapevine is the crop, the plant itself. Grapevine is the worldwide cultivated vine. We have covered the question if sheep can eat grapes in detail, now let’s focus on the other parts of the plant. Besides grapes, sheep can eat leaves and shoots. Farmers usually prune those byproducts once per year, after grapes are harvested. They can be fed to sheep without issues. Leaves and shoots are fibrous products. Generally, only ruminants, rabbits, and equids can eat them. Leaves are more appetizing to sheep than dry shoots (canes).
In Mediterranean countries, feeding sheep with grapevine leaves and canes is part of the tradition. Sheep are often left in vineyards to browse leaves and canes at specific times. They’re especially important as nutrition sources for ruminants during weather seasons when pasture quality and quantity are limited.
If I leave my greenhouse door open by mistake, my sheep won’t think twice and will help themselves with grape leaves. Some are especially fond of grapes as well.
There is no reason to waste your excess foliage from grapevines. Of course, you can compost it, but why not use it for sheep nutrition?
As with all food sources, some sheep might not like the taste of grape leaves. If you really want them to get used to the taste, add them in ever-increasing percentages in your sheep’s regular diet. And don’t forget that all dietary changes for sheep should be applied very gradually.
My sheep really like grapevine trimmings. When we’re in the dry season, they’ll eat most of the foliage without thinking twice.
Can sheep eat grape vine leaves?
As mentioned in the paragraph above, yes, sheep can eat vine leaves. Young and tender ones are especially appealing to them. If you’re letting your sheep eat vine leaves directly from your vineyard, don’t forget to remove sheep from grapevines when grapes start to ripen and become sweet.
Can sheep drink wine?
Sheep can drink wine. There was even one research done that actually concluded that sheep are willing to accept up to 10% ethanol as a water substitute. But when offered both, sheep will always go for water first. So, keep alcohol away from sheep and keep to basics. Water only.
Can you let sheep into vineyard?
You can let sheep into the vineyard. Sheep can play the role of natural leaf pluckers and pest removers in most vineyards. But, you can not let them roam freely throughout your vineyard at all times. Some vineyard owners have tried with goats in that role, but with dubious success, because goats eat with their heads up while sheep eat with their heads hanging down bellow, and you want your animals to get rid of weeds and not all your vine leaves and grapes.
So, basically, you can let sheep in the vineyard for most of the time (from autumn harvest until spring), but consider removing them just before the bud break and especially before the grapes ripen. So, a good rule would be to let the sheep graze in the vineyard after autumn harvest up until bud break in spring. Take them out of vineyard just before, because they can harm young and fragile grapevines, either by eating them or by scratching at them when shedding their wool. After grapevines get a little stronger you can let sheep back into the vineyard and remove them again just before grapes begin to ripen.
There is one other reason to put sheep into your vineyard. It takes roughly 9 hours for sheep to eat something and make compost out of it. So, they’re one fast-making compost machine. They’re just awesome at composting.
I have another post that deals with this question in a little more detail. Check it out if you’re thinking of employing sheep as your worthy accomplices in keeping your vineyard pesticide-free.
Here is a video of how one farmer trained his sheep not to eat grape leaves:
One more video. 6 hours of sheep grazing the vineyard. Take a look at how it looks like in real life. Quite relaxing scenes, wouldn’t you say?
Grape pomace silage
There are many places that have issues with providing enough nutrition to their livestock. At the same time, there are many crop residues that are currently not being used as animal nutrition sources. That’s why many studies are being done in search of finding the suitable feed that can cover animals’ energy and protein needs when other sources are not so readily available. Grape pomace might be one such feed. Grape pomace is the residue left from wine and grape juice production.
I have never used it on my farm, but I’m planning to do a deep review of grape pomace in one of my next posts.
For now, let me leave you with one older research paper that states that including grape pomace up to 20% of female sheep diet poses no risk. They’ve conducted a feeding trial over a period of 30 days. Sheep weight gain and feed intake were satisfactory and the feed itself was accepted by sheep without issues. They’ve accepted both wet and dried variants of grape pomace.
There are two more things I’m considering reviewing and possibly using on my farm. Grape seeds and grape seed oil. But, let’s leave those topics for future posts.