Can sheep eat potatoes?

Every farmer finds himself having excess potatoes at some point. How do you deal with your excess quantities of this starchy tuber? Have you ever thought of giving it to your sheep as some additional calories? Can sheep eat potatoes at all? What about potato skins or leaves? What about cooked or baked potatoes? Let’s find answers to all these questions in this post.

Can sheep eat potatoes? Like many other potential sheep feed, potatoes should be given to sheep as treats only. That means sheep can eat potatoes in moderate quantities and they have to be carefully and slowly added to your sheep diet. That also means that potatoes can’t be your sheep main nutritional source. Potatoes are a good source of energy for sheep, but a bad source of much needed protein.

You might find out that your sheep like the potatoes very much. In that case, be extra careful as sheep, and especially lambs, can overeat them, and then potentially suffer from acidosis. Acidosis is nothing to mess around with as it can lead to serious health issues in sheep and even death.

My sheep get some potatoes every year. They go mad over them.

Potatoes nutrients and minerals for sheep

Both raw and cooked potatoes are a good source of fiber which is a good resource for healthy digestion in ruminants. Other important and useful potato nutrients that sheep can benefit from are:

  • Vitamin A,
  • Vitamin K,
  • Phosphorus,
  • Manganese,
  • Potassium.

Potatoes should not be considered a forage substitute but rather should be thought of as a high moisture grain.

How to add potatoes to the sheep diet?

Always do proper research before you decide to add something new to your ruminant’s diet. You don’t want to give something that could be problematic, even toxic for your sheep. Since we have established that potatoes are not poisonous for sheep, we can discuss how to add them to the sheep diet.

Most sheep owners will say that you shouldn’t have any problems with sheep accepting potatoes in their diet. There will always be exceptions, but anyways, that means that it’s only up to you to do the steps correctly. Introduce potatoes slowly. Don’t just throw everything that you have on stock into your sheep feeder. Serve small portions first and carefully observe how sheep react to the new feed. To make potatoes more palatable to sheep, peel them and cut them into smaller pieces. When sheep finish the first round of prepared potatoes, wrap it up for the day, now it’s time to watch sheep and give it a day to see if they start having stomach problems. If everything seems all right the next day, only then can you continue serving them increasing portions of potatoes. Still, remember not to overdo it, sheep can eat potatoes only in moderation.

I had trouble getting sheep to start eating potatoes! Maybe if they’re used to beets it won’t be so hard for you.

How often to feed sheep with potatoes?

You can make potatoes weekly or bi-weekly part of sheep feed. Don’t overdo it or your sheep could experience various stomach issues. Potatoes can’t be the bulk of your sheep diet because they don’t have sufficient protein content to keep the sheep healthy and lambs growing. If sheep eat too much feed that is low in protein that will eventually cause a deficiency as the sheep might start losing weight or stumble into other health issues.

You can provide sheep with a daily intake of potatoes, but then be very careful with the serving size. I will provide you with some examples from expert literature, but I would suggest going with even smaller portions of potatoes:

For finishing lambs, use 0.5-1 Kg (1-2 pounds) of potatoes per day with alfalfa hay and grain. For ewes up to lambing, use 1 Kg (2-2.5 pounds) per day with alfalfa hay increasing to 1.5-2 Kg (4 pounds) per day after lambing (Lambert, W.V. 1957. Potatoes for livestock. University of Nebraska Cooperative EC244).

Can sheep eat cooked potatoes?

Sheep can eat cooked potatoes, they’re even more easily digestible for sheep, but I would say not as palatable. Cooking potatoes does not add any value for sheep. All the other rules of raw potatoes can be applied here as well. Don’t overdo it and add them slowly and carefully to the sheep diet. Also, I would not advise serving your sheep with mashed potatoes. Some sheep can find them tough to swallow, so why risk some potential issues?

Can sheep eat potato skins?

Sheep shouldn’t be given too many potato skins or peelings. Even better if you don’t give the potato skins at all, because you’re risking upsetting your sheep stomach with toxic substances that can be found in potato peels like solanine or chaconine. Solanine can be found in green potato parts as well, like vines and even sprouts „eyes“. Solanine over ingestion can cause serious health issues for sheep and even death. In potatoes, most solanine is found just under skins, so if you can, avoid the skins entirely. Potatoes that have been left under the sun will have even more solanine. Boiling potatoes will not remove the solanine, but solanine will leach into the water, so the water that was used for cooking potatoes should not be given to sheep. Frying potatoes does a better job in removing solanine, but fried potatoes are not healthy at all for ruminants.

We’ve only lost 1 ewe in the past few years due to choking on a potato.

Can sheep eat potato leaves?

The same as for potato skins applies here. There’re some toxic substances in potato leaves that could upset sheep digestive track, so try to minimize your sheep access to the plant.

Shoots, leaves, and green ones are toxic in larger quantities. As long as potatoes do not contribute more than 30% of total feed to your sheep and they have fiber it should be all right.

Good treats for sheep?

Besides potatoes, what are some good and healthy treats that you can occasionally give to your sheep? Well, you can check the following list of fruits and vegetables and find all the useful information in provided links: