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How Much do Sheep Eat?


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#1 Johnson

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 06:10 PM

I have some Barbados and I have never bought feed for them, this is my first winter with sheep.

Does anyone know how much they eat? Bail a month/week/day per animal?

From what I'm hearing around here, in February the hay prices skyrocket or vanish. I only want to buy enough hay to get though the winter.

#2 stockdogranch

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 07:29 PM

Depends on what you're feeding them. Alfalfa? Bermuda? Orchard? Etc... and also depends on the sheep--how big are they? Are they bred? And so on, but a really rough guesstimate for Barbs, which tend to be rather light, is 3-4 sheep per flake of hay a day...they should also get minerals (if you search the archives, there was a discussion about various types and forms of minerals a while back)
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#3 Johnson

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 08:07 PM

I don't know anything about feed, the feed store sells hay. What type of hay I don't know. The Barbados are aprox 9 months old ewes. They are not being bred. Can I assume a 'flake' is the chunk that comes off a bale?

It looks like I need to get some minerals because one looks to have waterbelly. (no rams in flock)

#4 bcnewe2

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 08:51 PM

In MO when the winter is cold and the grass or anything is gone I'd fed my hair sheep (not barbs) about a flake of hay (square bales) per sheep a day. Nothing fancy just mixed grass hay. I also supplemented with a bit of grain, maybe a coffee can per 10 sheep or so but I usually had a few bred sheep at all times. In AR I haven't given any grain and keep a round bale out for them. A round bale would last a couple weeks even a month if I only had a few sheep. They waste so much it's hard to see what they actually eat. Be careful tho, if you use a round bale without a bale holder. I've had them get to the middle and it tipped over and lost a sheep because she couldn't get out from under it. It was horrible to find her a few days later. At least it was winter.

Water belly is not caused by lack of minerals. It sounds like they are either wormy or have some kind of bloat. Water belly is not caused from a lack of minerals. It's urinary calculi (sp?) I've had a few sheep suffer with that. They weren't ewes and the didn't make it through or at least I managed to only save one. You don't want to know how.

They will also have a much bigger belly at the end of the day. Nothing wrong just grass that's waiting to be ruminated. A wormy sheep will have a pot belly but not look fat all over.

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#5 Rebecca, Irena Farm

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 09:59 PM

Do you have Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep? It should be easily obtainable and I highly recommend it for the basic questions.

Be sure to find a mineral that says it's ok for sheep, preferably one that is special for sheep.

Here's what we do in the winter. We have a very temperate climate and usually have some frosted grass for them to browse all winter. We also have larger wool ewes which are bred, due to lamb in late January.

So we offer round bales (we use a cattle feeder, not ideal but at least they don't spread it all over the pasture). We feed at about 1/4 pound per head a day, 14% protein, which we raise to one pound per head by the last four weeks of pregnancy, and continue that until the grass greens up (unless we have a great grass year). One 4X5 bale lasts 40 ewes one week. Before we did the rounds, we fed 40 ewes about 140 pounds of hay each day, but it was pretty bad hay. One year we got bales of soybean hay and only had to feed about 70 pounds a day, with no supplemental grain at all.

So you see it makes a huge difference what kind of hay you get. This year, depending on where you are, it might be wise to find the cheapest hay possible and count on offering a little more feed. I've also seen things like rice hulls and wheat bran in the stores this year, which I assume are roughage alternatives.

We also offer large 24% protein blocks for them to nibble through the day. We've found this makes them less hungry for the expensive feed, and keeps them in nice condition. I use these in lieu of feeding grain on the non-breeders also. One 125 lb block lasts 40 ewes about three weeks in the dead of winter, and costs $38. It lasts the same number of non-breeders twice that long.

Little baby ewe Barbs aren't going to eat nearly as much as my girls. If you get nice-ish hay you shouldn't need grain at all, or maybe just a teeny snack. My replacement (unbred) ewe lambs aren't even touching the grain we put out in the morning right now and they are fat as ticks. Just watch that your lambs continue to grow and stay in good condition (Storey's Guide has pictures that show you how to tell ideal condition on a sheep).
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#6 Bill Fosher

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 01:18 PM

Talking about flakes and bales of hay is like talking about handfulls, bunches, and piles. The terms mean nothing. A bale can weigh 25 lbs or 1,500. A flake off a big square bale might provide as much forage as some small square bales. And Anna's small square bales are probably three to five times as heavy as the ones I could get around here.

What we need to talk about is weight. Growing unbred ewe lambs require about 3.5 to 4 percent of their body weight in dry matter every day. Most hay is about 85 to 90 percent dry matter, so each pound of hay is going to provide about .85 lbs of dry matter. A 100 lb ewe lamb would require 3.5 to 4 lbs of dry matter, or about 4 to 4.75 lbs of hay. That is how much needs to go down the hatch. What's refused or left on the ground doesn't count.

It's also important to make sure that the hay provides enough nutrients in terms of both protein and energy to support their growth. It takes pretty good quality hay to do this -- say 16 percent crude protein and 55 to 60 percent TDN. The only way to know if your hay is up to scratch is to have it tested. Perhaps the feed store has already done this?

Any defecit in the hay can be made up with various supplements such as whole grains such as shelled corn, barley, or oats; complete pelleted feeds; or protein supplements such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa pellets or hay.

Once you have some experience, you'll be able to judge how your animals are doing and discern their needs to a large extent by simply placing your hands on their backs and judging their body condition scores. But until you have some experience, it's really important to make sure that they have what they need, and that means forage testing or overfeeding (which creates its own set of problems).

What part of the world are you located in? Weather and climate also need to be considered. Your county extension office might be a good place to start to gather information.

#7 1sheepdoggal

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 01:49 PM

I purchase 500lb round bales ( costal) going rate at the moment, $45.00 and soaring, and feed a pellet call sheep and goat checkers ( purinia) every evening. Just found out recently, that it has a wormer in it as well. Wondered why the sheep were looking better after having them on this stuff consistantly for a couple of months. I allow them to free feed, and they seem to do well, besides being able to forage from whats left of the pasture. Problem with the round bales, is that you need a tractor to move them. If ya dont have a tractor.... they are a bit difficult to man handle, especially up hill! There is another great Yahoo site, called Sheep on the net and Bill has a great site as well, if ya want to look up stuff there too. Darci
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#8 stockdogranch

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 06:38 PM

Bill's absolutely right. Our "small squares" weigh an average of 110-115 lbs. I'm curious what they weigh in other areas. Also just curious what anyone's paying for hay. A friend just paid 215 a ton for small squares of alfalfa, and then lost it in the fire--about $4700. worth :rolleyes:
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#9 Bill Fosher

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 09:09 PM

The biggest small square bales that I have ever seen produced in New England are 60 lbs. More common is 30 to 45 lbs.

Back in the bad old days when I made hay for sale, I had horse people refuse to buy my hay because the bales were too heavy, and heavy bales, they said, were a sure sign that the hay was too wet. Horse people were the bane of my existance then. I got to where if someone called looking for hay for horses I would tell them I didn't have anything for horses.

#10 stockdogranch

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 09:26 PM

Geez...if ours were that light, I'd have a lot easier time getting them in the bed of my truck to take them to the feeder! I wonder what those folks would think of our bales?!?! :rolleyes:
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#11 Bill Fosher

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 05:23 AM

Sometimes the stuff (and I use "stuff" as a substitute for a different s word) that horse people around here say about hay is really stuff that they believe. Other times they think it's a negotiating strategy.

My favorite horse hay story:

Woman had a standing order with a dairy farmer for 100 bales of first-cutting hay. Over the years, the farmer had come to know pretty much what kind of hay she wanted, but she was notoriously fussy. One year they delivered the hay about a week later than usual. It had been cut and baled at the usual time, but rain prevented delivery. She convinced herself that the hay had been rained on, and asked them to come and take it back. They did, and suggested that she come to the farm and look over what they had and choose her hay. However, once she did that, they weren't going to come get it again.

The farmer took the hay back to his place, stacked it at the end of the heifer barn to feed out to his young stock and his own work horses. The woman came to look over the hay. Hay was stored in three different barns, including one on the neighboring place. They didn't bother showing her the hay in the heifer barn, since she had already refused it. From across the barnyard, she spotted the stack of hay at the heifer barn and went to check it out, and declared that this was what she was looking for all along. The farmer said nothing; stacked it on the truck again, and took it back to her barn again.

Personally, I would have shot her.

#12 Rebecca, Irena Farm

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 08:10 AM

Bill, you really need to flee from Crazy Land. 30 to 40 pounds for a square bale of hay? 60 to 70 pounds is more usual here. Someone who baled up 30 pounders would get a reputation for being lazy or a wimp. My soy bales were in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 and I thought that was light! But they were worth it - the TDN on them was better than straight alfalfa.

I can't wait to see prices on the hay page when the new Agricultural Review comes out. I really hope next year we get some rain and this madness stops. Or producers around here figure out an alternate to grass/forage that needs 40+ inches of rainfall since we just aren't getting that.
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#13 painted_ponies

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 09:45 AM

I admit to being one of those crazy horse ladies who drive themselves and everyone around them insane about hay quality. It's very difficult to escape this condition once you comprehend how delicate, fragile and sometimes downright suicidal horses are. Is it an accident that equids are a very slim branch on the phylogenic tree? Natural selection being what it is, I think not. :rolleyes:

My hay guy, who deals with hundreds of crazy horse ladies for a living, is very philosophical. He'll just keep taking it back and swapping it out till we're satisfied. We realize he's a saint and in return we try to control our worst impulses.

His hay bales are oversized because they have to be a certain dimension to fit into the 21-bale cubes his fancy machine makes for storage. They feel to me like they weigh around 50 lbs. 40 lbs is more usual around here.
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#14 kajarrel

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 10:36 AM

Someone who baled up 30 pounders would get a reputation for being lazy or a wimp.


You're only wimpy until you're slogging the bales through 3 feet of snow :rolleyes: I personally use a cargo sled to move hay - 15 (40-50 lb.) bales a day.

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#15 Bill Fosher

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 12:12 PM

I have no problem with people being fussy about hay, but what I can't stand is having decisions based on mythology, and "quality issues" being used as a bargaining point. The hay that is perfect for one crazy horse lady would kill the horses of the other crazy horse lady if they just walked past it -- but perhaps if I took 50 cents a bale off it she could do something with it. I could get into the lady who opened every third bale I threw down out of the mow to see if the hay was okay, leaving me a huge pile of loose hay full of strings. Fortunately it was in a bank barn so I just brought some sheep into the basement and forked it down to them.

#16 painted_ponies

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 02:35 PM

I could get into the lady who opened every third bale I threw down out of the mow to see if the hay was okay, leaving me a huge pile of loose hay full of strings.


That is pretty crazy. I just part the bale a little in the middle and stick my snout into it. And you'd think a horse lady, of all people, would know better than to leave hay strings lying around!
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#17 stockdogtta

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Posted 02 November 2007 - 08:18 PM

Common small square bales around here are 60#. Anything below 50 is light and over 70 is heavy. Big square bales are about 1000# to 1100#.
I like the big bales-peel a flake, tear flake in half and and about equal to a flake of small bale. Just gotta have a strong back to 'buck' the big bales :rolleyes:
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#18 Mona Howard

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 02:58 PM

I like to feed the round bales. I had my husband cut a cattle panel
in half. We circled the bale with the two halves and clipped them
together with swivel snaps. As they eat the bale down the panel
pieces can be adjusted. They don't waste a lot this way. It works
nicely for us.

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#19 Turkeyfether

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Posted 04 November 2007 - 11:48 PM

Sometimes the stuff (and I use "stuff" as a substitute for a different s word) that horse people around here say about hay is really stuff that they believe. Other times they think it's a negotiating strategy.

My favorite horse hay story:

Woman had a standing order with a dairy farmer for 100 bales of first-cutting hay. Over the years, the farmer had come to know pretty much what kind of hay she wanted, but she was notoriously fussy. One year they delivered the hay about a week later than usual. It had been cut and baled at the usual time, but rain prevented delivery. She convinced herself that the hay had been rained on, and asked them to come and take it back. They did, and suggested that she come to the farm and look over what they had and choose her hay. However, once she did that, they weren't going to come get it again.

The farmer took the hay back to his place, stacked it at the end of the heifer barn to feed out to his young stock and his own work horses. The woman came to look over the hay. Hay was stored in three different barns, including one on the neighboring place. They didn't bother showing her the hay in the heifer barn, since she had already refused it. From across the barnyard, she spotted the stack of hay at the heifer barn and went to check it out, and declared that this was what she was looking for all along. The farmer said nothing; stacked it on the truck again, and took it back to her barn again.

Personally, I would have shot her.



Dear Friends,
We hate to have our integrity called into question.But, consider this~
I have a very large barn that my neighbor , a hay farmer, stores his hay in.Beautiful hay.He barters hay, for rent ,for my horses, and now sheep.He gives me his first June cutting. The best!
I have lived in this area for 3 years. In that time 4 or 5 barns have burnt down, in a half hour radius, with livestock entrapped.Hay was stored in the upper level of these barns.For one dairyman, it was his 2nd barn fire & a fairly new barn with NO electric sockets(therefore, no electric to blame & no cigarettes either).Most times it was wet hay. 1 year ago it was a very wet early summer & spring up here.I'm sure damp hay was the culprit. Wet hay paranoia is a genuine concern.This year it was a dry year. NO barn fires.
I don't think this lady knew what she was talking about, but also, my farrier(for my horses) told me of someone who had lost all of his horses to mold in hay. I check every bale & smell it before feeding my horses.Every year I usually find only one bale that has black mold out of 600.I am very blessed with my hay provider.I have known people that have broke open bales only to find the entire shipment moldy & then THEY had to return the hay themselves to get a refund!! :rolleyes:


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