How to Feed & Manage Sheep & Goats

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Sheep and goats are some of our most important farm animals. This lesson goes over the fundamental of how they are raised, nutritional considerations, and other important topics.

Sheep and Goats

Whether for fiber, meat, or milk, sheep and goats are raised all over the world. Some of us even keep goats as pets. It is fun watching them prance around and butt heads with the family dog on viral videos. But this lesson isn't about pets, it's about the basics of how sheep and goats are raised in larger operations.

Operations, Facilities, and Equipment

Sheep and goats are raised in various operations for different purposes. For instance, some producers specifically breed and raise sheep for the quality of their wool and not how tasty they are. Others raise sheep specifically for slaughter, such as during religious festivals or for lamb chops. Goats can also be raised for meat, but they are also often grown for milk production, in order to sell the goat milk itself, or the uniquely pungent but tasty goat cheese.

The facilities that are used to raise these two animals also vary. Some of these animals are crowded, by the thousands, into wide pens where they are raised, fed, and watered. Others are let loose on pasture land, only to later be rounded up by dogs and cowboys. It all depends on the number of the animals raised, the environment they are in, and the goal of the producer.

Equipment used for these animals include:

  • Shearing scissors or electric clippers
  • Hay baskets
  • Show pens
  • Scales
  • Loading chutes

Basic Biology and Nutrition

Sheep and goats are ruminants. Ruminants are animals that have a stomach system made up of four compartments. These animals regurgitate undigested food from the largest compartment, called the rumen, and chew their cud while resting. Cud is food that has been regurgitated from the rumen in order to be chewed another time. Both animals are herbivores, or animals that eat plants.

Compared to sheep, goats don't like to find themselves on pastureland that has only one kind of plant. Instead, they prefer to graze on land that has numerous plant species. Both goats and sheep are very picky about the water they get: clean, fresh water is very important for both of these species. This is doubly true if these animals are pregnant or lactating, as water intake can more than double during these times. Animals that eat dry hay as opposed to lush pasture, which contains more water, will need to drink more water as well. Other factors that increase water consumption in these animals are increased heat, heavy mineral intake, and the consumption of high-protein diets.

Most of the energy derived by sheep and goats comes from the breakdown of the roughage they eat. Roughage is a term that refers to feeds such as grass and hay. Energy levels may also need to be supplemented by way of feeding the animal cereal grains like corn, oats, and barley. This is namely true during high energy stages, such as lactation, or the production of milk.

Feeding adequate amounts of protein in both of these animals is very important because low protein levels will lead to poor growth, decreased fiber production, and even death. Many factors must be kept in mind with respect to how much protein should be fed and where it's sourced from. Just as one example: older plants have a lower protein content than younger plants. Protein can be supplemented with pelleted food or certain byproduct meals, like dried distiller's grains.

Another very important aspect of feeding sheep and goats is the proper intake of minerals. The most important minerals for sheep and goats are calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, sulfur, copper, selenium, molybdenum, zinc, iron, iodine, manganese, and cobalt.

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