Sheep – food and water

Nutritional information for sheep.


Sheep must have access to adequate and appropriate water for their age, stage of production and weather conditions.

Automatic waterers are the preferred and most efficient method of providing water to sheep in paddocks or yards. If this is not possible then adequately sized containers must be provided to ensure adequate quantity and quality is available for the number, age, production level, bodyweight and type of stock, dry matter content of the feed provided and the weather conditions (air temperature, available shelter and humidity). Access to water provides further information about supplying drinking water for cattle in paddocks. The same principles apply to providing water for sheep.

In general sheep require 4-6 litres of water per day and more if lactating.

Water requirements and housing sheep

Water availability is particularly important for recently weaned lambs. Although a weaning paddock may not seem large, it is important lambs are shown onto their water source, as death from perishing is very common in newly weaned lambs as they are often too stressed to seek water. Continuous checking is important until lambs are drinking satisfactorily.

Water medications should be introduced gradually and closely monitored to ensure correct dosage and consumption of adequate water quantity.


Sheep must have access to adequate and appropriate feed for their age, stage of production and weather conditions.

Sheep must not be fed animal meal or fish meal. This is to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease agent.

Quantity and quality of feed should be based on:

  • Bodyweight and/or fat/body condition score
  • Extra demands based on growth, pregnancy, lactation and exercise
  • Prevailing/predicted weather conditions.

Regular assessment should be made of the needs of the sheep in relation to the quantity and quality of feed. This can be done by weighing sheep and using a condition scoring system regularly.

Condition – blue card

Body condition scoring

Sheep are grazing animals, and so for optimum digestion and health, sheep should spend a large percentage of their day with access to good quality pasture. If this is not possible due to drought, weather conditions, lack of space or having to yard the sheep, a sufficient feeding regime must be put in place to supplement the sheep’s diet. It is common within schools for sheep to be confined to smaller areas, sometimes without pasture, in which case supplementary feeding including grains, meals, pellets, hay, chaff and supplements must be carefully measured out and fed according to the sheep’s individual dietary requirements. The sheep’s age, size, breed, sex, breeding stage and environmental factors, will influence dietary requirements. Being ruminants, sheep require plenty of roughage in their diet and if adequate quantities of pasture are unavailable then hay should be provided.

When providing supplementary feeds, the rule is to introduce new food types slowly and carefully, do not feed excessive grains, feed plenty of high quality roughage and feed small amounts at frequent intervals.

Grain poisoning of sheep and cattle – Prime Facts

Full hand feeding of sheep – feeding management

Regular monitoring should be carried out to help identify shy feeders and allow for their management before they drop condition.

Australia has an inclusive ban on the feeding to all ruminants of all meals, including meat and bone meal (MBM), derived from all vertebrates, including fish and birds. The current ban was established by statutory laws in each of Australia’s jurisdictions and enforced by official inspections and audits, which also take into account quality assurance schemes that operate within Australia’s ruminant livestock industries. This acts as a fail-safe control measure to rule out the possibility that feeding will amplify the BSE agent in the unlikely event that it is introduced to Australia.

Feed controls – stopping BSE (mad cow disease)

Lambs and weaners and orphans

In cases where lambs cannot be raised by their mothers (due to illness or death of the ewe), they will need to be hand raised. This takes considerable time and effort. If a suitable ewe is available who has recently lost a lamb, fostering may be a viable option. Within the first 18 hours of birth the lambs must receive colostrum. This is the first milk produced by the mother containing nutrients and antibodies that is vital for the lamb’s survival. An appropriate milk replacer can be then used on a suitable feeding schedule. A lamb will not survive without the minimum requirement of colostrum and they cannot begin life on milk replacer alone. Generally speaking, a new born lamb will require a minimum of 10% of their bodyweight in colostrum.

A high level of hygiene is vital particularly involving bottles and teats to avoid contamination. The lamb’s weight gain should be closely monitored and if scouring occurs, veterinarian advice should be sought. Particular attention needs to be given to weaned lambs to ensure appropriate nutrition is provided.

Creep feeding lambs

Wean more lambs


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