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Transitioning sheep to grass-fed only

 
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We just got our first sheep. 4 beautiful dorpers, just over 2 months old. The seller had already introduced them to 1lb of grain feed per day and we’d like to transition them to grass-fed only without harming their delicate gut. Any tips? Especially now that it’s winter, and all we have available to us is hay and feed and (maybe) alfalfa pellets.
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4 Beautiful Dorper Sheep
4 Beautiful Dorper Sheep
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4 Beautiful Dorper Sheep
4 Beautiful Dorper Sheep
 
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Congratulations on wanting to switch to grass fed only.


I would just say doing it cold turkey might be totally fine. They do not need the grain. Do you happen to have loose salt and loose sheep appropriate minerals available to them? This will be important.

How long have they been getting grain? If the sheep became accustomed to getting 1 lb each. They might be loud for the first few weeks. If you would like. Try going to 1/2 pound per day for two weeks. And than move to zero pounds after 3-4 weeks.

Their hay consumption will change as they transition. So be prepared to give them more hay. I have 3 goats and they get about 2 pounds of alfalfa cubes(total for all three) per day along with 3 or so flakes of compressed timothy hay. Some times they get more hay.  I read somewhere on here ... if they are chewing their cud. They most likely have enough food.

Lets us know how it goes :)
 
Joseph Bataille
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jordan barton wrote:I would just say doing it cold turkey might be totally fine. They do not need the grain.



At first we were told to give them 3 pounds daily, then it turned out that two of them ended up having diarrhea. The seller told us that it might be the grain! When they were all together with other lambs, there's no telling how much grain they are actually eating compared to the others, so he recommend starting them at a lower ration (1lb). This was our cue to use the moment as an opportunity to reduce and eliminate the grain altogether. Still, I'm still not comfortable with going cold turkey, so we'll likely go with a reduction strategy.

We have noticed that bringing out the grain seems to "wake them up" a bit and get them eating again after resting, so alfalfa pellets or cubes may be our go to for "novel" sources of nutrition throughout the day.
 
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On some level grain is like candy for a 7 year old child.  No matter how full they are from "normal" food they'll come running for grain it seems.  Makes it a good treat to keep them happy you're around (rather than fearful), and if they jailbreak they'll come to the sound of the grain bucket, and you can get them back in their area fairly easily.

Beyond that I'm a fan of all grass, save perhaps for the ewes in the last month before lambing, and the first month or so of nursing.  If they came to you eating a substantial grain ration you will need to reduce it somewhat slowly to keep from upsetting their GI system.  
 
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I used alfalfa pellets as a supplement to their hay and they seem to have transitioned quite well. Easy peasy.

The main concern that I have now is that the quality of of the grass in my “pasture” is not the greatest and I’m not finding superior quality hay. The breeder doesn’t do grass fed lamb, so of course he also shared his concern that they might get stunted without some sort of supplement. These first few months will be critical, so he suggested continuing with at least some 16% grain based feed through the winter.

Any other thoughts or ideas out there?
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Andrew Mayflower
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When you don’t have adequate forage you have to feed hay and/or grain.  If you can’t get decent hay you’re kind of stuck with grain.
 
Joseph Bataille
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:When you don’t have adequate forage you have to feed hay and/or grain.  If you can’t get decent hay you’re kind of stuck with grain.



I was able to locate some orchard grass and timothy hay, which the sheep are getting used to. I imagine a good balance of this hay + alfalfa pellets should get them through the winter, don't you think? However, I also need to plant grasses in spring. I may be supplementing with Hay for awhile
 
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The sheep are loving the orchard grass and timothy hay that I was able to find for them. They get a little too excited about the alfalfa! I’ve read conflicting claims about whether sheep should be eating alfalfa. How much is too much?

I’ll be turning my attention to improving our pasture grass composition. Aeration. Planting. Etc. I’d love any hints on how to make this transition well.
 
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Joseph Bataille wrote:The sheep are loving the orchard grass and timothy hay that I was able to find for them. They get a little too excited about the alfalfa! I’ve read conflicting claims about whether sheep should be eating alfalfa. How much is too much?

I’ll be turning my attention to improving our pasture grass composition. Aeration. Planting. Etc. I’d love any hints on how to make this transition well.



I am not 100% certain on sheep feeding. I believe they need less protein than goats do. However i really do not know. I believe if you are supplementing them alfalfa, that is only supplementing them, whatever you give them will be fine. Maybe start with 1/2 pound per sheep? Alfalfa supposedly has lots of calcium, which would help them balance minerals overall. Do they have daily access to sheep loose minerals and salt?


As far as the pasture improving. My suggestion would be to rotational graze them through the pasture you have. This will fertilize and aerate it. Have you seen the work of joel salatin? Salad bar beef

 
Joseph Bataille
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jordan barton wrote:Do they have daily access to sheep loose minerals and salt?

As far as the pasture improving. My suggestion would be to rotational graze them through the pasture you have. This will fertilize and aerate it. Have you seen the work of joel salatin?



You're right that they don't need as much protein, however, I've heard/read that some source of 16% protein feed in their growing months can help them build the body to breed well. At least that was the logic of the grain based feed that they were started on.

Our sheep do have free access to loose minerals, though for now it is a blend. I hope to offer a "mineral bar" with an assortment of separate minerals at some point.

I'm fairly familiar with Joel's work and with rotational grazing in particular. We plan to move them around with electric netting, though we're not sure what size our parcels should be for such a small flock. We're shooting for once per week parcel changes rather than daily.
 
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For the size of the paddock, you have to do some trial and error to figure it out. Just build a paddock, and keep and eye on them. You will see how they eat when they have good grass, and how they walk around looking for food when they run out of grass. You just have to start and learn through experience

Paddock size is just so variable because it depends so much on the quality of the forage.
 
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