Hay For Sheep: What’s The Best Option?

Mature sheep eating from a bale of hay
Leafy alfalfa is the best option for hay for sheep based on nutritional value, cost, and accessibility for all ages of sheep. Other excellent hay options are grass hay, legumes, cereal grain straw, and legume and grass mixtures. 

What’s the best hay for sheep?

Overall, the best type of hay for your sheep is leafy alfalfa

Advantages of leafy alfalfa include:

  • Nutritious
  • Relatively cheap
  • Relatively easy to grow yourself
  • 80-90% digested (vs tougher hay which is only 50% digested)
  • Easy to chew. This is important because it’s easier to provide as a feeding option for young lambs.

Other good hay options for sheep include:

  • Legumes
  • Cereal Grain Straw
  • Immature Grass Hay
  • Legume and Grass Mixture

Types of hay

Lamb eating hay

Leafy alfalfa

Leafy alfalfa is a good nutritional choice for most sheep because it can efficiently add body weight without causing bloating. It contains nutrients that are good for sheep, such as:

  • Iron
  • Folate
  • Vitamin C
  • Protein
  • Vitamin K
  • Magnesium

Immature Grass Hay

Immature grass hay is one of the best low-budget alternatives to leafy alfalfa. It’s somewhat similar to leafy alfalfa in texture, and can still be fed to lambs. Sheep tend to find it less palatable than leafy alfalfa.

Types of immature grass hay include:

  • Timothy
  • Sudan
  • Orchard grass
  • Bluegrass
  • Brome
  • Reed Canary
  • Fescue
  • Ryegrass
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Legume hay

Legume hay has a coarse texture and tends to be more costly than immature grass hay and leafy alfalfa. The benefits of legume hay include a wide variety of nutrients, like:

  • Iron 
  • Folate
  • Calcium
  • Potassium

Legume and Grass Mix

A legume and grass mix is a good choice if you’re feeding hay to mostly mature sheep, which tend not to be bothered by coarse texture. Lambs prefer hay with a finer texture.

Cereal Grain Straw

Cereal grain straw, like oat hay, can add variety to your feed and is a good option for all mature lambs, whether lactating or not. The texture may be too rough for lambs.

Hay nutritional components

Hay generally includes the following ingredients:

  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Phosphorus
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Manganese

What type of hay do sheep like best?

Sheep prefer leafy alfalfa, with its fine texture and the fact that it’s gentle on their digestive systems.

The soft texture of leafy alfalfa is especially good for young lambs who aren’t ready to eat feed with a tough texture.

How to create nutritious hay

Hay rolled into bales

Here’s how to create nutritious hay for your sheep:

  • Choose the type of hay you want in your mixture
  • Harvest the hay and lay it out in the sun to dry
  • Check the mixture for dangerous plants. Remove anything you see.
  • Turn the hay over after 24 hours to allow it to dry completely
  • Rake all the dried hay and bale it together once it is completely dry

Best way to store hay for sheep

The best way to store hay is by allowing it to dry fully and then rolling it into bales. This helps it retain its nutrient value for longer without compromising its palatability.

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Storing your bales of hay indoors in a dry area ensures it doesn’t get soggy and rot over time.

If your bales are stored outdoors, they must be wrapped in plastic to protect them from the elements.

Joanne

Joanne is a nocturnal person who loves traveling and coffee. She’s also an animal lover (and rescuer) who makes it a point to befriend every animal she meets. Her passion for learning led her to writing about various topics. As someone who dreams of becoming an “animal whisperer,” she aims to continue learning about animals–particularly sheep, and at the same time, share her knowledge here at Sheep Caretaker.

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