Barley for sheep: Healthy nutrition or dangerous diet?
DOHNE-MERINO, FARMING, PLANTING | APRIL 17, 2020
It’s planting season in the Overberg. And while the rest of the country is on lockdown at home, at Suidplaas our team is currently preparing the lands and starting to plant (as part of those identified essential services).
Then it’s time to wait for the winter rains – to see whether we’ll enjoy a good harvest season this year.
On Suidplaas, we introduced crop rotation many years ago. Barley is an important part of that rotation. And this year, it once again makes up a large percentage of our planted crops.
Recently we were asked the question: Is barley a healthy option for sheep? And if so, should it be processed or not?
Wynand du Toit (our Suidplaas owner), responds that barley forms part of the diet of Suidplaas Dohne Merino sheep. That’s because it’s a great source of protein, especially for ewes and lambs, and therefore does away with the need for additional protein supplements. It also provides good potassium intake, and is generally higher in Vitamin A and E (compared to other cereal grains).
There also seems to be little need to process barley – like grinding and pelleting it. It offers no benefit when processed versus feeding barley whole in forage.
Barley is also known to add much-needed energy to ewes that are gestating or lactating.
At Suidplaas Dohnes, we let our sheep feed on the barley stubble lands, and they also feed on our barley bales – this is a great food source to get them through our long, dry summer months.
Additional sources of info: North Dakota State University Department of Animal Sciences
But there are some warnings that come with using barley for sheep:
• Because it ferments quite quickly, it can cause metabolic disorders (like bloating). So it’s advised that lambs are transitioned on to a barley-based diet SLOWLY from a forage-based diet. Lambs can be sensitive to disorders such as acidosis, and many a sheep farmer has lost sheep as a result of this. It could take a number of weeks to transition sheep to barley.
• How do you know if your sheep may be suffering from grain poisoning early? Look out for early signs of appetite loss and lameness.
• Sheep that break their way into barley fields and eat the pure barley grains could also find themselves in trouble from bloating (fermentation takes place quickly in the rumen, causing bloating). So it’s a good idea to ensure your fencing is secure if you’re planting barley.