You know, every once in a while, animals can surprise you. Sometimes it’s with their intelligence, and sometimes it’s by doing things that you didn’t know they could do. Sometimes, it’s even the things they eat!
I think everybody knows that all animals have a preferred and typical diet, but sometimes they have to make do with what is available. Look at our sheep, for instance. They eat nothing but plant matter, or so it seems. But is it possible that they could eat animal products? Can sheep eat meat, and do so safely?
No, sheep cannot eat meat at all. Their digestive system and biology are adapted only to eating plant matter. Sheep that eat meat and other animal products by accident or if they are forced to will get sick, suffer from disease, and eventually die.
This really is a common-sense matter. She cannot eat meat, that’s all there is to it. If they are forced to, or if you trick them to, it is going to hurt their health, make them sick, and eventually result in systemic disease and death.
Don’t even try, and don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. I’ll tell you more down below.
Do Sheep Like Meat?
No, as a rule. Sheep will avoid meat in all its forms as a matter of course. However, it is possible that they might be enticed to eat processed foods containing animal products or protein, but whether or not animal proteins are processed or whole, they’re almost entirely indigestible to sheep and therefore bad for them.
Sheep are Strict Herbivores, Not Omnivores, and Definitely Not Carnivores
All you need to know about the dietary habits and requirements of sheep is that they are herbivores. Herbivorous animals, of course, subsist on a diet of plant matter only.
I want to note here that sheep are strict herbivores. They are not omnivores which eat a combination of plant and animal matter, and they definitely aren’t carnivores which subsist almost entirely on a diet of meat.
Sheep really do eat plants and plants only. Those plants might take the form of grasses, grains, leaves, veggies, fruits, and things like that, but they are all plants nonetheless. This is just the way that sheep are made, and there’s nothing to be done about it.
But I Saw a Sheep Eat Meat One Time…
Now, I have a little doubt that some people and the audience are even now about to leave a comment to the contrary stating that they saw a sheep actually eat meat scraps, or insects, or some other kind of animal protein before.
Indeed, there are videos on the internet in some abundance showing other herbivorous animals like horses seemingly eating live “prey” in the form of chicks and other small mammals like mice.
Believe it or not, these videos and indeed most of these accounts are almost certainly true. Sometimes, for whatever reason, an ordinarily non-predatory and herbivorous animal will still eat meat- even live meat! Why this happens is not totally clear.
Maybe it’s some vestigial instinct that activates if the animal is missing a certain kind of nutrient. Maybe in certain individual animals, it’s just a kind of curiosity or the aroma of the item in question enticed them somehow.
In any case, just because an animal will do this, and maybe even do so repeatedly, does not mean in any way that it is good or healthy behavior. It isn’t!
That is certainly the case for our sheep and you should never view these isolated incidents as justification or reasoning for feeding meat or other animal products to your flock. The end!
But Sheep Can Have Animal Protein in the form of Milk, Right?
Of course. And this is the exception to the no-animal-protein rule that merely proves it. Sheep, like all young mammals, can have milk in adolescence as a primary source of nutrition to help them grow and thrive.
But you’ll notice that the vast majority of mammals, save for humans and a few other livestock species, stop drinking milk fairly early on in adolescence, switching partially and in time entirely over to the eating of solid food that is typical of their diet as dictated by their biology and nutritional requirements.
Said another way, we do not continually give adult sheep milk to drink. Indeed, if you did, this would lead to digestive upset typical of the inability of their digestive system to handle animal proteins of any kind or source.
It’s fine for you to have milk, and it’s fine for lambs to have milk early in life, but once they wean that is it: no more animal protein of any kind, milk, meat, or otherwise.
What Would Happen to a Sheep That Eats Meat or Animal Protein?
Nothing good. The ingestion of meat or other animal protein will lead to an intensifying and increasingly severe cascade of consequences for a sheep. That’s because their digestive system is completely unable to handle the processing of animal protein.
For starters, major digestive upset in the form of diarrhea, loss of appetite, and disruption of the gut biome in the rumen is a certainty.
A bite or two might not cause any permanent harm, and the affected animal might quickly enough get back to normal, but continued ingestion would absolutely make things worse and quickly.
As the rumen is impacted by the ingestion of meat, a sheep will start to lose its appetite and, even if it eats other, nutritious foods, be unable to process them effectively in order to extract nutrition.
This will lead to pronounced malnutrition and all the attendant effects, and likely by this time the start of codification of the bloodstream.
Worse yet, eating meat will introduce various foodborne pathogens to the body of a sheep that they are in no way able to handle.
Depending on the type of meat, seriously deadly outcomes like transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), or scrapie, can result. This is a degenerative neurological disease, and even more worryingly infected sheep can then transmit it to others in the flock.
Even if a specific pathogen is not contracted, in the end, a sheep will suffer from ever worse health issues, culminating in organ damage, immune system failure, and invariably death.
It is a truly terrible fate for an animal that would be completely content and healthy eating grass and hay, and all are very good reasons why you should never feed sheep meat in any way, or any products that have animal protein ingredients.
Can You Feed Sheep Meat in an Emergency?
No. Doing so is only going to make a bad situation worse. If your sheep don’t have anything to eat and, for whatever contrived situation you’re imagining, all you’ve got is meat to give them you are better off letting them go without food than serving them the meat.
I’ve taken over this blog from Kendra Lynne around 2018, and turned it into one of the best an most comprehensive homesteading website out there. I was raised partly in the countryside living a very frugal life ever since I can remember.