When you think about sheep and the typical foods that they eat, you probably think about leafy greenery, right? Grass, leaves, a little hay, things like that. It just makes sense, and indeed those tend to be the choice items on the menu for sheep whether they are domestic or wild.
What you might not know is that sheep can’t eat just any kind of leafy greens, or in any quantity. If you as their shepherd make that mistake, you might make them sick! You’ve got to know what kinds of leafy, green foods are okay for your sheep and which are not. Let’s look at spinach, one of the healthiest ones around. Can sheep eat spinach safely?
Yes, sheep can eat spinach safely but only occasionally. Although it is packed with healthy nutrients that sheep need, like iron, vitamin K, and folate, it is far too high in oxalates to be good for sheep on a regular basis.
This is one of those surprising foods that can get you in trouble if you don’t know what you are doing or if you allow your sheep to eat it free choice: spinach is extremely healthy and a little bit can go a long way toward improving the well-being of your animals.
But it has a hidden risk factor that can cause devastating and potentially long-term complications if they get too much!
Don’t be afraid of giving spinach to your sheep, but you’ve got to know what you’re doing all the same. Keep reading and I’ll tell you what you need to know.
Do Sheep Like Spinach?
Yes, generally. Most sheep seem to enjoy spinach, though they might not go out of their way to get it like they would with a piece of sweet, perfect fruit or ever-tantalizing corn.
That being said, they will eat it readily enough, and that means you must be careful to not give them too large a quantity or allow them to graze anywhere that spinach is growing because they are highly likely to overeat and that’s when the problems might start.
How Nutritious is Spinach for Sheep?
Spinach is extremely nutritious! You probably already knew that, but if you only know spinach by reputation, you might not know just how nutritious it really is.
For starters, spinach has a good amount of protein for a green vegetable and also plenty of carbs, mostly in the form of dietary fiber which is certainly good for sheep.
But what makes spinach such a nutritional superstar is the amazing amount of vitamins and minerals that it contains. It’s no exaggeration to say that it is among the very best vegetables that you, or sheep, could eat!
Looking at the vitamins first, we see spinach is absolutely stuffed to the rafters with vitamin A and beta carotene, folate, and huge amounts of vitamins K and C.
It also has significant amounts of thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 along with a little bit of vitamin E. Truly impressive!
And the mineral content of spinach is also terrific, with great amounts of manganese, magnesium, and iron backed up by lesser but still good amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and zinc with a fair bit of naturally occurring sodium.
All in all, it really is a remarkable nutritional profile and one that can certainly benefit sheep as long as they don’t get too much of it. We’ll discuss why they shouldn’t in just a moment.
How Can Spinach Benefit Sheep?
A deep dive detailing just how much spinach can benefit the health and well-being of sheep would be an entire article unto itself, but I’ll definitely touch on the highlights here. Know that it’s fair to say that spinach can improve nearly every aspect of their biology.
The vitamins and minerals present in spinach together can enhance metabolic function and electrolyte balance, organ health and function, skeletal growth and repair, healing, wool quality, eyesight, nervous system health and regeneration, DNA synthesis, circulatory health, blood oxygenation, reproductive fitness, milk quality and much, much more!
Spinach enjoys its nutritional reputation for a very good reason, and you’d be wise to add it to the diet of your flock, but you must do so according to a strict regimen to avoid problems.
Excess Spinach Consumption Can Cause Urinary Calculi and Other Issues in Sheep
So what is the problem with spinach when it comes to the health of sheep? It’s remarkably healthy, so isn’t getting them as much as they can eat a good thing?
It would be, except for the fact that spinach contains extremely high levels of oxalates. Oxalates are compounds that tend to bind to other minerals, meaning minerals that are present in a sheep’s stomach after eating.
If sheep eat a lot of spinach, the oxalates will specifically bind to calcium and also to iron, preventing absorption and use in a sheep’s body. Plus, it can actually prevent them from making use of iron and calcium that are already in the body!
This, naturally, can have devastating health consequences in a whole host of ways, not the least of which concerns skeletal and muscular health, to say nothing of the production of milk and other critical enzymes needed for good health.
Worse yet, because oxalates bind to calcium and cause the molecules to start clumping up, high oxalate consumption is also linked with the formation of urinary calculi in livestock, basically little pebbles and particles of minerals that can form in the kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract. Kidney stones, basically!
If you yourself have ever suffered from kidney stones or know anyone who has, you understand all too well the excruciating agony they cause. It’s no different for your sheep: beyond just pain, they can result in serious complications that can eventually kill your animals.
Obviously, both of these ailments are major problems, and illustrate why you cannot give your sheep too much spinach in their diet, or any other foods that are high in oxalates like beets and certain kinds of nuts.
Is Fresh Spinach Okay for Sheep?
Yes, fresh spinach is fine for sheep and ideal in terms of nutrition. However, fresh spinach also contains higher amounts of oxalates which can be so problematic as discussed above.
Generally, you’re better off serving fresh spinach to your sheep but doing so very sparingly to prevent complications.
Should You Cook Spinach for Your Flock?
You can, but you don’t have to. Cooking spinach for sheep is something of a trade-off. On one hand, it will reduce the amount of vitamins and minerals that it has, making it less nutritious and less beneficial overall. But on the other hand, cooking will also reduce the harmful oxalates present in spinach, meaning your sheep can have a little more of it.
Both approaches have merits, and it boils down to, if you’ll pardon the pun, whether you want to spend any time preparing it prior to serving it or not.
Is Canned Spinach Safe for Sheep?
Yes, broadly, but it’s generally not a good idea. Canned spinach is often prepared with lots of extra salt and seasonings that are no good for sheep. However, if you get a brand that is canned in water alone that can be all right for them in a pinch as long as you drain it well.
Never Give Sheep Spoiled or Moldy Spinach
One thing you must never do is give your flock any spoiled, moldy, shriveled, or blackened spinach.
Old and nasty vegetables of any kind, and that certainly includes spinach, are more than capable of giving your sheep some kind of foodborne illness. They aren’t immune to them, and you certainly don’t want to risk that.
Only feed them or allow them to graze on fresh, wholesome spinach and other veggies.
How Often Can Your Sheep Have Spinach?
Generally, sheep should only get spinach once a week as a supplement and in a very small portion. This portion should be no more than 8% of their total calorie intake for the day.
Remember, your sheep will still need time to adjust to spinach being in their diet, or else it can throw off the balance of their rumen like any other new or novel food. Start with an even smaller quantity, and slowly increase it with each serving until you reach the maximum listed above.
How Should You Prepare Spinach for Serving to Sheep?
You have got two basic options for preparing spinach for your sheep assuming you aren’t letting them graze on plants that are growing in the ground.
If you’re giving it to them raw, make sure you wash it thoroughly and shake off excess water before serving. They shouldn’t have any trouble eating tender, fresh leaves.
If you want to cook it, wash it as before and then give it a quick boil to soften it, or steam it as an alternative. Let it cool down prior to serving and drain off as much moisture as you can.
Is Spinach Safe for Lambs?
You should only give spinach to lambs cautiously. Even though it is safe for them to eat and they can certainly benefit from the abundant nutrients that spinach has, the risk factors are magnified with little lambs.
Once they have weaned off of milk entirely and switched totally to a diet of solid food, you can give them a little bit of spinach once a week as a treat or supplement.
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.