Sheep are common farm animals; their wool and meat make them valuable commodities on your homestead. It doesn’t hurt that they’re just so dang cute – especially as babies – when they get excited.
Sheep have a very specific set of dietary needs which makes giving treats a bit…tricky. If they eat the wrong thing – even if it’s a tiny amount – it can cause serious problems.
Apples are a common treat for us, and we love sharing them with animals from time to time, but are they safe for sheep?
Yes, as long as it’s in moderation, sheep can eat apples. Apple skin is packed with several minerals and vitamins which are great for your sheep. Apples should be served in small portions as they’re highly acidic.
Eating too much apple will cause painful and sometimes life-threatening gastrointestinal problems.
Sheep are Vegetarians
As far as their natural diet is concerned, sheep are herbivores – vegetarians.
They have four stomach chambers and, in two of those chambers, the food is fermented and becomes cud. The cud is regurgitated and then eaten again for extra nutritional value.
Typically, they’ll eat a variety of grasses, plants, and legumes. Their diet may also include:
- Grain (on occasion for sheep with higher nutritional needs)
Sheep will typically graze for up nine hours every day – longer if they don’t have enough sheep feed.
They also need access to clean water (obviously) and should ideally be drinking around four liters daily, though, occasionally they’ll need more.
Supplements like silage, stored feed, hay, crop byproducts, and fruits can also be used.
The Nutritional Benefits of Giving Your Sheep Apples
Apart from being a tasty treat, there are a few nutrients that your sheep will get out of a bit of apple.
For one thing, apples are high in potassium which is a key mineral for fermenting food and maintaining your sheep’s electrolyte balance. They’re also high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Magnesium.
Vitamin A improves your sheep’s immune system and night vision. It also improves the fertility of the animal and the way their skin functions.
Magnesium is crucial in improving/maintaining feeding habits. It also helps with milk production, lambing, and stress management.
Enterotoxemia, Acidosis: The Risks of Giving your Sheep Apples
Obviously, where there are benefits, there are risks. One risk of giving your sheep apples is enterotoxemia – an overeating disease.
Essentially, naturally occurring bacteria in the sheep’s digestive system go into overdrive, they produce nasty toxins, and the animal gets sick.
Lambs, being younger, are more susceptible to it, but it’s something that can affect all your sheep.
Another hazard of giving your sheep apples is acidosis. Acidosis is when the body’s fluids have too much acid in them.
This can be caused by overeating foods with sugar and/or starch and, in addition to negatively affecting the economic value of the animals, it can cause some serious digestive problems. In some cases, it can be life-threatening.
Can Sheep Eat Apple Seeds?
Now, while the skin and flesh of the fruit are fine to eat in small amounts, the seeds are not.
Apple seeds may be poisonous to your sheep and nobody likes the idea of hurting something so cute – even by accident – so make sure your sheep doesn’t get hold of any seeds.
Can Sheep Eat Apple Leaves?
After the fruit, the next thing a sheep will go for is the leaves of the fruit. Apple tree leaves are perfectly safe for them and they drive the animals moggy.
Greg is a South African farmer and homesteader who’s been around animals ever since he can remember. He’s also an avid camper and hiker.