There’s hardly any animal that is more perfect and more precious than a baby lamb. And lambs are surprisingly delicate in accordance with their reputation…
Young lambs have a lot stacked against them even when they are raised in captivity, and if anything goes wrong when nursing, or with their diet in general, it can severely impact their health or even kill them.
You might know by now what sheep can eat, but a big part of your job is knowing also what your lambs can, and more importantly what they cannot, eat safely as they grow.
To help you in this endeavor and to give your lambs the very best chance at life, I’m bringing you a guide detailing 24 things that lambs can eat and 13 things that they can’t. I’ll tell you all about it down below.
Table of Contents:
What is a Lamb’s Basic Diet?
All baby mammals and most baby animals in general tend to have specialized nutritional needs when they are born, but few have requirements as strict and as limited as baby lambs.
Lambs are born subsisting solely on milk from their mother, and the first “batch” of milk they get is especially important.
This milk, called colostrum, also known as ‘first milk’, is the initial pre-milk produced by mammals for their newborns.
It has a high nutritional content, and helps protect infants against disease with its rich antibodies, proteins, and other immune system components.
Colostrum plays an important role in helping to strengthen a baby’s digestive system and remove bacteria from their mouth and intestines.
Additionally, colostrum can help stimulate the growth of the baby’s organs, and improve overall health.
Some lambs will start to experiment with solid food as young as 6 weeks old, but many will drink milk alone until they are 3 months old or a little older.
In any case, once they are old enough, lambs will start to nibble on and try grass and hay. As the lamb grows older and enters pre-adolescence, its diet becomes more diversified and it may eat alfalfa, grains, vegetables, and fruit.
Adolescent lambs typically reach full maturity at around one year old, and can be fed a broader variety of foods including oats, barley and wheat bran mixed with various minerals and other supplemental produce.
But, even when fully mature, a lamb’s diet remains quite limited in comparison to many other animals.
Some foods are never okay for lambs and sheep to eat, and some are so problematic that they just aren’t worth the trouble.
We will talk about those in their own section, but for now, let’s get on to the list of things they can.
24 Things Lambs Can Eat
The following items are all things that lambs can eat safely, either on a fulltime bases when old enough or as supplemental items or treats.
|Foods||Safe for Lambs to Eat?||How Often?|
|Sprigs and Shoots||Yes||Regularly|
|Corn Meal and Pellets||Yes||Regularly|
|Cottonseed Meal and Pellets||Yes||Regularly|
|Peanut Meal and Pellets||Yes||Regularly|
|Soybean Meal and Pellets||Yes||Regularly|
As mentioned, milk is the only thing newborn and very young lambs will drink. The best option is of course their mother’s, but in cases where it is not available, bottled formula is okay.
The next food lambs will take to, and one they eat their entire life. Grass will usually make up the bulk of a lamb’s diet.
Lambs will start nibbling on grass when only a couple weeks old, but will rarely if ever eat it proper until they are 6 weeks old at the youngest.
Alfalfa is a nutrient-rich forage crop that is commonly used to feed lambs as they grow. It’s high in protein, minerals, vitamins and roughage and has a sweet, nutty taste.
Young lambs can start eating alfalfa from around 3 months old, but it should be introduced gradually and only when their diet contains other forage and hay.
Hay is a type of forage that is essential to a lamb’s diet. It contains many nutrients, including protein, minerals, vitamins and roughage, as well as fiber that helps support digestion.
Lambs typically start nibbling on hay when they are around 6 weeks old and it remains an important part of their diets as they mature.
Forbs are a type of vegetation grown for livestock, such as lambs, that provide an essential source of nutrition in the form of protein, minerals, vitamins and roughage.
They can be found in meadows, pastures and hay fields. Forbs include wildflowers like asters, daisies and clovers, which are all suitable for lambs to eat.
Grains are one of the most important and nutritious foods for lambs. Rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, grains provide energy and provide the lamb’s body with essential nutrients.
During adolescence, grains become a major part of their diet as they begin to experiment with different types of food. Not all grains are good as staples for lambs, though.
Barely is a whole grain often fed to lambs, mentioned here separately since it is an ideal staple grain for them.
It is rich in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, which helps support growth and development. Barley can be found in pelleted form or as part of a mix with other grains.
Legumes are a nutritious group of foods commonly eaten by lambs, and includes peas, beans, lentils and peanuts.
Legumes provide an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Rich in dietary fiber and iron, legumes such are highly beneficial to the lamb’s digestive system as well as overall health.
9. Woody Sprigs and Shoots
Lambs are predominately grazers like all sheep, but they also enjoy scavenging for woody twigs and shoots to munch on occasionally.
This type of vegetation is typically found in pastures and can provide a great source of minerals, vitamins and fiber.
10. Corn Meal / Pellets
Corn meal and pellets are an important part of a lamb’s diet, though rarely a true staple since they are high in calories.
They are a good source of carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, and vitamins, as well as dietary fiber.
These essential nutrients support their growth and development. In addition, the dietary fiber content helps to keep the digestive system running efficiently.
11. Cottonseed Meal / Pellets
Cottonseed meal or pellets are an important part of a lamb’s diet, providing essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
The high levels of protein, energy, and dietary fiber make it a great source of nutrition for lambs. Its high calcium content helps to strengthen bones and teeth while its omega-3 fatty acids provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
12. Peanut Meal / Pellets
Peanut meal (also sold as pellets instead of finely ground meal) is a nutritious and beneficial feed for lambs, providing them with tons of proteins and essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is high in energy, fiber, and calcium.
13. Soybean Meal / Pellets
The last kind of common feed for older lambs is soybean meal or pellets. Rich in protein, dietary fiber and energy, it’s an ideal feed for lambs that are growing into true adulthood.
Soybean meal, like the others, has essential fatty acids and minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus that can help keep lambs healthy and strong.
Most lambs love a sweet, perfect, crisp apple, though they need a little help getting it in bite-sized pieces. Apples provide much needed vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
In addition, the antioxidants present in apples can help support a healthy immune system while providing lambs with an additional source of energy. Lambs should not be fed apple seeds since they are toxic.
Pears are much like apples in their nutritional content, providing vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and antioxidants.
Pears can be a great treat for lambs as they are sweet, soft, and juicy but remember to remove the core before feeding them. Like most fruits, lambs should only have them in moderation since they’re full of sugar.
Don’t listen to the old wives’ tales that say lambs cannot eat grapes. They definitely can! Grapes can be another tasty snack for lambs and provide them with essential vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and antioxidants.
Just remember to cut larger grapes into bite-sized pieces so they don’t choke on them! Lambs will easily overeat on grapes, so mind the portion size.
Lambs love strawberries, and they can eat the whole berry, including the green calyx or crown. Strawberries are tart, sweet, and juicy and have a lot of antioxidants as well as vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
Blueberries are another picture-perfect treat for lambs as they are filled with antioxidants and vitamins that make them a great way to boost the immune system.
They provide some dietary fiber, other minerals, and plenty of energy without being overly high in sugar.
Lambs and sheep love leafy greenery, so it is no surprise that they love lettuce, too. Lettuce is a great source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
It is low in calories, making it ideal for lambs that can be prone to obesity. Just be sure to avoid iceberg lettuce as it has virtually no nutritional value for your lamb.
Lambs typically enjoy eating all kinds of seeds, and most types are among the most calorie and nutrient-dense foods around.
Pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds are a great way to give your lamb an extra boost of energy, omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Just be sure to keep an eye out when feeding them as they can cause choking.
Lambs will almost never be able to break into a pumpkin themselves, but with your help they will definitely enjoy the flesh and, as mentioned just above, the seeds.
Pumpkins are full of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber and they also have some anti-inflammatory benefits.
Plus, the orange flesh is packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that supports a healthy immune system. Pumpkin puree can even be used to make homemade treats for lambs!
22. Other Squashes
Pumpkins are the stars of the show, but other squashes are great for lambs, too. Butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash are all filled with vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
They can be a nice change of pace from pumpkins, and provide some similar health benefits as well.
Just make sure the squash is softened and cut up before offering it to your lamb so they can easily chew and swallow it.
Oats are one of the sweetest, tastiest grains around, and also one that all lambs love. Oats provide lambs with a great source of dietary fiber, protein and energy.
They’re also rich in vitamins and minerals that help support a healthy immune system.
But oats are very high in calories and lambs can easily overdo it, so feed them to your little ones on a limited basis.
Lambs and sheep alike enjoy carrots, and you’ll feel good knowing how nutritious they are. Carrots are rich in vitamin A, along with some dietary fiber and other essential minerals.
They make an excellent snack for lambs; just remember to chop them into smaller pieces before feeding so your lamb won’t choke on them.
13 Things Lambs Cannot Eat
Not all things are good for lambs, including some produce and other foods that are ordinarily seen as wholesome.
Some foods are just too problematic for lambs to eat in any but the smallest quantities, and so are better off avoided.
|Foods||Safe for Lambs to Eat?|
Onions can be toxic to lambs. When animals eat onions, they can develop a condition known as hemolytic anemia, which is caused by the destruction of red blood cells due to compounds found in onions.
This condition can be fatal for lambs if left untreated, so it’s best to avoid feeding any onion or other food containing alliums (such as garlic, leeks and chives) to lambs.
It’s not okay for lambs to eat broccoli because it can cause digestive upset, and potentially be fatal.
This is because broccoli contains oxalic acid, which disrupts the absorption of essential minerals in the gastrointestinal tract of lambs.
Additionally, feeding large amounts of broccoli to lambs can also lead to bloat, an accumulation of gas that can make it difficult for them to breathe.
For these reasons, it’s best to avoid feeding any type of cruciferous vegetable (including cabbage and cauliflower) to lambs.
Acorns are the nuts of oak trees, but that does not make them safe for lambs to eat. Acorns contain high levels of tannins, which can cause digestive and neurological problems in lambs.
Additionally, the sharp edges on acorns can lead to intestinal blockage if consumed in large amounts.
Kale, like broccoli, should not be given to lambs due to its high oxalic acid content. This can lead to digestive distress as well as mineral deficiency in lambs and is best avoided.
It can block the absorption of essential minerals, and in large amounts can potentially be fatal.
Eggplant is another food that should not be given to lambs. All parts of the plant aside from the mature fruit contains toxic alkaloids which can disrupt the nervous system of lambs, leading to neurological problems and even death if consumed in large quantities.
Avocado is not to be eaten by lambs since all parts of the plant, except the flesh, contain the toxin persin which can be fatal to lambs.
Signs of avocado toxicity in lambs include difficulty breathing, excessive salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea. Though they can eat the flesh safely, usually, it is just not worth the risk!
Cherries may be sweet and juicy, but they are not a safe snack for lambs. Cherries may contain cyanide compounds which can cause respiratory failure in lambs if consumed in large quantities, particularly the pit.
It’s best to avoid feeding them altogether, and ensure that lambs cannot find them in the pasture: they will try to eat them!
Lambs should not eat cabbage because it is another veggie that contains high amounts of oxalic acid, which disrupts the absorption of essential minerals in the gastrointestinal tract.
In addition, cabbage is also a “gassy” food, which can lead to bloating and other digestive issues.
Chocolate should never be given to lambs as it contains theobromine, a substance that is toxic for lambs and pretty much all other animals.
Ingestion of chocolate can lead to seizures, irregular heart rate, and respiratory distress in lambs and so should be avoided at all costs.
Dark chocolate is particularly dangerous, and the darker the chocolate the greater the risk!
Ripe tomatoes are safe for lambs, though highly acidic and very harsh on their gut flora.
However, all other parts of the tomato plant, such as leaves and stems, contain toxic alkaloids which can be fatal to lambs if ingested.
For this reason, it’s best to avoid feeding any type of tomato plant material or tomatoes to your lambs. Safety first!
Just like tomatoes, only the ripe fruit of peppers should be fed to lambs. The leaves and stems of peppers contain high levels of the alkaloid compound solanine, which is toxic.
Also, never give lambs spicy peppers: it will burn their mouths, and can cause serious digestive upset in lambs.
Cauliflower shouldn’t be fed to lambs, due to its high oxalic acid content. Ingestion of cauliflower can lead to mineral deficiency in lambs by blocking the absorption of essential minerals (calcium), and if consumed in large amounts, it can even be potentially fatal.
This encompasses an entire category of plants, so it’s best to keep lambs away from any of them.
Rhododendrons contain a toxin called grayanotoxin which can cause serious digestive problems in animals, including lambs.
Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea as well as cardiac arrhythmia and seizures. It is absolutely essential to ensure that your lambs have no access to any of these plants!
Make Sure Your Lambs Get the Right Foods in their Diet
While some may seem like harmless treats, they can have serious consequences if not fed properly or consumed in large quantities.
Make sure you are aware of which plants and vegetables your lambs should have, and which they should avoid, so that they remain healthy and happy!
If you ever have any questions about what’s safe for your lamb to eat, make sure to consult a veterinarian who will be able to provide more detailed advice on how best to feed them.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.