In the past, sheep nutrition was hindered by the land available to shepherds and farmers, who were always at the mercy of the quality of local silage and land. Now, a purchase from your trusted feed supplier can provide your flock with feed supplements that enhance their performance and enable them to overcome any shortcomings in naturally occurring forage.
What if your feed supplement could do more? Some researchers are exploring how feeding sheep seaweed can improve their GI health and increase wool production. Here’s what to know about seaweed for sheep and whether you should include this marine resource as a way to satisfy flock dietary needs.
Sheep may not be all that picky about the grasses they eat (try getting cattle to eat the weeds that ewes and rams will scarf down), but there are still certain foods that, as ruminants, they should avoid. Alfalfa and grain mixtures in large quantities can contribute to sheep obesity and other health problems, while the vegetables you grow in your garden (tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, or turnips) might outright poison your flock.
What about the Ascophyllum nodosum feed other animals eat? Can sheep eat seaweed? Turns out some breeds have been extensively eating seaweed for centuries – and remaining healthy in the process.
Along the shoreline of the Orkney archipelago in the northeast waters of Scotland, you’ll find the North Ronaldsay sheep grazing almost exclusively on the nutrient-rich seaweed that washes ashore. Seaweed has a distinct impact on the taste of their meat, making this breed a beloved, pre-seasoned culinary dish in many U.K. restaurants. In fact, the taste of North Ronaldsay sheep is so valued that they locals actively work to keep this semi-feral herd separate from those domestic sheep in pastures.
What about the health of sheep eating seaweed? Before you make bulk kelp meal purchases for your flock, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian or feed specialist. However, there are a few health and performance benefits that we see from seaweed feed supplements that are worth asking about:
A more efficient GI tract
Much in the same way that seaweed is used for dairy cattle feed efficiency, this natural resource helps sheep to stimulate robust digestion. The abundant prebiotics in seaweed supplements empowers the microbes in a sheep’s GI tract to harness more of the nutrients they ingest and ward off harmful bacteria that can weaken the host animal. That means sheep with higher energy levels and healthier bodies throughout the year.
Richer and Thicker Wool
The double-coated fleece of the North Ronaldsay sheep are perfect for beanies and sweaters. Part of that stems from the good genes of this venerable breed, but part of their wool quality and production may stem from seaweed consumption. A study of 900 ewes fed seaweed meal over a two-year period were able to sustain marketable weights during winter and produced more wool year round. More research can reveal if this is universal across breeds or only ideal for specific types of sheep.
Want to learn more about the benefits of sheep eating seaweed feed supplements? Check out our livestock page for more information or contact the Tasco® team to talk about your flock’s feed regimen.