Nutritional Effects on


Helen A. Swartz, Ph.D.
State Sheep, Goat and Small Livestock Specialist
Lincoln University Cooperative Extension
Jefferson City, Missouri


Sheep are hardy, resourceful ruminant animals that live and produce for several years when adequately fed. Being ruminants, they convert forages, forbs (weeds) and browse into meat, milk and wool. Either by artificial or natural selection, certain genotypes produce more effectively in one environment than in others. The environment of temperature and rainfall is not provided by man. Management, however, is. Utilizing feedstuffs that are readily available and providing nutrition for sheep that is the least costly is how money is made in a sheep operation.


Nonmilking and some milking sheep can often meet their energy needs by grazing. Sources of energy are grass, alfalfa, and (starch and cellulose) grains. Lactating (milking) ewes with the genetic capability for raising triplets require supplemental nutrients. Inadequate diets of lactating ewes will lead to weight loss, infertility and reduced production.
High quality protein feeds such as soybean meal or by-pass protein such as blood meal and fish meal are needed in the diet of high producing sheep. High quality legume hay which contains 16 to 20 percent crude protein is usually sufficient.
Other nutrients required are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins A, D and E. In a ruminant animal, the microorganisms synthesize B and K vitamins.
The nutritional requirements of sheep have been determined for each state of production. Providing these nutrients on a constant basis allows for the optimization of the genetic response in breeds and crossbreeds of sheep.
We must keep in mind that in a ruminant, we are feeding the microbes in the rumen. Also, we need to remember that the newborn lamb functions as a single stomached animal (like humans and pigs). The rumen is sterile at birth and gradually as the lamb begins to eat hay, grain or grass, the rumen expands and becomes functional. The rumen is usually fully functional between 6 and 10 weeks of age (Figure I ).

In the lamb, vitamins B and K must be provided as they begin life with a nonfunctional rumen.
A level of 1.5 -2.5 percent fat in a grain mixture is normal.
Feed Additives
Sheep owners should avoid feed additives that make extravagant claims. There is no research to show that sheep require any miracle feed supplement or "organic" health feeds. These additives can be expensive and offer no advantage over other supplements. They often cost so much that the profit goes out of the enterprise.
Some grain mixtures for growing lambs are shown in Table 1.
Some of the problems that result from insufficient nutrient compositions of feed or grazing are the following:
											1	    2	    3	     4	
									Level of Protein in Finished Mix	
Ingredients								14%	    16%	 18% 	 20%
	Rolled Corn							900	    800	 720	 656
	Crimped Oats							421	    300	 240	 200
	Beet/Citrus Pulp						200	    200	 200	 200
	Dried Brewer's Grain					---	    150 	 200	 200
	40% Protein Supplement				300	    ---	 516	  --
	Soybean Meal							---	    356	 ---	 600
	Molasses								150	    150	 100	 100
	Trace Mineralized Salt				10	     20	  10	  20
	Dicalcium Phosphate					---	     10	  10	  20
	Monosodium Phosphate					15	     10    ---  	  --
	Magnesium Oxide						4	      4      4	   4
	Ton								 	 2,000	  2,000  2,000  2,000

1.	13.5% of crude protein (to be used with good quality hay).
	Crushed oats				 75  pounds
	Cracked corn				 75  pounds
	Wheat bran				 	 25  pounds
	Soybean oil meal			 25  pounds
	Salt 						  2  pounds
2.	16.0% of crude protein (to be used with fair-to-poor hay).
	Crushed oats				65  pounds
	Cracked corn				65  pounds
	Wheat bran					20  pounds
	Soybean oil mea			50  pounds
	Salt						 2  pounds
The second formula is more suitable for high producing lambs and ewes and instances where only fair quality grass or mixed-legume grass hays are available; otherwise the first formula is satisfactory and usually less expensive.

ACIDOSIS (grain overload)
a. Excessive ingestion of grain or moderate amounts by animals not accustomed to grain or by hungry animals.
b. Grain fermentation results in abnormally high
levels of D-lactic acid and lactate.
c. The rumen pH falls to 4.0 to 4.5

a. Occur 6-12 hours after grain ingestion
b. Associated with indigestion and dehydration.
c. Off-feed, irritability, dullness.
d. Distended, paralyzed rumen.
e. Profuse diarrhea, dehydration, sunken eyes.
f. Incoordination, collapse, coma, death.
g. Recovered animals often results in founder.

a. Empty rumen, either with stomach tube or surgery.
b. Mineral oil and antacids.
c. Electrolytes and buffers to correct dehydration and acidosis.
d. Fluid treatment may need to be supplemented and antibiotics, antihistamines, steroids, and calcium borogluconate, depending on severity of clinical signs.

a. Remove the offending cause: properly managed feedbunks are best prevention.
b. Do not offer free-choice grain to unaccustomed, hungry or starving sheep.
c. Ionophers (e.g.: Bovatec) in concentrate, at recommended level, are useful


a. Interaction of several factors in rumen:
· reduction of gas elimination
· increased gas production from fermentation
b. Associated with:
· Iush, rapidly growing legumes
· changes in diet composition
c. May follow oral antibacterial treatment. Impaired gas elimination from solid objects lodged in esophagus or esophageal groove.

a. Distention of rumen (LEFT side of animal)
b. Often is moderate, with no great consequences.
c. If progressive:
· respiratory distress
· profuse salivation
· bluish mucous membranes
· prostration...death from asphyxiation

a. Remove offending cause; usually feed
b. Relieve ruminal pressure: stomach tube
· trocharization of LEFT paralumbar fossa ("last" resort)
· Defoaming agents: vegetable oils are usually as effective as more expensive commercial preparations
· May use surfactants (e.g.: Poloxalene, Therabloat, etc.)

a. Knowledge of circumstances leading to bloat and avoidance of source.
b. Pasture management, especially legume pastures.
c. Poloxalene blocks: relative value, although quite useful when flocks are first turned into pasture.
d. Bovatec (Lasalocid) in concentrate, at recommended level, is useful.
e. Increase salt intake to increase water consumption.

a. Lack of free access to mineral supplement containing calcium.
b. Winter grazing of forages low in Ca.
· prolonged residue grazing during open winter.
c. Feeding forages low in Ca (straws, corn, silage...)

a. Affected ewes are lethargic and recumbent with no previous signs of other illness.
b. Depression, inappetence, muscle tremors and weakness late in gestation.
c. Serum calcium level less than half its normal value.
d. Signs mimic "Pregnancy Disease".

a. Results are "dramatic", as in Milk Fever of dairy cows.
b. 200 ml of calcium gluconate, I.V.s, slowly, (results occur in 15-30 min.)
c. Untreated ewes usually die in 12-18 hours.

a. Free-choice limestone, mixed with 1/3 salt.
b. Specially needed if feeding forages low in Ca or if ewes are grazing "residues" during open winters.

a. "Simple" goiter (known also as "colloid" goiter) of newborn lambs is due to iodine deficiency in the pregnant ewe's diet.

a. Defined, symmetrical enlargement of the thyroid gland.
b. The thyroid gland is located in the ventral part of the "throat latch" in the upper part of the trachea (wind-pipe).
c. Affected lambs have a swollen throat, are often born with little or no wool, act weak and often succumb to starvation.

a. Does not improve chances of survival.

a. Stabilized iodized salt in diet of gestating ewes.
b. Salt mix should contain at least 0.007% available iodine.

POLIO (Polioencephalomalacia)
a. Usually a digestive upset which:
· impairs thiamine (vitamin Bl) production, or
· hampers thiamine absorption.
· results in thiamine destruction before its
. absorption
b. Thiamine is indispensable for the vital functioning of the brain...if thiamine is unavailable or its required level is decreased, the brain cortex degenerates.

a. Clinical signs are the result of brain degeneration:
· incoordination
· depression
· prostration
· arrested ruminal movement
· blindness
b. Fever is usually absent.
c. May at times be easily confused with enterotoxemia.

a. Thiamine (B1) is the specific treatment.
b. Affected sheep should receive (preferably intravenously) 1 '/: gm to 2 gm thiamine, depending on size and severity of condition. Treatment should be repeated every 6 hours for at least 24 hours.
d. Thiamine may be provided alone or in a B complex preparation.
e. Recovery is not always complete. Animals severely affected for more than 24 hours cannot be expected to respond adequately to treatment.
f. Do not administer dextrose IV's to affected animals, because their carbohydrate metabolism is impaired.

a. Slowly increase dietary carbohydrates (concentrate) intake, especially for feedlot lambs.
b. May consider supplemental dietary thiamine: 100200 mg/head/day for 7-10 days, during periods of high risk.

PREGNANCY DISEASE ("Lambing paralysis", Ketosis)
a. "A disease of men, the symptoms of which are seen in sheep."
b. Inadequate carbohydrate (concentrate, energy) intake during late pregnancy.
c. Common in both older ewes with poor teeth and ewe lambs carrying twins.
d. Overfat ewes carrying twins or triplets appear more susceptible than ewes in poor condition or those with single lambs.
e. Stress, storms, transport, fasting, excessive heat, etc., aggravate the adverse effects of poor nutrition.
f. Basically, pregnancy disease results from hypoglycemia leading to ketosis, liver degeneration and decreased liver glycogen.

a. Affected ewes exhibit signs of impaired nervous function:
· listlessness
· lack of appetite
· aimless walking
· leaning against objects
· twitching of ears, eyes, tail, etc.
· grinding of teeth
· blindness
progressive loss of reflexes
· paralysis: laying on chest
· coma...death
b. The usual course of the disease lasts from 2 to 5 days.
c. Mortality rate may be as high as 80% regardless of treatment.

a. Seldom effective. May try the following:
b. Glucose-producing substances, such as
· glycerol, or
· propylene glycol
· administer orally 7-8 oz. twice daily
c. Intravenous dextrose.
d. Removal of lamb by C-section usually increases survival rates. May need to abort lambs to save ewe. Should also administer glucocorticoids.
f. Vitamin B12 to increase appetite.
g. Good nursing, such as plenty of water and stomach tube administration of finely ground quality hay.
h. Insulin is contraindicated. Glucose treatment may be used only in conjunction with glycerol or propylene glycol.

a. Prevention of pregnancy disease can be achieved only through adequate nutrition of the breeding flock.
b. Prevent obesity in early pregnancy.
c. Adequate energy intake is paramount, especially during the last 6-8 weeks of gestation.
d. Avoidance of stress is also necessary.

a. Rectal prolapse is seen mainly in creep fed or feedlot lambs. The role of coughing and heredity cannot be overlooked. Estrogenic substances may trigger the problem, although cough, parasites and loose stools are usually complicating factors.
b. Vaginal prolapse is primarily observed among fat pregnant ewes and those eating large quantities of roughage. Susceptibility is influenced by heredity. Common among ewe lambs.
c. Docking tails too close contributes to prolapse.

Treatment and Control
a. Treatment of prolapses vary from repositioning to amputation. Suturing or retainers may be used.
b. For all practical purposes, the prevention of these problems requires:
· adequate management of diet, both quantity and quality.
· consistent culling of individuals affected by either rectal or vaginal prolapses. The odds are that a young ewe with rectal prolapse will have a prolapsed vagina come lambing time.
c. Suturing of rectal prolapse is only a temporary solution. Permanent correction requires amputation (may use "rectal" rings).

a. A disease of young lambs associated with:
· inadequate calcium or phosphorus, or vitamin D intake
· any disruption of the Ca:P balance
b. Calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D are required for:
· bone formation, and
· bone growth

a. Lameness associated with enlargement of the ends of fast growing bones.
b. Deformities of long bones which bear the body weight.
c. Weak, demineralized bones which may break easily. Sometimes lambs act as if paralyzed because of the severe pain associated with fractures. The head of the femur (by the hip socket) is a common site of fractures, as well as the ribs.

a. Effective treatment requires:
· accurate diagnosis
· careful evaluation of the diet and correction of diet deficiencies or imbalances. Vitamin D without calcium or phosphorus will make the problem worse and vice versa.

a. Adequate nutrition of gestating ewes and lambs.
b. If in doubt, have the ration analyzed, balanced
and properly supplemented with calcium.
c. Sunlight is the cheapest source of vitamin D.

a. Sweet clover contains coumarin, a substance of no consequence per se.
b. Under the right conditions, such as spoilage, "heating", moldiness, etc. --the coumarin present in either sweet clover hay or silage is converted into DICOUMAROL.
c. Dicoumarol is an anticoagulant, no different than D-con or Warfarin. Dicoumarol disrupts the normal clotting mechanisms of blood in sheep ingesting contaminated sweet clover forage.
d. Dicoumarol has a "cumulative" effect: the longer sheep ingest dicoumarol, even very small amounts, the greater the chances for poisoning to occur.

a. Some sheep are just found dead, victims of extensive internal hemorrhages.
b. Others may have subcutaneous hematomas (large blood blisters), may bleed through their noses, be anemic, and eventually die from excessive bleeding. Many animals will appear stiff and/or lame due to bleeding into the muscles and joints. Lambs born to ewes consuming toxic sweet clover may be born weak and will die from hemorrhages.
c. Pregnant ewes may abort.

a. It is essential to STOP FEEDING the offending sweet clover forage (hay or silage).
b. Severe cases respond only to blood transfusions, and/or vitamin K, (vitamin K3 is of value for treatment). c. Mild to moderate cases may be treated with vitamin K. Affected animals should be handled with care to avoid further bruising and hematomas.
d. Affected animals should be handled with care to avoid further bruising and hematomas.

a. The best prevention is not to feed sweet clover hay or silage, although this is not always economical.
b. If sweet clover hay or silage must be used in a given operation, proper haying or ensiling practices are essential. The prevention of sweet clover poisoning starts at harvest time.
c. Plant sweet clover varieties which are low in coumarin.
d. It is a good practice to have sweet clover forage analyzed before offering to sheep. The Toxicology Section of the Veterinary Science Department can perform such an analysis. Sweet clover forage should not be fed to pregnant ewes, especially during the last 8-10 weeks of gestation.
f. If one must feed sweet clover forage which is known to contain dicoumarol, no guideline is strict enough. At any rate, such sweet clover should not be fed continuously for over 6 days, and if fed, forage other than Sweet clover must be fed at least 3 consecutive weeks...(1 week sweet clover followed by 3 weeks without it).

a. Urinary calculi --primarily a problem of rams and wethers --result from mineral salts deposited within the urinary organs: kidneys, bladder, ureters, urethra, around the preputial orifice, etc. Nutritional and seasonal factors are associated with the incidence of urinary calculi:
· concentrates, high phosphorus
· silicates, present in either grasses or grain
· cold weather which reduces water intake
a. Vary from mild to severe when the urinary passages are obstructed.
b. Arched back, straining, tail twitching.
c. Subcutaneous edema.
d. The distended urinary bladder may eventually rupture and the affected animal may actually appear improved for several days...UNTIL SIGNS OF UREMIA DEVELOP. The urethra may also rupture from excessive pressure.

a. Treatment requires the reestablishment of ability to urinate.
b. Some mild cases may response to ammonium chloride:
· either in feed: 1/4 oz/head for 7-10 days
· or drench: 3/4-1 fluid oz/head for every other day up to 3 times. Use 30% NH4CI solution.
c. Severe cases may be saved only through surgical intervention.
d. Smooth muscle relaxants may help.
e. Nutrition, water availability and mineral balance must be adjusted, as needed.

a. Through management practices intended to reduce predisposing factors:
· plenty of water
· supplement ration with feed grade limestone: 20-30 lb/ton of feed
· may add sodium chloride (common salt) to ration: 3-5%
· balanced mineral intake.
· may add ammoniumchloride to ration: 0.5-1% more effective than sodium cloride


a. Not every stiff or weak lamb is affected with WMD...differentiate from other conditions:
· Vibriosis
· Polyarthritis
· Enterotoxemia
· Rickets
b. Mortality rate is high in lambs born with WMD.
c. The delayed (or acquired type) may be corrected more easily. This type has nutritional basis
(Selenium-vitamin E deficiency) and is often triggered by vigorous exercise. Lambs affected by WMD
· move slowly...are in pain
· their backs are arched
· may be down, as paralyzed
· may not nurse and starve out
e. When the heart muscle is severely damaged, death may be sudden.

a. Affected lambs should be given injections of sodium selenite -vitamin E. In aqueous solution such as Bo-Se, dosage: newborn lambs, lcc Bo-Se; lambs 2 weeks and older, 4cc of Bo-Se. Inject intramuscularly or subcutaneously.
b. Injection should be repeated every 12-14 days, but not to exceed 4 doses.
c. Maternal diet should be reevaluated. Recently cut, "good" hay (especially legumes) should provide a vitamin E source. If none is available, use Bo-Se or Mu-Se injections to provide ewes with Selenium and vitamin E.
d. The maternal ration may be supplemented with sodium selenite not to exceed 0.3 pp or available selenium.
e. Do not overdose with selenium, toxicity may occur.

a. Dietary inclusion of recommended NRC levels selenium and vitamin E.
b. Areas or flocks with past experience of WMD may consider injecting pregnant ewes with selenium-vitamin E preparations at least 4-8 weeks prior to lambing. Use Bo-Se at the rate of a 1 1/2 cc/100 lb.
c. The incidence of WMD may be reduced by incorporating wheat and linseed oil meal in rations of pregnant ewes.
d. May feed pellets containing 5 mg selenium and 350 IU vitamin E before lambing. These pellets are manufactured commercially; follow label instructions.

Some information taken from North Dakota
Extension Guidesheet: "Common Diseases of Sheep"

Author: Helen A. Swartz, Ph.D.
State Sheep, Goat and Small
Livestock Extension Specialist
Publisher: William Helvey, Coordinator
Agricutlural and Extension
Information Center
Editor: Carole E. Johnson, Secretary I

Lincoln University at Jefferson City, University of Missouri
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.
Dr. Dyremple Marsh, Interim Director of Cooperative
Distributed in furtherance of Food and Agriculture Act, 1977 PL
9S-113 Section 1444 and 1445, as amended by PL 97-98.
December22, 1981
Publications are distributed without regard to race, color,
national origin, sex, age, or religion.