Published August 08, 2023
|Written By Lara Wadsworth
It is widely known that sheep need high-quality forage options to reach their nutrition needs. Forage crops are often a sheep's main source of food and energy during the growing seasons. This article discusses the most recommended forage crop options for sheep and why they are beneficial. When selecting a forage crop seed for your field, it is crucial to understand that a mixture of at least three seed varieties is often the best bet for cost-effectiveness and durability. Below you will find a variety of grains and grasses that are great for the base of your mix. But don’t stop there. Add your own combination of supplemental seed to provide variety of both taste and nutrients.
Supplemental Seed Options
Forage Base Recommendations
*Not all seed recommendations are currently available at TLM, however they are provided to reflect the recommendations of several university extenstion offices.
Clover is a legume with numerous benefits for the soil because of its nitrogen fixation ability. Red clover is known to be liked by sheep over white clover, although both are acceptable in many scenarios. It is also hard to trample down and will reseed readily, which saves on costs over time. Use at least 40% clover in your mix to get optimal benefits.
Timothy is a perfect filler for sheep forages. Sheep love to eat it! Therefore, it is often used with other seeds to provide variety and entice sheep to eat as much as they need. Timothy is highly adaptable to cold, wet soils but may need to be reseeded every few years.
Bluegrass is ideal for foraging because it easily forms a very dense mat that can withstand heavy grazing and traffic. It withstands drought well and establishes easily.
Tall fescue is often added to mixes because it has a very high yield. Sheep don’t always like to eat it as much as some other fescues, but it preserves the soil throughout the season. It does get eaten alongside the other options as well.
Perennial Ryegrass is a well-known favorite of sheep. Especially if your farm utilizes rotational grazing, ryegrass is a great option. Although it is a lower-yield grass, it withstands snow cover very well and makes a great winter forage. Italian ryegrass is an annual seed that is incredibly high quality and quick to establish. It is often chosen for late July to August foraging as it will continue to produce late into the summer.
This high-yielding grass option is one of the most winter-hardy seeds; it is especially good for hay and early-season grazing. It withstands high and low temperatures very well and is ideal for early summer grazing. Although it is a bit slower to establish than other seeds, it is often chosen when hay is wanted early in the season and then for grazing the rest of the year.
Also called orchardgrass, it is a favorite of sheep in its early days but often loses palatability as it matures. Yet, it is still great to plant because once the seed stems are bush-hogged, it is perfect for fall and winter grazing and yields quite well. It also is quick to recover from grazing or mowing. Orchard grass is best if it makes up at most 15-25% of the seed mixture.
|Lara Wadsworth, True Leaf Market Writer
I am a native of Southwestern Michigan, where I also reside, and I love all things plants! I got a Bachelor's Degree in Horticulture and found the first work-from-home job I could get. Now, I spend my days writing for TLM, playing with my dog, eating delicious food with my husband, and plotting my next landscape or gardening move. I believe everyone should get down and dirty in the soil now and then. Happy Gardening!