Sheep can eat barley as a good source of energy supplements in any diets that constitute of poor quality forage and low nutrient intakes. Barley is a better grain source that ferments more quickly and can reduce the need for further protein supplementation. This can improve the growth of sheep at each production stage from weaning lambs to lactating ewes. Studies reveal that barley is palatable and so leads to active uptake of nutrients and minerals. When using barley as a feed supplement, it is advisable to have adequate knowledge on its nutritional value versus that required by sheep nutrition.

Nutrient Value and Requirements

Sheep can eat barley as it is a great source of energy and protein that is used in feeding ewes during late gestation, lactation and lamb finishing. Barley is a more recommended grain supplement to sheep diet because it reduces acidosis, provided that it is introduced in required amounts. Acidosis is a grain overload or poisoning condition to sheep resulting in slowing of digestion, bloating and sometimes death in sheep. The nutrient requirement of feeding sheep barley can be based on the total digestible nutrients (86%), net energy for weight maintenance (2.12Mcal/kg) and the crude protein daily allowance guideline (20 %- 30%). Barley is also rich in calcium, phosphorous, mineral and vitamins E and A. Sheep can feed on barley with rations of approximately 9% of crude protein, between 0.40% – 0.90% of calcium, not less than 0.20% of phosphorous, 4% of vitamin A and about 26% of vitamin E.  It is therefore of vital importance to ensure that rations correlate with the production stage.

Barley Supplements for Physical Development

Sheep can eat barley without any adverse effects on growth and development. In fact, a barley-based diet is important for the physiological development of sheep. The diet for sheep should differ according to the growth stage and the nutrient composition of barley. Since the nutrient requirement of sheep increases over time from the weaning stage, maintenance stage, and late gestation stage to the lactation stage, each feed requirement should be tailored to suit these needs. Sheep can eat barley in rations that comprise of more or less of the general feed requirements. A weaned lamb requires 20% of crude protein, 0.80% of calcium, 0.40% of phosphorous and the general guides of 4% vitamin A and 26% of vitamin E. The weaned lambs have this need of much nutrient intake if they are to be bred as meat, wool or mating ewes than when bred for slaughter.  A growing lamb would then require about 15% of crude protein, 0.50% of calcium, 0.24% of phosphorous and the general guides of 3% vitamin A and 22% of vitamin E.

Sheep can fee on barley because it is a good source of fibre and protein needed by finishing lambs for the production stage. Finishing lambs eating a barley-based diet need about 4% of crude protein, 0.55% of calcium and 0.28% of phosphorous. The barley diet for growing sheep can also be used for the sheep in late gestation and lactating stages. Sheep that eat barley are usually found to have moderate weight gains which is also useful in maintaining the weights of the ewes and rams bred for meat and wool. The late gestation ewes require 12% of crude protein, 0.40% of calcium and 0.24% of phosphorous. Lactating ewes on the other hand requires 15% of crude protein, 0.40% of calcium and 0.29% of phosphorous. As such, sheep can eat barley to absorb necessary nutrients and minerals for growth and development.

Feeding Barley with Other Supplements

Sheep can eat barley to grow their daily masses into the required weight for each sheep production stage. Supplementary feeding of the sheep can also be done in pastures that are deficient in one or more required nutrients. Thus, sheep usually eat barley as a supplement to gain and maintain a balanced diet while improving the production of meat and wool.  Sheep can feed on barley along with other grains such as corn, soybean and oats to achieve increased daily weight gains. Studies reveal that sheep provided with barley mixed with other feedstuff perform better than those on a solely barley based diet. Sheep that eat ground barley also have the same daily average gains as those fed the other grains. Whole barley and rolled barley can therefore be substituted for other grain diets without causing changes the overall performance of sheep. Maintaining a healthy balanced weight for sheep is needed to ensure stable growth while reducing crude fats and minimising the risk of daily weight loss.  Supplement feeding programs that require sheep to eat barley can be introduced at different rates depending on growth stages. The amount of barley intake should be fed every second day to the weaned lambs and late pregnant ewes, twice weekly to the growing lambs and the lactating ewes. Overfeeding the barley supplement to sheep should be avoided to reduce any risks of barley poisoning.

Do Animals Eat Barley?

Sheep can eat barley; the same applies to other animals. Basically, all ruminants can feed on barley since they have the same dietary system as sheep. Barley is often used as a supplement for cows and goats, especially during the dry season when forage is of low quality and insufficient to sustain the daily nutritional requirements of ruminants. Note that barley should be provided in appropriate amounts. Excess ration of barley supplements can cause a number of health related issues including acidosis. Ruminants are not the only animals that can feed on barley. Other animal species such as pigs, horses and poultry can also feed on barley. The upside of using barley is that it is a readily available feedstuff and a cheaper feed in comparison to commercially produced additives. Livestock that is given barley tends to perform better than their counterparts hence the widespread use of the crop in animal dietary plans.

What Should You Not Feed Sheep?

Although sheep can eat barley and a variety of other feedstuff, some items are toxic and should under no circumstances be given to animals. Sheep should not be given feed that contains higher levels of copper. Unlike other small ruminants, particularly goats, sheep cannot tolerate high levels of copper. The mineral accumulates in the system until reaching toxic levels and the symptoms begin to appear. These include lack of appetite, anaemia, fragile bones, hair loss, bloody urine and power wool coverage. To add on, sheep should not feed on most plants belonging to the nightshade family, for example, tomatoes and potatoes. The green part of the fruit or unripe fruits contains solanine which is toxic to ruminants. Plants from the brassica family should also be avoided. Some of these plants become toxic as they mature. Furthermore, while sheep are not picky eaters and can feed on most diets considered as primarily for human, they should not be given meat. Fruits and vegetables ought to be used as treats because over-feeding causing health-related issues.