Dog food is designed with a bias on supplying high protein food for dogs which are carnivores by nature but due to domestication are now mostly omnivores. Dogs are mostly omnivores due to their association with humans for many millennia and their adjusting to a human-like diet. Dogs can be fed meat and any scraps of food given to them. Sheep on the other side of the coin are herbivores and should not do well on dog food because their digestive is adapted to a high-fiber diet.
Dog Food Formulation
Dog food comes in mostly two classes dry kibble, and wet or moist food this is further divided into diets for pups, adults, and senior dogs. These dog foods have two things in common though, that is these foods are high protein and low fiber. The minimum crude protein composition for adult dog food is 18% mostly comprised of protein from animal sources like animal by-products, meat and bone, and fish meal. The fiber content of dog food is low mostly supplied by cereal grains and is just enough to maintain the normal digestive function of the dog. Dog food is then balanced off with specially formulated vitamin and mineral packs to supply any nutrients not supplied by the other ingredients.
Sheep are ruminants with a stomach with four compartments specially adapted to digest high-fiber diets. Sheep are mostly grazers feeding on the grass to provide the bulk of their nutrient requirements with little or no other supplementation. The grass is digested by bacteria present in the stomach of the sheep, the bacteria then produce volatile fatty acids and vitamins that are absorbed and utilized by the sheep. To boost growth rates grain can be fed to sheep to supply energy for the rumen microbes to thrive, and other ingredients like urea can be fed to supply cheap protein for the bacteria. The more the bacteria thrive the better the sheep can digest all the grass it consumes converting it into useful nutrients for the animal. For this symbiotic relationship to thrive a continuous supply of fiber is needed to supply the fiber-digesting bacteria with a substrate to consume. When fiber supply is low for example when a lot of grain is fed, there is a shift in the type of bacteria in the rumen leading to acidosis and/or bloat that can kill the sheep.
Feeding Dog Food to Sheep
It would not be advisable to feed dog food to sheep it is designed for omnivores meaning that it is mostly high protein and high carbohydrate which can upset the rumen balance. Dog food can also have high-fat content which can reduce fiber digestion as the fat will coat the fiber reducing access to the fiber by the rumen bacteria. The wide variety of dog foods also makes it difficult to pinpoint any type of dog food that would be ideal for safely feeding to sheep. This is further complicated by the fact that any sheep farmer will tell you that sheep are really finicky creatures and it doesn’t take much to kill them. There is a running joke that if you see two sheep putting their heads together they are discussing who will die first and in what weird way.
Feeds For Feeding Sheep
The following feeds are safe for feeding to sheep as they satisfy their requirements as ruminants:
- Alfalfa hay
- Grass hay
- Legume and grass silages
- Leafy vegetables
- Brewers wastes
- Ground maize grain
- Feed-grade urea
Various other types of forages can be fed to sheep, including other feeds designed for other ruminants like cattle, and goats as they are very anatomically similar so they can digest the food efficiently. Minor vitamin and mineral deficiencies can arise due to feeding feed designed for other ruminants but the impact is minimal.
Can Sheep Horse Feed
Horses are non-ruminant herbivores, which means they do not have a four-chamber stomach but feed mostly on grazing grass like sheep. They have a good ability to utilize high-fiber feeds like sheep by digesting the feed in their cecum and colon with the help of fiber-digesting microbes present in the colon. The colon works almost like the rumen in sheep so the two animals can be fed on almost the same feed. The ingredients used in the making of horse feed, and sheep feed are similar mostly comprising for example grass, legume hay, grains, brans from grain processing, and molasses. The specifications can also be similar for example both feeds have an average fiber content of 10%, and crude protein can also be similar in some cases. Most horse feed also comes in pellet form like sheep feed which makes it easy for sheep to consume horse feed. So sheep can be fed horse feed with no challenges, but for better results sheep should be fed feeds specially formulated for them.
Can Sheep Eat Barley
When sheep are being fed for performance for example during fattening they are fed on a ration that is rich in grain. The grain provides energy to the rumen microbes in the form of starch which the microbes use to multiply. The microbes in turn provide nutrients that the sheep use for their maintenance and growth. Barley is a useful grain for sheep fattening as it not only provides carbohydrates but also has good fiber content, this means it can be fed in larger amounts than for example maize without causing serious bloat. Barley can be fed processed or not processed given its small size the sheep can chew it mixing well with saliva which acts as a buffer in the rumen stopping acidosis.
In conclusion, sheep should not be fed dog food as the food is not ideal for their digestive system, they can however be fed on feeds designed for other ruminants. Dog food has very different ingredients and specifications from sheep feed mostly protein of animal origin and some grain.