The world’s changing climate has led to most areas recording unpredictable, low annual rainfall. As a consequence, forage quality is often low. It has therefore become a common practice to supplement livestock feed with hay or grain. These are however expensive, sometimes beyond the financial capabilities of most farmers. As such, a great deal of agricultural research is aimed at finding out whether sheep can feed on hemp as feed supplement. The results indicate remarkable results. It has been discovered that sheep can eat hemp and in some areas, hemp seeds are already being successfully used for livestock feed.
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Hemp is a form of cannabis and an ideal example of a multi-purpose crop. It was originally used as food, textile fibre and in the medical field. Until recently, it was not a common practice to make use of hemp in the agricultural field. However, as scientists continuously discover its benefits to human health and their overall well-being, the agricultural community has invested some research on the subject matter. It has been revealed that sheep can eat hemp for a variety of reasons. Hemp is a highly nutritious plant that can aid in the physiological development of livestock, health sustenance, reproduction, production as well as the enhancement of their overall well-being. Due to its high nutritional value, hemp is sometimes used as a form of feed additive providing sheep with essential nutrients that are lacking in their daily dietary plans. Hemp is a remarkable source of crude protein (90%), crude fibre (16.5%) and energy (26%). It is also rich in minerals including calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. To add on, hemp is a source of amino acids like lysine, leucine, phenylalanine as well as arginine among others. Sheep can feed on hemp to satisfy their nutritional requirements resulting in improved performance and profitability.
Although sheep can eat hemp for a variety of reasons, it is recommended to strictly adhere to the recommended limits. According to agricultural research studies, hemp can be included in sheep diets at up to about 20% dry matter without any detrimental effects on nutrient utilisation. Note that there are currently limited research studies on the subject matter; most of them are still underway. For this reason, the exact rations are yet to be uncovered hence the need for farmers to follow the stated guidelines. Nonetheless, it has been revealed that although sheep can feed on hemp, the leaves contain cannabinoids, psychoactive molecules that can adversely affect the central nervous system. The same applies to the stems and flowers. Studies reveal that industrial hemp is quite safe for livestock whereas residues from drug production such as dust, leaves, branches and burnt seeds tends to reduce feed intake and they are less palatable. Consequences of excess hemp include drowsiness, reduced activity and uncoordinated movement.
Sheep can feed on hemp to absorb nutrients needed for physical development. Hemp contains sufficient proteins and so can be used as a protein supplement. Yearling steers can be provided with about 14% hemp seed to allow for timely development. The protein found in the plant coupled with its rich calcium composition is of the essence in muscle, teeth and bone development. Ruminants given dietary plans consisting of hemp have been proven to reach the ideal slaughter weight at a faster rate than those on a strictly grass diet. In fact, hemp can be used to replace soybean meal. This is because it has a higher protein digestibility of approximately 88 to 91% while that of soybean meal is about 71%. Additionally, hemp does not contain trypsin inhibitors. Sheep can feed on hemp to acquire sufficient energy needed to carry out daily bodily functions. The high mineral composition of hemp is valuable in ensuring healthy livestock and so plays an important role in their physical development. Ill sheep do not grow and develop timeously therefore costing farmers a lot of money in veterinary and production costs. Use of hemp helps to prevent such challenges.
Sheep can eat hemp to absorb trace elements needed to prevent the occurrence of oxidative stress. This is a rampant challenge in the agricultural industry. It results in the deterioration of the taste, texture and the overall quality of meat. Hemp contains antioxidants that are responsible for fighting free radicals thus protecting sheep from oxidation. To add on, due to its superior nutritional value, sheep can eat hemp as a means of boosting their immune system. Resultantly, they are able to withstand some diseases and infection. Moreover, hemp allows for the long term health maintenance of sheep. It helps to prevent illnesses that usually arise from inadequate or poor quality feed. Keep in mind that excess provision of hemp may be detrimental to sheep. Until sufficient evidence supporting the ideal rations is discovered, farmers are recommended to keep hemp supplements at minimum.
Can Animals Eat Hemp?
Since sheep can feed on hemp plants, other ruminants can also be provided with hemp supplements for health and production purposes. Cows and goats are also ruminants, they digest feed similarly to sheep and so are able to tolerate hemp. Large ruminants such as cows can be given higher rations while goats are often given portions that are of the same amount as sheep. Despite the fact that large ruminants can eat hemp at higher rations, excess feed can be harmful to them as well. Studies reveal that poultry can also eat hemp, particularly the seeds. To add on, rabbits can also feed on hemp. The oil cake which is usually used for rabbit diets has moderate energy and so should not be used as feed replacement.
Is Eating Hemp Seed Harmful?
As previously stated, burnt hemp seeds are less palatable to sheep and other ruminants. According to research, hemp seeds that have been burnt are not only less palatable but can reduce feed intake which inhibits nutrient absorption thus affecting health and production. Some studies reveal that hemp seeds are an excellent source of nutrients hence can be given to livestock including poultry. Hemp seeds are said to have high energy content and are relatively cheaper hence the ideal feed supplement for birds. Providing about 20% hemp seeds to birds has been proven to increase carcass weight