What can’t sheep eat?

Answered by Willie Powers

Sheep are generally known to be voracious grazers, capable of consuming a wide variety of plants and vegetation. However, there are certain plants that can be extremely harmful and even toxic to sheep if ingested. As an expert in sheep husbandry, I want to emphasize the importance of being aware of these plants and ensuring that your sheep do not have access to them.

One of the most common toxic plants that sheep should never consume is foxglove (Digitalis). Foxglove contains cardiac glycosides, which can cause severe cardiac issues if ingested by sheep. Symptoms of foxglove poisoning in sheep include irregular heart rate, excessive salivation, vomiting, and even death. It is crucial to prevent sheep from grazing in areas where foxglove is present.

Rhododendrons are another plant that is highly toxic to sheep. These beautiful flowering plants contain toxins called grayanotoxins, which can affect the nervous and cardiovascular systems of sheep. Ingestion of rhododendrons may lead to symptoms such as drooling, abdominal pain, weakness, tremors, and even coma. It is essential to ensure that sheep are kept away from any areas where rhododendrons are growing.

Oleander (Nerium oleander) is yet another plant that poses a significant risk to sheep if ingested. All parts of the oleander plant contain cardiac glycosides, which can cause severe poisoning in sheep. Symptoms of oleander poisoning include drooling, abdominal pain, diarrhea, irregular heart rate, and potential death. It is vital to remove any oleander plants from pastures or areas where sheep graze.

Apart from these specific plants, there are other common garden weeds and ornamental plants that can be toxic to sheep if consumed in large quantities. Some examples include yew (Taxus spp.), lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), nightshade (Solanum spp.), and hemlock (Conium maculatum). These plants contain various toxins that can cause a range of symptoms, including gastrointestinal issues, respiratory distress, convulsions, and even death.

To ensure the safety of your sheep, it is crucial to be proactive in identifying and removing toxic plants from their grazing areas. Regularly inspect pastures and remove any potentially harmful plants. Additionally, educating yourself about the toxic plants in your region and consulting with a local agricultural extension office or veterinarian can provide valuable guidance and resources.

In my personal experience, I have encountered instances where sheep inadvertently consumed toxic plants, resulting in severe health issues. This reinforced the importance of being vigilant and taking proactive measures to prevent such incidents. By being aware of the toxic plants that sheep cannot eat and actively managing their grazing areas, you can help ensure the well-being and health of your flock.