Sheep are a domesticated animal that are probably descended from the wild mouflon that is native to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It is believed that they were one of the first animals that were domesticated for agriculture. Sheep are commonly raised for their meat and fleece (which is sheared and turned into wool), and less commonly for their milk. There are more than 200 different breeds of sheep in existence (although estimations of thousands of breeds are also common if extinct breeds are included) and each breed is raised for their specific characteristics. The diet of a sheep may depend on the purpose that the sheep is being raised (for meat, milk or wool).
What do sheep eat?
Sheep are herbivores (plant eaters) and most of the breeds will happily feed on many different forms of grass, flowering plants, legumes and suitable weeds. Interestingly, sheep are able to use their tongue to detect parts of plants that will be easier to digest and/or provide higher nutrition. Sheep have a four chambered digestive system that allows them to break down cellulose from plants. Sheep are grazing animals (feeding on low plants and grasses) and need to be rotated through various pastures to allow the grasses and associated plants to recover.
Sheep also eat hay (grass and associated plants that has been cut and dried) during the winter months when the pastures have less food available for the grazing animals. Farmers also add minerals to the diet of the sheep in the form of trace mix or in mineral licks. Sheep also need clean water, although the requirement for water depends on the wetness of the grass that they are eating.
Unlike other domesticated livestock, it is relatively rare for sheep to be fed grains. However, grain feed is sometimes used to fatten lambs before slaughter, for increasing fertility of adult sheep during breeding season, during pregnancy and while lactating (producing milk). Compared with other farm animals, sheep are very sensitive to copper and they must be fed specially formulated grains.
Lambs (baby sheep) are fed sheep milk from their mother, a surrogate or via a bottle.