If you feed your sheep outside, eventually the flock and their hay will get rained on. Is it okay for sheep to eat wet hay and what can you do to make sure they eat it, rather than waste it?
Sheep can eat wet hay as long as it is high quality hay to begin with and is not moldy or starting to heat.
|Condition of the hay||Can sheep eat it?|
|wet from rain||yes, if it is high quality hay|
|moldy from previous rain||no, use different hay|
|got wet and is now heating||no, use different hay|
Sheep can eat rained on hay
As long as the hay is clean, sheep can eat rained on hay.
The rain does not make the hay less valuable as feed for the sheep, however the moisture from the rain can make the hay heat up and mold if the weather gets warmer after the hay is wet.
If you are putting larger amounts of hay out for your sheep than they can eat in a day, consider cutting back the hay that is available for the flock to the amount they need for one day.
Some sheep are shameless hay wasters, while others see to be able to do a better job eating what they are given. Left over hay is at risk of being ruined due to heating or being pulled out of the feeder.
Hay For Your Sheep: Which Hay Is The Best Choice For Your Flock? will help you figure out a high quality hay that your ewes will eat rather than waste!
Things to consider if sheep are not eating wet hay
Here are a few things to consider if your sheep are not eating the hay you put out for them.
Do not allow the sheep to get on the hay
If your sheep feeder allows sheep to get up on the hay, you are not getting the full benefit of the hay you are buying.
The sheep will trample all over that bale in search of a few favorite bits that they will dig out at the expense of the rest of the bale being wasted.
Now the hay is not acceptable for the sheep to be eating, but the problem is not the hay, the problem is the mud or manure on the hay. Change the feeder or feed in a different way to fix the waste.
Are you feeding high quality hay?
Are you feeding a high quality hay to your sheep? If you are feeding them whatever was cheap, don’t be surprised when they decide it’s not what they need.
If you are feeding a nice, great smelling hay that was fine until it got wet in the last few hours then the problem is something else.
Did you switch hay?
We have noticed that sometimes our sheep do not like a new hay as much as the old one and will wait to see if something else will be brought out.
They may be slow to take to the new hay for a day or two, but then they usually decide it’s okay after all and start eating it like normal.
For sheep on a maintenance diet, like rams this is fine. As long as the hay is good, they will like it in a day or so.
For sheep with high energy needs, like nursing ewes, this is not acceptable. You must get something in there that they will eat.
Did the hay get rained on a while ago?
Did the hay get rained on a few days ago and is still sitting there in the feeder? If this is the case, the sheep obviously do not like the day for some reason and you need to try again.
Clean out the feeder and give them a smaller amount of fresh hay, just what they can clean up in a day.
Do the sheep have other options?
Since it is raining, it is warm enough for some grass to be showing and possibly growing.
Are your sheep finding enough new sprouts that they do not want the hay as much, at least for today?
Our sheep like to scout around for grass when the snow is melted, even if it’s just for a day or two. During this time, they might eat less of the hay, but not because of rain, because of choosing other options.
Are your sheep being picky?
If there is nothing wrong with the hay (meaning that when it was dry they ate it) except for it being rained on, consider that the sheep are being overly picky.
Picky sheep do not need to be given dry hay, they need to be given less hay per feeding to get them to finish what they have before it gets moldy or starts to heat up.
Split the day’s feed ration into two or three parts, then give a half or a third the normal amount per feeding and feed the flock more frequently.
If the sheep are being picky, this will reduce refusal of the hay.
Notice that I did not say reduce their total hay for the day, I said reduce the hay per feeding and feed more often. The flock still needs the same amount of calories per day.
If you make the amount of hay given smaller, you must increase the amount of times you give the hay in order to give the sheep all the feed they need for the day.
If you come back for the second feeding of the day and notice left over hay, now you can reduce the amount of hay given per feeding and see how they eat it this time.
Ideally, you want to see a little bit of hay left over, this means that they had all they wanted to eat plus a bit extra to mess around with. That is perfect.
If all the hay is gone from the last feeding, they need a bit more this time.
What can you do about wet hay?
If you tend to have problems with your sheep eating or more likely, not eating wet hay, consider:
- giving them less hay to begin with
- rethink your placement of the hay and put it inside or under cover so the hay can stay dry
- give them hay more often, at least once per day
New hay, even if it is from the same bale and is newly pulled off or torn loose, will be fresh smelling to the sheep and therefore more attractive.
Hay that catches their interest gets eaten and does not sit around and get rained on!
Other sheep related articles you may be interested in:
If you are looking for a more complete list of feeds sheep can eat, read Sheep 201: Feedstuffs