Do Lambs Eat Corn?

We’ve all seen lambs with the rest of the flock out eating grass or nibbling on the hay their moms are eating to see what it tastes like, but is that all that lambs eat? Do lambs ever eat corn, and if so, why?

Lambs do not need corn, but they can eat it. Lambs that need more energy in their diets may be given corn in addition to the hay or grass they normally eat. Corn is cracked and mixed with soy, pellets, minerals and molasses for younger lambs or given whole.

Lambs can eat corn

Lambs can eat corn once they are about a week to ten days old.

They need to be old enough to explore around and start testing other things to eat and they have to be able to handle eating the bigger and harder pieces like the whole kernels of corn.

Most lambs that eat corn are started on it at about a week to ten days old and will naturally increase the amount they eat as they grow.

Newborn lambs will not eat corn, they are only interested in nursing, sleeping and improving their coordination. As they grow, they explore, which is when they find the corn.

Weaned lambs will readily eat corn, so much so that you need to limit the amount they can have at one time so they don’t get sick. Many lambs will have been given corn before this age.

Do Lambs Make Good Pets? gives you some things to think about to see if a lamb would be a good pet for you.

Corn is given in a creep feed

Many lambs that eat corn are given a grain mix called creep feed. This is usually cracked corn, soy, pellets, mineral and molasses, making it taste sweet.

The creep feed is very easy for the lambs to eat and should be available to them once they are about a week old. The lambs start with the easy to eat creep feed them move to the harder to eat whole corn.

The past year, we started with creep feed then gradually substituted in corn until the lambs are eating corn only in the creep feeder. You could use whole corn as the creep feed, which is what we did before.

For more information on creep feed, read my article Do Lambs Need Creep Feed? which shows you what the creep feed looks like and how you feed it. In these pictures, the creep feeder has corn in the trough.

Lambs do not need grain

After saying all that about lambs eating corn, you should know that lambs do not need to eat corn or any other grain, ever. Lambs are biologically suited to grow on milk from their moms and grass.

Add some water and minerals, including salt, and that’s all they need.

This is because sheep are ruminants, meaning they can digest the plant fibers that you and I can not digest, because of a special compartmentalized stomach and chewing their cud.

It takes a few months for his digestion to mature to where the lamb can eat forage only, which is where the milk comes in, but no where is corn needed.

You can find grain free lamb to eat

If you are trying to avoid (or need to avoid) corn fed meat, great news, there are quite a few farms raising grass only lambs that sell privately to customers. You can definitely find grain free lamb for your dinner!

If no grain is an imperative, please go directly to the farm! Market lambs put through an auction will not have the backstory regarding their diet, so you may get grain fed, you may not.

To be sure it’s no grain lamb, know your farmer and ask specifically about if the lambs are ever given anything other than grass or hay.

ewes with young lambs on pasture
Here are some of our sheep in the spring with new lambs. Out in the pasture, the ewes (moms) and lambs get grass and other plants, water, salt and mineral, that’s it. No corn is needed, they grow well on grass and milk from mom.

Why are sheep farmers feeding corn to lambs?

So, if lambs can get all of their daily food from grass, why would anyone feed them corn or any other grain? Well, I can give you a few situations where a sheep farmer may choose to feed corn to lambs.

Feeding grain is a farm specific decision

Feeding corn to lambs is one of many management options for raising lambs and is a farm specific decision, so what one farmer does is not necessarily the right or best option for the neighboring farm.

Some sheep farmers do not feed grain, ever. They do not want their lambs fed grain and will market their sheep as grass only, getting a premium price for the management needed to raise grain free lamb.

Other sheep farmers are fine with feeding grain and actually prefer to give lambs corn, due to the results they see in the flock when the corn is available to the lambs.

bottle lambs with creep feed
These bottle lambs have grain in with them to help them move to solid food, like hay. Lambs without a mom to take care of them seem to benefit from having creep feed to snack on for extra calories.

Corn provides fast, easy calories for growing lambs

Corn, or other grain given to lambs, provides an easy to feed source of additional calories to the fast growing lambs. Adding just a little grain, adds a good chunk of energy, sort of like a high energy snack.

Feeding corn is used to get lambs to selling weight faster, especially for folks who are selling lambs at a smaller size, more in the 55 pound range.

Lambs of this size will grow faster, making them sellable sooner, if they have all of the energy they want to eat, which is where the corn comes in.

Corn may be an economical option to increase calories to the lambs

It’s also important to know that in some areas, corn is relatively cheap compared to buying more farm or pasture land, so feeding a bit of corn allows you to up the calories, especially if forage quality is poor.

For example, if you could spend some money on corn or a whole lot more on top notch hay, many folks choose the less expensive option.

Know that areas vary quite a bit in feed costs. In my area, supplementing with corn is less expensive than supplementing with a top notch hay. Your area might just be the opposite.

The other time when corn may be economical is when there is a forage shortage, like in a drought. Corn will not make up for all of the forage, but will give the lambs more to eat than low quality pastures or hay.

Feeding Sheep Whole or Processed Grains by Christopher Wand on Ohio State University’s website giving tips on what grain to choose for the lambs, depending upon bodyweight.

Other lamb articles I have written you might enjoy:

Do Lambs Have Wool?

Are Lambs Only Born In The Spring?

5 Reasons To Not Keep Bottle Lambs For Breeding Stock

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