Older sheep eat hay, of course, but what about the lambs? Can lambs eat hay and if so, what kinds of hay can they eat?
Lambs can eat high quality hay and young lambs need finer hay than older lambs. Generally, lambs need higher quality hay than adult sheep on a maintenance diet, since the lambs are growing.
Lambs eat high quality hay
Lambs will be able to eat high quality hay, as long as it is finer stemmed. Lambs will try to nibble on nearly any hay that they see the ewes (their moms) eating.
Lamb appropriate hay has good color to it, a nice smell and is made from plants that are cut before they fully mature, which is when the plants have a higher level of nutrition when eaten as hay.
The younger the lambs are the nicer they hay needs to be for them to be able to eat it. Once a lamb gets to nearly the size of it’s mom, it can also eat the things the adult sheep eat.
What type of hay is good for lambs?
Lambs will probably like any hay that is commonly fed to sheep in your area, as long as the hay is made early, so the plant is still easy to eat and full of nutrition.
Many plants can make good hay, it’s more about getting the hay for your lambs that was made when the plant has the most nutritional value.
Younger lambs need nicer, easier to digest hay than a nearly full grown lamb.
Lambs will poke around at most any hay, but in order for them to be able to eat enough of it and digest it well enough for the lamb to grow at it’s best, the hay must be top notch nutrition.
Sheep 201: Feedstuffs for sheep and lambs gives a nice overview of many commonly fed hay options for your lambs.
First cutting hay is probably not for lambs
First cutting hay, the hay that is from the first round of hay made from a field each year, is the least likely hay to be well suited to lambs.
First cutting hay is made from plants the sheep like but it is not great for lambs because by the time it is cut it generally has larger stems and coarser leaves, which are harder for young lambs to digest.
First cutting hays that are well made are wonderful hays, we find that there is nothing that is quite as versatile as an early made first cutting, it’s still going to be better suited for the older sheep, not lambs.
To be clear, once the lambs get to be close to the size of their moms, they can eat a nice first cutting hay, too. It’s the young lambs that need a more palatable hay.
Second or third cutting is better for lambs
Second or third cutting is the hay made from the second or third (sometimes more) times the field regrows. Each regrowth is generally less tonnage but continues to be a finer, easy to eat plant.
Lambs will do better on a second or third cutting, since that will be finer stemmed and easier for the lambs to eat.
In our area, a great lamb hay would be a mix of grass and alfalfa that is a second or third cutting hay.
The first cutting hays are generally a bit too coarse for young lambs, even when they are made from a plant that sheep like.
For instance, a lovely first cutting alfalfa is likely to be too stemmy for young lambs to easily eat, older market lambs and ewes could eat it, but younger just weaned lambs would need something softer.
If you had a second pr third cutting alfalfa, grass and alfalfa mix or all grass hay for your young lambs, that would be the ticket!
Older lambs, more like the size of market lambs, would of course love to eat this nicer hay, as well, but they do not need it like young lambs would.
7 Tips To Help You Choose High Quality Hay is my article that will help you buy the hay that both you and your lambs will be happy to have.
Keep the hay in a feeder
Be sure to keep the hay in a feeder so that it is up off of the ground and the hay that they do not eat right away stays in good condition for when they come back later to eat again.
If you feed hay on the ground, once the lambs walk on it and worse yet, tromp it into the mud or manure, they will refuse to eat it, as they should, and end up wasting it.
For any lambs that we have in the barn, as soon as the hay hits the floor, it ends up being stepped on and the lambs will not eat it. This is extra work for us and wasted money.
Older sheep will eat the lamb hay
The other sheep will all want to eat the lamb hay, since it is probably nicer hay than what they are eating. If you need the lambs to be the only ones eating lamb hay, you’ll have to set up a creep area.
A creep area is an area that has special food for the lambs and is sectioned off by a gate with openings that only the lambs can fit through, which keeps the ewes from eating the lamb hay.
My article Lamb Creep Feeding gives you an idea of how to set up a creep area and goes over feeding creep feed or hay, but either way, the basic set up is the same.
For more information on feeding lambs, read my articles:
How Old Do Lambs Need To Be To Wean?