This time of year, my sheep stand at the fence line gazing at the fields as they begin to turn green. The lambs will stick their heads through the fence and under the gate just to get a nibble of the short grass growing on the other side. Once they get a taste for grass, they are intent on convincing me it is time to go out. However, transitioning sheep to pasture takes time and care, and it does not happen in a day.
Tips for Transitioning Sheep to Pasture
- The transition to grazing should happen gradually. The rumen needs time to adjust whenever new feed is introduced. New lush spring grass digests quickly and can cause diarrhea. To avoid this, introduce your sheep to pasture slowly, feeding hay at the same time. We let the sheep out for 15 minutes on their first day and then slowly increase from there. It usually takes us 2 or 3 weeks to go from winter feed to full time grazing.
- Graze on clean pasture. When turning out new lambs for the first time in the spring, we like to be sure the pastures are as free from parasites as possible. We share a couple of fields with a neighboring farmer. He allows us to graze in the early spring, then he hays the fields in the summer months. The fields are hayed twice during the summer month. By only grazing them once a year, we reduce the parasites in the field drastically.
- Protect your forage by allowing the grass to grow 6 inches before turning sheep out onto pasture. Move the sheep to new pasture when they have grazed down to about 3 inches. This protects the new growth and allows the field to become established while protecting your sheep from parasite larvae that live on the first 1-2 inches of the grass blades.
- I have found a few tonics/remedies to help ease the change in diet on the rumen and digestive tract.
- Homeopathy remedies– I have found homeopathy remedies to be very successful in treating my sheep. I use nux vomica to aid digestion. It can be given by simply adding it to the drinking water, or by administering it as a drench mixed with molasses, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 10cc of water.
- Baking Soda provides relief from indigestion. I will leave it free choice next to their minerals during the spring. The sheep self regulate themselves and I find only a few will go to it. If a sheep begins to look uncomfortable, or is not eating well, I will put baking soda in a drench to be sure that they get a 1/2 teaspoon of it.
Other posts and articles of interest on pasture management to read: