ACES Publications

Author: Diego Gimenez
PubID: ANR-0812
Title: Nutrient Requirements of Sheep and Goats
Pages: 8     Balance: 0

ANR-812, New Oct 1994. Diego M. Gimenez, Jr., Extension Animal Scientist, Associate Professor, Animal and Diary Science, Auburn University.

Nutrient Requirements of Sheep and Goats
Feed, whether purchased or produced on the farm, makes up a large part of the expenses incurred in sheep and goat production. For profitable production, proper feeding and year-round management are essential. Without proper nutrition, it is impossible to produce a high-percentage crop, wean heavy animals, and develop satisfactory flock replacements.

All sheep and goat producers should have a basic understanding of animal nutrition and should be familiar with common nutrition terms. Producers must also know the nutritional requirements of the animal at different stages of life.

The ideal nutrition program supports optimum production, is efficient and economical, and minimizes related problems. In order to understand the fundamentals of small ruminant nutrition, we must first know the nutrients essential for growth, production, and reproduction. These essential nutrients are:

  • Energy (fat and carbohydrates).
  • Protein.
  • Vitamins.
  • Minerals.
  • Water.


The most common limiting factor in small ruminant nutrition is energy. An energy shortage will result in decreased production, reproductive failure, increased mortality, and increased susceptibility to diseases and parasites.

The most plentiful feeds available are the best sources of energy. However, sheep and goats are often underfed. Poor-quality pastures and roughages or inadequate amounts of feed are the primary causes of energy deficiency. The major sources of energy for small ruminants are usually pastures and browses, hay, and grains.

Total digestible nutrients (TDN) is a broad term used to express the energy value of a feed or ration. As the amount of TDN increases in a ration, the rate of gain normally increases. Therefore, feed efficiency and overall performance are determined to a large extent by the level of TDN or energy in the ration. The percentage of TDN still remains the most widely used method of evaluating feed for energy.


In small ruminants, the amount of protein is more important than the quality of protein. When protein supplementation is the primary objective, the cost per pound of protein is the most important consideration.

Protein is used to repair old tissues and to build new tissues. Protein deficiency is more detrimental to the young animal, so an adequate amount of protein must be supplied if rapid growth and high production are to be obtained. On the other hand, excessive feeding is expensive.


The essential minerals for sheep and goats are calcium, phosphorus, and salt. The primary sources of these minerals are the diet, various mineral supplements, and, in some areas, the water supply. Minerals are needed in only small amounts.

Calcium is a necessary constituent of the bones and teeth and is essential for regular heart action and muscular activity. A calcium deficiency results in poor growth and bone development in growing animals.

Phosphorus is an essential part of blood and of all cells in the body. It is involved in chemical reactions which release energy in the body. Bones and teeth contain relatively large amounts of phosphorus as well as calcium. Calcium and phosphorus are interrelated: while an adequate supply of each is required, they must also be present in the ration in the proper proportions.


Vitamins are compounds which are necessary for normal growth, health, and reproduction. Small ruminants require many vitamins, just as other animals do. However, their dietary vitamin requirements are relatively simple because of the nature of the feeds they ordinarily consume and the synthesis of vitamins in the rumen.


The many functions of water in the animal body include:

  • Helping to digest food.
  • Regulating the body temperature.
  • Lubricating.
  • Transporting waste from the body.

To combine feed ingredients into the least costly but most efficient ration, producers must meet the nutritional requirements of each animal at its particular stage of life. The following tables provide estimates of the daily nutrient needs of sheep and goats.

For more information, contact your county Extension office. Look in your telephone directory under your county's name to find the number.

For more information, contact your county Extension office. Visit or look in your telephone directory under your county's name to find contact information.

Published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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