Can Sheep Eat Ragwort? Is it Good For Them?

Yes, sheep can eat ragwort, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Ragwort (scientifically known as Senecio jacobaea) is a common weed found in pastures and meadows. While it’s not toxic to sheep in small quantities, it can become a problem if consumed in large amounts over an extended period. Let’s break it down:

The Ragwort Dilemma

Ragwort contains natural chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which are toxic to many animals, including livestock. When sheep graze on small amounts of ragwort, they can often tolerate it without adverse effects. However, if they consume large quantities of ragwort consistently, it can lead to liver damage and even death.

Sheep and Ragwort: The Dos and Don’ts

To keep your sheep safe, here’s what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to ragwort:

What You Should Do:

  1. Monitor Pastures: Regularly check your pastures for the presence of ragwort. Early detection and removal are key to preventing overconsumption.
  2. Control Ragwort: If ragwort is present, consider taking measures to control it. This may involve hand-pulling, mowing, or using herbicides, depending on the extent of the infestation.
  3. Provide Alternative Grazing: If you have a significant ragwort problem, consider providing alternative grazing areas for your sheep to minimize their exposure.

What You Shouldn’t Do:

  1. Ignore Ragwort: Ignoring ragwort and allowing it to spread unchecked is not advisable. It’s better to address the issue proactively.
  2. Overgraze Pastures: Overgrazing can increase the likelihood of sheep consuming larger quantities of ragwort, so manage your pasture rotation carefully.
  3. Rely Solely on Ragwort: Ragwort should not be the primary source of forage for your sheep. Ensure they have access to a balanced diet, including good-quality hay or pasture.

What Plants Do Sheep Eat?

Sheep are known for their ability to graze on a wide variety of plants. These herbivores have a diverse palate when it comes to forage, and their grazing habits can help maintain pastures and meadows. Here’s a list of some common plants that sheep are known to eat:

  • Grasses: Grass is a staple in a sheep’s diet. They enjoy varieties like Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, fescue, and Timothy grass.
  • Clover: Clover, particularly white and red clover, is a nutritious plant that sheep readily consume. It provides essential protein and vitamins.
  • Alfalfa: Alfalfa is another high-protein forage that sheep find appealing. It’s often used as hay or as part of a mixed pasture.
  • Chicory: Sheep are known to graze on chicory, which is not only palatable but also offers good nutrition.
  • Plantain: Both broadleaf and narrowleaf plantain are common forages for sheep. They are nutritious and can be easily found in pastures.
  • Dandelion: Sheep will nibble on dandelion leaves, and these plants can be a good source of nutrients.
  • Brome Grass: Brome grass is another grass variety that sheep graze on, providing a mix of carbohydrates and fiber.
  • Ryegrass: Perennial ryegrass is a popular choice in pastures for its palatability and nutritional value.
  • Meadow Foxtail: This grass species is often consumed by sheep and provides a source of energy.
  • Orchardgrass: Orchardgrass is a nutritious grass that sheep find tasty.
  • Wildflowers: Depending on the region, sheep may also consume various wildflowers found in pastures.
  • Weeds: While sheep primarily graze on desirable forages, they may nibble on some weeds, including thistles and dock, but these should not be the primary source of their diet.

It’s important to note that the suitability and availability of these plants can vary depending on the climate and region. Proper pasture management and a balanced diet are essential for keeping sheep healthy and ensuring they get the right mix of nutrients from the plants they consume.

Conclusion

In summary, while sheep can eat small amounts of ragwort without immediate harm, it’s essential to manage its presence in pastures and prevent overconsumption.

Regular monitoring, control measures, and providing alternative grazing options are key strategies to keep your sheep healthy and safe from the potential dangers of ragwort. Remember, a little ragwort might not hurt, but too much can be a baa-d idea!