Do Sheep Eat Gorse? Benefits And Risks

Introduction: Yes, sheep can eat gorse, but it’s not their first choice. Gorse, a prickly shrub with bright yellow flowers, is not the most preferred food for sheep, but they may consume it if other forage options are limited. In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between sheep and gorse, the nutritional value of gorse, potential benefits and risks, and how to manage gorse consumption by sheep.

Can Sheep Eat Gorse?

Sheep are primarily grazers, and their diet mainly consists of grasses and other plants. Gorse, while not a top choice, is considered a part of their diet if other food sources are scarce. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Scarcity of Preferred Forage: Sheep are more likely to eat gorse when they have limited access to their preferred forage, such as grasses and legumes. When pastures are overgrazed or during certain seasons, gorse may become a more attractive option.
  • Prickly Nature: Gorse has thorns, which can deter sheep from eating it. However, some sheep may still nibble on the tender young shoots or leaves, especially if they are hungry.
  • Nutritional Value: Gorse is not particularly nutritious for sheep compared to grasses and clover. It has a high fiber content and may provide some energy, but it lacks essential nutrients like protein.

Nutritional Value of Gorse for Sheep

Let’s break down the nutritional content of gorse for sheep:

Vitamins and MineralsLimited

As you can see, gorse is relatively high in fiber but low in protein and essential vitamins and minerals that sheep need for optimal health and growth.

Benefits and Risks of Sheep Eating Gorse


  • Emergency Food Source: Gorse can serve as an emergency food source for sheep when no better forage is available.
  • Browsing Behavior: Grazing on gorse can promote browsing behavior in sheep, which can be beneficial for maintaining a diverse pasture ecosystem.


  • Thorns: The thorny nature of gorse can injure the mouths and digestive tracts of sheep, leading to health problems.
  • Nutritional Deficiency: Relying on gorse as a primary food source can result in nutritional deficiencies in sheep, particularly in protein and essential nutrients.

Managing Gorse Consumption by Sheep

If you have concerns about sheep eating gorse on your farm, here are some strategies to consider:

  • Pasture Management: Maintain healthy pastures with diverse forage options to reduce the likelihood of sheep resorting to gorse.
  • Supplemental Feeding: Provide supplementary feed that meets the nutritional needs of your sheep to prevent deficiencies.
  • Gorse Control: If gorse is a significant issue on your farm, consider gorse control measures, such as mechanical removal or herbicide application.

What Other Plants Do Sheep Eat?

Sheep are known for their versatility in diet, and they can consume a variety of plants and vegetation. Here’s a list of common plants and forage options that sheep typically eat:

1. Grasses:

  • Grasses are a staple in the diet of sheep. Varieties such as Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, fescue, and bermudagrass are commonly grazed upon.

2. Legumes:

  • Legumes like clover and alfalfa are rich in protein and are highly favored by sheep. They provide essential nutrients and contribute to the overall nutrition of the flock.

3. Forbs:

  • Forbs are broad-leaved herbaceous plants that often grow alongside grasses. Sheep may consume a range of forbs, including dandelions, plantain, and chicory.

4. Shrubs and Bushes:

  • Sheep can browse on shrubs and bushes when they are in the mood for something woody. Examples include blackberry bushes, raspberry canes, and various deciduous shrubs.

5. Herbs:

  • Various herbs and aromatic plants are part of a sheep’s diet. These can include thyme, oregano, and mint. Some herbs may have medicinal properties for sheep.

6. Tree Leaves:

  • In certain situations, sheep may nibble on tree leaves, particularly when other forage is scarce. However, this behavior is less common than grazing on grasses and legumes.

7. Weeds:

  • Sheep can help control weeds in pastures by eating species like thistles, dock, and even certain invasive plants.

8. Crop Residues:

  • After harvesting crops like corn or wheat, sheep can be allowed to graze on the remaining crop residues, which can reduce waste and provide additional nutrition.

9. Hay and Silage:

  • During the winter or when fresh forage is limited, sheep can be fed hay and silage as supplemental feed to ensure they receive adequate nutrition.

Can Sheep Eat Gorse Seed?

Sheep should not consume gorse seeds. Gorse seeds are not a suitable part of a sheep’s diet, and allowing them to ingest gorse seeds can lead to potential health risks. Here are a few reasons why sheep should avoid gorse seeds:

  • Toxicity: Gorse seeds contain alkaloids that can be toxic to sheep. Consumption of gorse seeds, especially in large quantities, can lead to digestive problems, discomfort, and even poisoning.
  • Digestive Issues: Gorse seeds are hard and can be difficult for sheep to digest. Ingesting these seeds can result in blockages or irritations in the digestive tract.
  • Nutritional Value: Gorse seeds are not a nutritious food source for sheep. They do not provide the essential nutrients that sheep need for their well-being and growth.

To prevent sheep from eating gorse seeds, it’s important to manage gorse plants on your farm and ensure that sheep have access to suitable forage and supplementary feed that meets their nutritional requirements. Additionally, regular monitoring of pastures for the presence of gorse seeds can help mitigate the risk of ingestion.


Sheep can eat gorse, but it’s not their preferred choice due to its thorny nature and limited nutritional value. While gorse may serve as an emergency food source for sheep, it’s essential to manage their diet to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients for their health and well-being. Maintaining healthy pastures and providing supplemental feed when needed are key steps in managing gorse consumption by sheep.