Do Sheep Eat Nettles? Is It Good For Them?

You bet your fluffy wool socks they do! Sheep are known to munch on a variety of plants, and nettles are no exception. These herbivorous creatures can graze on a wide range of vegetation, and nettles happen to be one of their menu items. In this article, we’ll dive into the details of why sheep eat nettles, whether it’s good for them, and what you should know if you’re a shepherd or simply a curious soul.

Why Do Sheep Eat Nettles?

Sheep, with their ever-hungry appetite, don’t discriminate when it comes to what they put in their mouths. Nettles may not be the most appetizing option for humans, given their stinging properties, but sheep seem to have no qualms about chomping down on them. Here’s why:

  1. Nutrient Content: Nettles may not look like much, but they’re packed with essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and protein. Sheep, like any other animals, are drawn to nutritious forage to meet their dietary needs.
  2. Palatability: While nettles might sting you if you touch them, sheep can munch on them without feeling the sting. This makes nettles a relatively easy and attractive option for grazing.
  3. Availability: Nettles are often found in pastures and fields, making them a readily available food source for sheep, especially in the wild or less managed environments.

Is It Good for Sheep?

Now that we know why sheep eat nettles, let’s address the crucial question: is it good for them? The answer is a bit of a mixed bag:

Pros of Sheep Eating Nettles:

  • Nutrient Boost: Nettles provide a nutritional boost to sheep, offering vitamins (like A and C), minerals (such as iron and calcium), and protein.
  • Diverse Diet: Including nettles in their diet can add diversity to a sheep’s forage, potentially improving their overall nutrition.

Cons of Sheep Eating Nettles:

  • Stinging Properties: While sheep can eat nettles without feeling the sting, it’s crucial to note that fresh nettles can cause skin irritation in humans and some animals. Handling nettles might be a prickly experience for shepherds.
  • Moderation is Key: Nettles should be consumed in moderation. Excessive consumption can lead to imbalances in a sheep’s diet.

Shepherd’s Tips

If you’re a shepherd or someone looking out for the well-being of sheep, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Monitor Grazing: Keep an eye on the amount of nettles your sheep are consuming. Too much can lead to issues, so ensure a balanced diet.
  • Seasonal Variations: Nettle quality can vary with seasons. Be mindful of the time of year and the nutritional content of the nettles in your pastures.
  • Consult a Vet: If you have concerns about your sheep’s diet or health, it’s always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in livestock.

What Plants Do Sheep Eat?

Sheep are nature’s lawnmowers, and their dietary preferences can be quite extensive. These woolly grazers have a knack for chowing down on various plants. Here’s a list of some common plants that sheep typically find delectable:

GrassesSheep adore a lush field of grasses. It’s their staple diet and provides essential nutrients and fiber. Common grasses include ryegrass, fescue, and timothy.
CloverClover is like candy for sheep. It’s not only tasty but also packed with protein and vitamins. Varieties like white clover and red clover are often on the menu.
AlfalfaAlfalfa is another high-protein option. It’s often included in their diet, especially for growing lambs or pregnant ewes.
ChicoryChicory is a leafy green that sheep find palatable. It’s known for its drought resistance and can be a valuable addition to their forage.
DandelionThose pesky dandelions in your yard? Sheep love them. They’re not just weeds; they’re a tasty treat.
PlantainPlantain leaves, not the banana-like fruit, are relished by sheep. They’re rich in fiber and minerals.
NettlesAs we discussed earlier, nettles are on the sheep’s menu. They offer essential nutrients, despite their stinging reputation.
TurnipsTurnips are often grown as a forage crop for sheep. The roots and greens are both consumed.
Mustard GreensMustard greens are a spicy delight for sheep. They add variety to their diet.
KaleYes, even kale! Sheep can munch on kale leaves, which are nutritious and packed with vitamins.

Remember, the exact plants your sheep prefer may vary depending on their location, the season, and their individual tastes. While these are some common choices, it’s essential to observe your flock and provide a balanced diet to ensure their health and well-being.

What Animals Eat Nettles?

While sheep are known to munch on nettles, they aren’t the only creatures in the animal kingdom with a taste for these prickly greens. Nettles serve as a food source for several animals, each with its unique reasons for indulging in this plant. Here’s a list of animals that commonly include nettles in their diet:

AnimalWhy They Eat Nettles
ButterfliesBelieve it or not, nettle leaves are the preferred food for the caterpillars of several butterfly species, including the Small Tortoiseshell and the Peacock Butterfly.
TortoisesTortoises enjoy nibbling on nettle leaves. The greens provide a source of vitamins and minerals for these slow-moving herbivores.
DeerIn the wild, deer have been observed eating nettles, particularly in the spring when young, tender shoots are available. It adds variety to their diet.
HorsesSimilar to deer, horses may occasionally graze on nettles if they come across them. It’s not their primary food but can be part of their forage.
RabbitsNettles are a natural food source for rabbits. They provide essential nutrients, and rabbits have developed a resistance to the stinging hairs.
BirdsSome bird species, such as the Goldfinch, use nettle seeds as a food source. Nettles also attract insects, which can be a food source for insect-eating birds.
ChickensChickens raised in a free-range environment may peck at nettle plants. It can be a part of their diverse diet.
BeesWhile not eating in the traditional sense, bees are attracted to nettle flowers for their nectar and pollen. This helps with pollination.

It’s fascinating to see how various animals have adapted to include nettles in their diets, despite the plant’s stinging properties. For many of them, nettles offer essential nutrients, act as a natural food source, or contribute to their overall ecological roles.

Keep in mind that not all animals can consume nettles without issues, and some may have developed specific adaptations to do so. For example, the resistance to stinging hairs in rabbits or the choice of tender shoots by deer during certain seasons.

Always remember that the dietary preferences of animals can vary by region and environmental conditions, so observing local wildlife is the best way to understand their unique feeding habits.


In conclusion, sheep do indeed eat nettles. It’s a part of their foraging behavior, driven by the nutritional benefits and palatability of nettles. However, like all things in life, moderation is key. Keeping a watchful eye on your flock’s diet and health is the best way to ensure they thrive while enjoying their nettle snacks. So, let your sheep indulge in a bit of greenery, but always with a shepherd’s watchful eye!