Do Sheep Eat Thistles? Everything You Need To Know

If you’ve ever wondered whether sheep have a taste for thistles, you’re in the right place. Let’s dive right in and explore whether these woolly creatures are fans of these prickly plants.

Sheep and Thistles: The Lowdown

Sheep are known for their voracious appetites, but when it comes to thistles, their preferences can vary. Some sheep will nibble on thistles, while others may avoid them altogether. It’s not a straightforward yes or no, but rather a matter of individual taste and the availability of other forage.

Factors that Influence Sheep’s Thistle Consumption

Several factors can influence whether sheep will munch on thistles:

  1. Age: Younger sheep are more likely to experiment with different foods, including thistles, compared to older, more selective eaters.
  2. Hunger: When sheep are hungry and don’t have access to their preferred forage, they may resort to eating thistles as a last resort.
  3. Thistle Species: Some thistle species are less palatable and more prickly than others, deterring sheep from consuming them.
  4. Season: Thistles can vary in taste and palatability depending on the season. Young thistles may be more appealing than mature, spiky ones.

The Nutritional Value of Thistles for Sheep

While thistles might not be at the top of a sheep’s menu, they do offer some nutritional value. Thistles can contain:

  • Fiber: Thistles are a good source of dietary fiber, which can aid in digestion for sheep.
  • Protein: Young thistles can have a higher protein content, making them a potential source of nutrition.
  • Minerals: Thistles may provide essential minerals like calcium and phosphorus, which are important for sheep health.

Management and Thistle Control

If you’re a farmer concerned about thistles taking over your pastures, here are some management strategies:

  • Grazing Rotation: Implement a grazing rotation system to prevent overgrazing and give pastures time to recover.
  • Herbicide Application: Consider using targeted herbicides to control thistle populations.
  • Pasture Improvement: Planting more desirable forage species can make your pastures less appealing to thistles.

What Plants Do Sheep Eat?

Sheep are not the pickiest eaters out there, and they’ll happily graze on a variety of plants. Here’s a list of some common plants that sheep typically include in their diet:

GrassesGrasses like Timothy, Bermuda, and Ryegrass are staples in a sheep’s diet. They provide a good source of carbohydrates and fiber.
CloverClover, especially white and red clover, is a favorite of sheep. It’s rich in protein and can improve the nutritional value of their diet.
AlfalfaAlfalfa is a legume that’s high in protein and calcium. It’s often included in sheep feed to boost their nutritional intake, especially for pregnant ewes.
ChicoryChicory is a deep-rooted plant that sheep find appealing. It’s nutritious and can help control internal parasites due to its tannin content.
PlantainPlantain, not the banana-like fruit, but a broadleaf herb, is another favorite. It’s easy for sheep to digest and offers a variety of vitamins and minerals.
DandelionBelieve it or not, sheep are known to munch on dandelions. These common weeds are a source of vitamins A and C and various minerals.
Lamb’s QuartersThis leafy green is high in protein and can be a valuable addition to a sheep’s diet, especially during periods of rapid growth or lactation.

Remember that while sheep will graze on these plants, proper management of your pastures and a balanced diet are essential to keep your flock healthy and thriving. Providing a diverse range of forage options ensures that your sheep receive the nutrients they need for optimal growth and well-being.


In summary, sheep can eat thistles, but their preference depends on various factors. Thistles can provide some nutritional value, but they are not usually a primary food source for sheep. If you want to control thistles in your pastures, consider implementing proper management practices to maintain a healthy and diverse forage environment for your flock.