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Selecting the Right Grain Ration for Sheep

The issue of using a non-sheep type grain ration is often brought up by sheep producers. Over the years, farmers fed their sheep dairy ration because it is cheaper than sheep feed. However, farmers should still consider feeding their sheep a properly balanced ration because sheep are very sensitive to copper levels. Because the difference between copper requirement and copper poisoning in sheep is narrow, a problem
of copper toxicity may arise when feeding a non-sheep ration.

Copper Requirements

Copper requirements for sheep are 7-11 mg/kg (ppm), with a maximum tolerable level of 25 mg/kg. Levels greater that 25 mg/kg could result in copper poisoning. Dairy cattle have a maximum tolerable requirement for copper of 100 ppm. Therefore, cattle can consume at least four times more copper that sheep without any toxic effects.

Dairy Ration

Dairy ration has high levels of copper, some as high as 50 mg/kg or greater, therefore, there's a high chance of over-consumtion of copper by sheep. As well, molasses is often included in the dairy ration which is high in copper (79 mg/kg), and is one of the reasons why copper is higherin the dairy ration.


Due to the sensitivity of sheep to copper, it is wise to purchase a grain ration that is formulated for sheep. All minerals, protein and energy are balanced for the sheep, preventing toxicity or deficiency problems from occurring if feed directions are followed. When considering a mineral supplement, use one formulated for sheep.

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