“It is a common myth sometimes believed by novice smallholders that sheep don’t need to be given water”
As with people, water is the most important “nutrient” that sheep need. How much they consume depends upon their age, and size, as well as temperature of the water and the amount of moisture in their feed. Sheep consuming wet grass or wet feeds (e.g. silage) won’t drink a lot of water because they are getting plenty of water from their feed. Conversely, they will drink more water if they are eating dry hay or dry, mature grass.
“Sheep don’t like to drink dirty water.”
For pregnant ewes, water intake increases by the third month of gestation, is doubled by the fifth month, and is greater for twin-bearing ewes than for ewes carrying a single foetus. A lack of water accompanied by a severe depression in feed intake predisposes ewes to all sorts of problems, namely unthriftiness, malnutrition and, possibly, pregnancy disease in the case of multiple bearing ewes. It is estimated that lactating ewes require 100 percent more water than non-lactating ewes.
Sheep may consume 12 times more water in summer than in winter. Adequate intake of good-quality water is essential for ewes to excrete excess toxic substance such as oxalates, ammonia, and mineral salts.
How Much Does A Sheep Drink?
How much a sheep drinks depends on the sheeps growth stage, if she is lactating (producing milk for lambs), the ambient temperature and the moisture content of the feed they are eating.
Daily Water Requirements
Adult sheep 1-2 gallons or about 4 litres
Lactating ewes 2-3 gallons or up to 10 litres
Feeder lambs 1-2 gallons
Baby lambs 0.1-0.3 gallon or about 1 litre
Try to maintain water temperature above 35 F in winter and below 75 F in summer.
Sheep actually prefer to drink from running water rather than from still water . Running water is generally much healthier and less polluted than stagnant , still water . Furthermore, sheep are afraid of water. If they fall in, their coat of wool will soak up the water and pull them to the bottom. So they gravitate to water that is still. If the water is moving, the shepherd makes a dam that will cause the water to be quiet and still. Once that water is still, the sheep drink and are refreshed.
Always keep clean drinking water available because sheep, unlike cattle, do not drink dirty water. If the water is not clean there will be a decline in the production of sheep. This will cause them to eat less, have trouble digesting food properly, be more likely to get digestive and metabolic problems.
Coccidiosis in sheep & goats
Illness such as coccidiosis can occur as a result of drinking water contaminated by sheep faeces or droppings. This is a common disease of sheep and goats, especially when they are placed under stress:
- putting too many sheep and goats together
- keeping sheep and goats in dirty, wet pens
- sudden changing of feed
- moving sheep and goats to a different location
- weaning (removing lambs/kids from their mothers).
It is an important disease because it leads to economic losses as a result of deaths, poor growth and treatment costs. It usually affects younger animals. The disease is most severe in
- lambs/kids 2 to 8 weeks of age
- lambs/kids 2 to 3 weeks after weaning
- adult sheep and goats moved to a new location or experiencing some other form of stress.
Kidney Stones In Rams
Having sufficient water also helps prevent the development of kidney stones in male sheep. Sheep and goats get sick by eating food or drinking water contaminated by the droppings. It is also claimed that cider vinegar given regularly to stud males (tup/ram) will help prevent urinary calculi (stones).
Rain & Dew
When sheep feed on large amounts of new growth and there is precipitation (including dew, as sheep are dawn feeders), sheep need less water. When sheep are confined or are eating large amounts of hay, more water is typically needed. Sheep require clean water, and may refuse to drink water that is covered in scum or algae.
Winter & Snow
In the winter if there is snow, as long as it is not hard, sheep will eat enough of the snow to get all the water they will need. However they do prefer warm water to cold water and may reduce their intake. Drinking cold water slows the function of the rumen and can lead to loss of condition. If you ever wonder why ewes are not producing enough milk for their lambs, don’t overlook the possibility that they’re not drinking enough water because it’s too cold.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Adding a little AC vinegar to the drinking water or storage tank will help to prevent algae growth, especially in the summer. ACV is a well-known water purifier, we add ACV every time we re-fill the water trough. It also acts as a natural antibiotic, and we find it helps the sheep maintain their health in every season.
Cider vinegar helps maintain the correct pH in the body, which is probably one of the reasons it is so useful. Due to its potassium content, it is invaluable for all animals just before breeding, because potassium deficiencies cause blood vessel constriction, affecting the extremities and also it seems the cervix and uterus in the final stages of pregnancy; dystocia (difficult birth) is the result.
Apple cider vinegar can tarnish metal watering containers over time; only use it in plastic containers.
Do not add the raw garlic juice to the sheep’s watering trough. It will become rancid in a short time, additionally the natural oils in the garlic juice will rise to the top of the water and the rest of the juice will mix in the water. Both the juice and garlic oils are essential in treating parasites. Adding to water is not a recommended method.