Smart sheep pasture management is crucial to reducing the cost of winter grazing. Once the winter months begin to rear their hostile temperament, the growth of your grass has likely slowed or even stopped altogether. Responsible shepherds understand that this is the time of year to prepare your pastures so that they flourish again in the springtime.

Winter grazing can pose health risks and issues to both your sheep and your pastures if not conducted effectively. Prepare yourself, your pastures and your sheep for the increased extreme elements of winter for a successful winter grazing season.

Stay well informed to keep your sheep and your pastures healthy if they will be grazing into the winter. Whether you’re a long term seasoned shepherd looking for best practice alternatives for a healthier herd or just starting out we have some well versed tips to help you navigate the harsh winters with your flock.

What Happens to Sheep in Winter?

Sheep, like most animals living predominantly outdoors, will need to consume a lot more food in the winter months to keep their body temperature at optimal levels for the colder weather. Their wool coats are designed to provide insulation to keep them warm but their wool can’t trap in heat if that heat is not being produced. Hence the need for more fuel to stoke the fire.

As the growth of your pastures slows down or comes to a halt during the winter months, most shepherds will opt to rotate the grazing of their sheep to different pastures, identify sacrifice paddocks or provide shelter, such as a composting barn, during the cold months and feed them with nutritious hay bales to substitute the nutrients from the pastures.

At SmartShelters we have an enviable reputation for our custom built, top quality, reliable and cost efficient livestock shelters to enable your sheep to thrive during the winter months. Our shelters earn you greater control over the feeding, milking and management of your flock as well as keeping them protected from the elements, keeping them warmer and healthier while increasing milk yields.

Can you Graze Sheep in the Winter?

Sheep are extremely resilient animals in most climates and winter conditions are no exception. Snow on the ground does not always mean the grazing season ends and won’t stop the sheep from digging to get to the grass. Sheep have the ability to dig through the snow as long as it’s light and fluffy and not deeper than about a foot. Wet snow or drifted snow is a lot harder for the sheep to get to and iced over snow is a no go.

However, that being said, dairy sheep are more sensitive to weather conditions due to the energy they need to produce milk. Decline in milk production due to cold stress has been proven to be of greater magnitude than that of heat stress.

Be careful to prevent overgrazing at this time of year. If you have too many animals on a small plot of land or allowing them to graze for too long once the pastures have stopped growing can raise many issues such as hungry sheep, damaged roots and erosion. This can lead to muddy pastures, lameness and higher costs associated with having to provide more hay or silage late into the spring while you wait for the pastures to recover.

Keeping your flock sheltered from the elements in a custom built livestock shelter keeps your flock warm, safe and easily managed. The use of our SmartShelters leads to easier feed management and will inevitably save you on health and feed costs.

Where do you keep sheep in the winter?

While sheep can be grazed in pastures into the winter months, it’s a lot safer, warmer and more productive to keep them in a purpose built shelter.

Providing your sheep with protection, particularly in often harsh and hostile New Zealand conditions, is best practice for many reasons. This is particularly the case for sheep bred for optimum dairy genetics, as the very DNA that allows them to produce such high yields tends to leave them susceptible to weather extremes, as they focus their energy on milk production rather than on hardiness.

What’s more, providing your property with a hub from which to maintain your flock will allow you to maximise your investment.

If your farm is in the lowlands and you’re lucky enough to not be bombarded with numerous feet of the white stuff, it is possible to keep your sheep grazing throughout the winter months, or at least until the weather declines past optimal standards. This is an excellent time of year to consider rotational grazing practices or adopting a sacrifice paddock to enable your other pastures to rejuvenate.

Once you are convinced that your pasture has given up growing, bring your sheep in from the fields. Our livestock shelters are designed to keep your animals warm, safe and comfortable during the winter months and keep the stress off your pastures and give them the break they need to thrive during the next season.

How to Prepare Pastures for the Winter

To prepare your pastures for the winter season make sure that all seed heads of scrub grass and weeds (which your sheep don’t usually eat) are knocked down with a mower or scythe. This provides the best opportunity for your optimal forage to thrive once the snow melts.

The best time to prepare your pastures for the winter and spring months is, of course, the autumn before the snowy months kick in. Once your herd is off the pastures for the winter, consider spreading new seed and working on your pastures pH level. This will encourage leguminous plants such as clover, alfalfa and vetch to have the chance to take root and thrive once the snow has thawed and you turn your sheep back out to pasture.

In addition to this when you experience low grass levels combined with the cooler temperatures creates the perfect time to check your fences, make repairs and budget for any improvements to your fencing that you may need to complete in the spring.

How Much Hay Do Sheep Need per Day in the Winter?

This is a much discussed phenomenon with a not so simple answer. Of course, every ewe will differ in their appetites over the course of a season. It will depend on their weight, their health, their environment and the climate.

Most likely, you’re looking for a calculation so you can buy in the amount of feed you need for the season and the best way to do it is to figure out how many days you will need to be feeding them hay and how much they weigh. Then you can calculate their feed needs based on their body weight.

The average sheep will consume 2-3% of her body weight in hay per day. So if your ewe weighs 150 lbs they will require between 3 and 4.5 lbs a day.

You may want to consider buying second cut or second crop hay which is the second harvest from a field and as a result has fewer stalks and more leaves. We all know that sheep tend to pick over the stalks and devour the leaves! While this option tends to be more expensive, it has a much higher nutritional value and produces less waste and you may notice it saves you in the long run.

Can sheep live on grass alone?

Absolutely. Sheep are herbivores and are designed to not only live solely on grass but to thrive on it. As long as the grass is of high quality and full of all their nutritional needs. The issue is that during the winter time, grass grows so much slower or sometimes not at all and is not so accessible if it snows. Therefore alternatives are required during the winter months to ensure your herd survives and thrives.