I’m moving up in the world this year! I have always fed my sheep hay on the ground during the short winter duration when we have to feed. Lots of people do this, and it’s often the only practical means to deliver hay for very large herds of animals. Ruminants eat off the ground the rest of the year, after all.

But there are some downsides.

One is that it can increase their parasite load. Worm eggs come out in feces, and hatch into larvae that hang out low in forage, waiting to be re-consumed. Since sheep tend to poop in the hay and then pick around for leftovers in the subsequent days, they can pick up a lot of worm larvae. This can be remedied by increased de-worming, but that’s both cost-wise and labor-wise inefficient. And it accelerates the rate at which a particular de-wormer becomes ineffective.

The second downside of feeding on the ground is just waste. The sheep eat their meal, then bed down in the  comfy leftovers. The laid-on, pooped-on hay is no longer palatable, they refuse to eat it, and it goes to waste. Tight portion controls help with this, but when feeding lower protein hay, it’s ideal if the sheep have it in front of them 24/7, to be sure they eat enough. It’s tougher to feed them only twice a day and make sure they are taking in an optimal amount. Given their choice, my sheep will eat three or four times a day, starting very early in the morning.

And that leads to the third downside: feeding twice a day. Sheep fed on a schedule need to be fed at consistent times. So it’s very constraining to one’s lifestyle. You have to work dinner plans around feeding sheep, and have to get up early on weekends to maintain their early morning mealtime.