Is permanent marker bad for my sheep?

Photo credit: Lynn Ketchum

We have a small farm with 10 sheep and with winter coming and left over garden produce have questions on what we can feed our sheep. Three are hopefully pregnant so want to be careful what we feed them. We got some pumpkins that have ink and permanent marker decor on them and concerned about the ink. Your help would be appreciated as we do not want to harm our animals and heard the wrong vegetables can make them weak and sickly. We do feed them a good orchard grass and hay with mineral block.

- Linn County, Oregon

Your sheep need a certain amount of protein and energy to keep them productive and healthy. Most of the time Orchardgrass hay will meet their needs. Just before lambing and during the first 6 weeks of lactation their needs for protein and energy will increase. Many times a 1/4 lb of alfalfa hay and a 1/4 lb of corn along with a good grass hay will be all they need. You can tell they need more or less if they look too fat or too skinny. They also need a mineral mix with salt (NaCl) available at all times. Make sure it is specifically for sheep, as sheep are very sensitive to copper toxicity and Cu containing mineral mixes made for goats, horses, and cattle.

You can add to their diet small amounts (less than 10%) of by-products (feeds) that are not known to be toxic. As you see they can tolerate the new feed without rumen upset or diarrhea, you can slowly add a bit more as they adapt to the new feeds. The problem is that you might be over or under feeding protein and/or energy. That is, you would feed a nutritionally imbalanced diet to your animals. It is best to find out the safety and nutrient content of the by products you want to feed and make sure you balance the ration for the animal. You can use the Internet to research the feed and balance the ration. I have a fact sheet on Nutrition For Lambing.

Do not feed animals anything that contains decorations and such. They are not cleared for feeding and so we are not sure they are safe. You might be able to cut off the rind if you think the materials have not penetrated the vegetable or fruit.

Shelby Filley
Regional Livestock and Forage Specialist
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