Popcorn is one of the world’s most popular snacks. Roughly 15 billion quarts are consumed in the United States alone, and January 19 is even specially designated as National Popcorn Day. But while it’s safe for human consumption, can the same be said for sheep?

Sheep can eat popcorn because this snack is relatively safe for them, provided that they’re given in moderation. Since sheep are ruminants and require a diet primarily of pasture and hay, popcorn shouldn’t make up most of their diet. It’s okay to give sheep popcorn as a treat.

It might be hard to imagine a scenario where sheep would be eating popcorn while watching a horror movie about wolves. But feeding popcorn to sheep has practical applications across several industries. Keep reading to understand the role of popcorn in rearing sheep. 

Is Popcorn Safe for Sheep?

The images called to mind at the mention of the word “popcorn” are of tasty bucketfuls of corn kernels metamorphosed into white puffs. It’s a lesser-known fact that popcorn is a particular variety of corn that pops and is the only one with kernels designed to do so.

That snack most often munched on in front of the big screen comes from either of 25 varieties of Zea mays, the kernels of which consist of rigid, non-porous hulls that contain moisture and starch granules within. 

When Zea mays kernels are heated to 400°F (204.44°C), the moisture turns to steam, and because the kernels are non-porous, there’s nowhere for the steam to go, and pressure builds up until the kernel explodes and is effectively turned inside out.

Moreover, varieties of Zea mays have approximately the same nutritional value as other corn. Sheep are said to enjoy the taste of popped popcorn. They may even derive some nutrients from it.

So, is popcorn safe for sheep to eat?

Popcorn is safe for sheep. It contains some nutritional value that can benefit the sheep. But because sheep need more nutrients in their diet, which they can’t find in popcorn alone, popcorn shouldn’t be their only and most important diet. Also, they should only consume popcorn in moderation. 

Will Sheep Have Side Effects From Popcorn?

Now that you know sheep can eat popcorn, you might wonder if popcorn can give sheep side effects.

Sheep will have side effects from popcorn, such as rumen acidosis and obesity if they eat too much of it. Excessive popcorn can harm the sheep and lead to various conditions detrimental to their growth and overall health.

That said, you want to make sure your sheep eat popcorn in moderate amounts only.

Sheep May Experience Rumen Acidosis if They Eat Too Much Popcorn

Excessive popcorn consumption or any grain results in a specific condition termed rumen acidosis. It’s also known more simply and self-explanatorily as grain poisoning.

Sheep are among the animals known as ruminants belonging to the suborder Ruminantia. With the exception of two animals in this suborder, ruminants are characterized by their four-chambered stomachs, which are central to their sequential digestion.

As with other ruminants, sheep don’t produce the enzymes necessary to break down cellulose. Because of this, they’re unable to digest plant material directly. Instead, each of the four different chambers of their stomachs has a specialized role in the more complex process.

These four chambers are:

  • Rumen
  • Reticulum
  • Omasum
  • Abomasum

The rumen is the first and largest of the four chambers, where ingested food is initially stored and softened. It’s also critical in rumen acidosis.

The development of rumen acidosis is dependent on factors such as the amount of grain consumed and the sheep’s exposure to grain in their diet. Up to 45 lb. (20.41 kg) of grain may result in moderate illness for some, while only 20 lb. (9.07 kg) may cause death for others.

Too Much Popcorn Can Lead to Obesity 

Giving too much of a good thing can have adverse effects. The same is true with popcorn being given to sheep. As an occasional treat, popcorn isn’t only well tolerated by sheep, but it provides nutrition. However, bear in mind that popcorn popped in oil can contribute to the sheep’s fat intake. Obesity, whether in sheep or humans, will give rise to other chronic conditions. 

The importance of feeding sheep popcorn in moderation can’t be stressed enough. Its implications on the animals’ health and the risk to their lives should prompt caretakers to exercise caution in feeding them not only popcorn but other forms of grain as well.  

Can You Include Popcorn in a Sheep’s Diet?

You can include popcorn in a sheep’s diet, but not in its fluffy, tasty form. The waste products of popcorn production have been eyed as a healthy alternative to livestock feed, including sheep, and have been the subject of study in the field of agriculture.

A study conducted in July 2010 published by the South African Journal of Animal Science explored the effects of dietary replacement of corn grain with popcorn waste products. It also discussed how this impacted nutrient digestibility and the development of lambs.

The study concluded that replacing a lamb’s regular diet with up to 50% popcorn waste products, or waste products derived from commercial popcorn production, resulted in the optimum performance of growing lambs with a growth rate of 190–226 g (0.42–0.50 lb.) per day.

It was found that an average of 500 kg (1102.31 lb.) of popcorn waste was produced per day in popcorn factories in Johannesburg. The human population boom has led to an increased demand for alternative energy sources for animals. 

Utilizing waste products is economical, sustainable, and helpful to the environment at no cost to the sheep’s overall health and reproductive ability. Studies continue into the possibilities of replacing the diet of livestock with healthy alternatives.


In either their popped or unpopped forms, the Zea mays or popcorn can safely be enjoyed by sheep in limited amounts. In excess, there are dangers to the animals’ health. These include the potentially fatal rumen acidosis and obesity.

Some amounts of corn grain are typically included in the sheep’s diet. Studies have determined that the dietary replacement of this conventional grain with waste products from commercial popcorn factories contributes to the optimum growth of lambs.

In controlled amounts, popcorn can be one such source of nutrients while also being a tasty and enjoyable treat for sheep.

Additional Information On Animals Eating Popcorn

Are you curious about what animals can eat popcorn? Click here for an animal overview or click on an animal below to find out specific details:

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