How to Care for Sheep as Pets

Updated on November 2, 2017
Farmer Rachel profile image

Rachel worked as a farm manager for three years in Pennsylvania. She now owns a small farm in Minnesota, One23 Farm.

Source

My experiences with raising sheep and lambing have been nothing but enlightening. Sheep aren't nearly as dumb as tradition says. They make excellent mothers, and with a relatively small number of acres, a farmer can make a pretty penny producing lambs.

Aside from their place in farming, sheep can also make good pets, and from what I've seen, keeping sheep as pets is a growing trend. I don’t live very far from the suburbs, and I’ve done public sheep-shearing demonstrations here at the farm using old-fashioned hand shears.

As a result, I’ve received inquiries from people wondering if I could come and shear their pet sheep for them. I’ve answered these calls and arrived at beautiful suburban homes owned by good-natured, friendly folk with a few acres of land that have decided to keep a few sheep.

Sheep kept as pets may never be expected to act like “farm sheep” and produce quality wool or large lamb crops, but a sheep is still a sheep and needs to be cared for as such.

So What’s a Sheep?

Technically, the sheep (Ovis aries) is a four-legged, small ruminant mammal. Ruminants are animals with a rumen, which is a compartment where plants and grains that have been ingested by the animal stop by for a visit with some bacteria.

The ingested food is then regurgitated after undergoing some initial digestive processes and returned to the mouth in the form of a “cud,” a ball of partially-digested food. Ruminant animals like sheep chew on the cud as the next phase in digestion.

Sheep are one of the oldest domesticated animals, and through selective breeding practices we have changed them a bit.

The domestic sheep, like most livestock animals, has become just as dependent on its human keepers as we have on the products it produces. So whether a sheep is being kept for agricultural purposes or not, some basic guidelines for care will apply.

Source

Your Friendly, All-Knowing, All-Important Veterinarian

I know that large animal vets can sometimes be hard to come by, but if you are keeping sheep as pets you should find one. A veterinarian who specializes in small ruminants will be an invaluable source of information for you.

I wasn’t raised on a farm, or by farm people, so when I first started breeding sheep I learned everything I know from my vet. Honestly you might be surprised to find that many of your questions and concerns about your sheep can be dealt with over the phone.

Additionally, fees for “house calls” are generally very reasonable, so if you do need an expert on hand don’t worry too much about the cost.

Look at it this way: You wouldn’t buy or adopt a dog if you couldn’t afford the vet bills, right? Same difference.

Most pet sheep will never need to see a vet, but you never know what might happen so it’s a good idea to find one. I really can’t stress enough that if you’re going to keep sheep, you should know the number of a large animal veterinarian that you can contact.

Sheep Diet

Like all animals, sheep should have constant, free-choice access to fresh, clean drinking water.

A free-choice salt block and mineral block should be provided, and the mineral block should be for sheep, not horses.

Mineral supplements designed for horses contain far too much copper for sheep, which can lead to a condition called copper toxicity.

Securely hung flat-back buckets are good choices for providing water. 50-gallon troughs, or stock tanks, also work. If caring for lambs, buckets are suggested and should be hung high enough that the little lambs can't climb in!
Securely hung flat-back buckets are good choices for providing water. 50-gallon troughs, or stock tanks, also work. If caring for lambs, buckets are suggested and should be hung high enough that the little lambs can't climb in! | Source

Grazing and Hay

Sheep are excellent grazers and prefer a diet of grass and clover. Ewes (female sheep) that are not being bred will do very well through the whole growing season if they have access to reasonably good pasture, and won’t require any grain to maintain good body condition.

In fact, one of the common issues I’ve seen in suburban sheep flocks is over graining. Feeding grain when it is not necessary, no matter how much you love your sheep, is only going to accomplish one thing: Make your sheep overweight.

Fat sheep do not do well. Overweight ewes especially do not do well if they are ever bred. The animal really wasn’t meant to pack on a lot of fat, and a sheep can experience health problems if allowed to become overweight. And as a side note, shearing a sheep is made more difficult if the animal is overly plump.

Pet sheep that have not been bred should do just fine during the winter months if provided good hay. Straight alfalfa is unnecessary. If you’re not sure about hay quality, the cheaper of the available products is probably what you want for your pet sheep.

Do the smell test: Does it smell good to you? Would you eat it (if you were a sheep)? Hay shouldn’t smell moldy or musty, but sweet and fresh, sort of like mowed grass.

Pet sheep that don’t have access to a lot of pasture should be given hay throughout the year. And again, if your sheep are losing weight, that’s the time to offer grain. Don’t grain sheep that already have good body condition!

Source

Graining Sheep

Assuming you are not breeding your ewes, grain should only be offered to pet sheep over the winter if you notice that they are losing condition (getting thin).

Looking at the belly of a sheep won’t tell you much in terms of how fat or thin the animal is because the rumen and intestines take up so much room in there. To check the body condition of a sheep, feel along the spine and the hips.

If you can feel a little vertebrae and a little hip bone, your animal is probably in good condition. If the vertebrae feel sharp, the sheep may be underweight. If you can’t feel the hip or spine, you’ve got a fat sheep, and should lay off the grain and treats!

Add grain to a sheep’s diet slowly. Abrupt changes can shock the rumen and cause all sorts of problems. Grain should be divided into at least two meals per day, and no change in grain should be made at more than one-half pound per sheep per day.

Maintenance feed for healthy sheep that need a little grain to keep their weight up shouldn’t exceed one-quarter pound per sheep per day. Compare this ration to that of a pregnant ewe that will typically receive one whole pound of grain per day. Pet sheep that aren’t breeding definitely don’t need that much.

As far as grain goes, lambs are a different story. If you’ve purchased lambs that have basically just been weaned, they should have started on grain and pasture (and hopefully hay) already.

Continue a graining regimen of about one pound per sheep per day until the lamb is six or seven months old, then gradually reduce the grain. Don’t grain the lamb again unless she is losing body condition, or you are going to breed her.

Final Note on Feeding

The best feeding practices for any farm animal will be implemented by a caring, observant keeper.

If water and mineral are available free-choice, the best way to figure out how much hay to feed your sheep is to figure a ration of 2% of their total body weight.

Aside from this, careful observation of body condition will tell you everything else that you need to know.

Shelter and Fencing

Even pet sheep need some kind of a shelter they can retreat to during bad weather and to be kept safe from predators in.

Most suburban areas don’t seem to have large wolf or coyote populations, so that’s a good thing. But believe it or not, a stray dog with the wrong idea can seriously wound or kill an adult sheep.

Three-sided structures are good. Little barn type structures that can be closed up at night are better. If you’re sure that you’re in a coyote-free zone, and have an electric fence installed that will deter dogs, you can probably get away with something more like a big lean-to.

Use your best discretion in choosing appropriate shelter for your pet sheep. And don’t let them run away! Sheep need to be fenced if they live in suburban areas, or before you know it your sheep will be munching your neighbor’s garden or, worse yet, getting hit by a car.

Multiple strands of electric fence are really good at keeping sheep where they belong. Wooden post-and-rail or post-and-board fence works well, too, but only if there are more than three rails or boards per panel. Three-rail post-and-rail just doesn’t cut it for sheep. They’ll squeeze right through the rails the first chance they get.

If you don’t want to go the route of electric fence, that’s fine. One good rule of thumb to follow in that case is this: If your fence is good enough to prevent a large dog (such as a German Shepherd) from squeezing through, climbing under, or jumping over, it will definitely suit sheep.

In fact, it will probably be overkill, but that’s okay.

Source

Shearing

Shearing sheep can be fun! You get to wrestle the silly fluffball to the ground, roll around with it and get filthy, learn how to hold the sheep in such a way that she calms down, and then you stink like lanolin for the rest of the day.

Fun as shearing may be, you don’t have to learn to do it yourself. When you decide you want to own pet sheep, you need to have the name and number of a couple of people who can shear. You must have your sheep shorn every year, in the spring, before it gets hot.

I can’t stress that point enough. Don’t wait until it’s been ninety degrees for two weeks to call someone and ask them to come shear your sheep for you. For one thing, the animals have already been suffering.

For another, your shearer is probably going to charge you more money because of how miserable it can be to shear when it’s very hot out. Also, your sheep are going to have a harder time being shorn because the stress of being handled by a stranger will compound the heat stress they are experiencing.

Having your sheep shorn before the daily highs get into the 80’s is best.

If you hire a person to shear your sheep, it is very important that you make sure they remove all of the wool. This includes the dreaded crotch region, the wool around the anus and vagina of the ewe. Crotching is the “grossest” part of shearing, for fairly obvious reasons, but it’s pretty much the most important part.

The risk you run in leaving the crotch wool on your sheep year after year is a terrible condition known as fly-strike. I’ll spare you the details of my one and only experience with fly-strike because frankly, it’s too disgusting to relate.

Let me just say this: The condition happens when the wool around the anus and vagina of the sheep is left there for too long, becomes moist with urine and caked with manure, stays warm and moist for long periods of time, and turns into a breeding ground for flies.

You do not want to see fly-strike. Make sure your sheep are crotched.

Source

Sheep for Pets – Rams or Ewes?

If you find yourself in possession of a ram lamb, do yourself (and him) a favor and have him neutered. Wethers can have a lot of personality, be less skittish than ewes, and can make better pets according to some.

Rams, on the other hand, are bound to become aggressive. Part of the reason for their aggression is the animal itself. The other issue is that rams that have been handled a lot and given no reason to fear, and therefore respect, humans, simply won’t see anything wrong with butting you in the knees or knocking down someone’s children. In short, rams can become dangerous as far as pets go.

Feet Trimming

Sheep need to have their hooves trimmed as the hard outer wall grows. Specifying a time frame for foot trimming is difficult, as it really depends on several factors including the individual animal and what it walks on.

It’s best to have an experienced person, like a vet, herdsman, or savvy pet sheep keeper, show you how to do it. A good pair of garden shears, or even sturdy scissors, will usually work really well.

Deworming

Sheep need medication commonly called dewormer that will kill and remove intestinal parasites and other types of worms. This medication is generally administered orally and, again, make sure the product you purchase is labeled for sheep and not horses. You should deworm your sheep every spring, summer, and fall.

Some Plants That Are Poisonous or Toxic to Sheep

This is not a complete list, but a good start: azaleas, chrysanthemums, acorns, choke cherry, buttercups, daffodils, holly, elderberry, and black locust bark.

Source
Source

Questions & Answers

  • We have a 2.5-month-old lamb we've been bottle feeding since birth. She was a triplet. When it is sunny, we leave her outside with the dog, but she has been sleeping inside on the floor. We have .5 acres, and a huge backyard. Any advice on transitioning her to the outside overnight? When we leave her outside by herself, and we are inside it sounds like bloody murder outside. We have definitely spoiled her.

    Your best bet would be to get another lamb or yearling sheep. Your lamb doesn't know she's not a person. She needs to bond to another ruminant animal, or she'll continue to experience anxiety when separated from you overnight. I would recommend doing this as quickly as possible if she's already 60+ days old, and wean her off the bottle if you haven't already.

  • I am thinking about buying a lamb for a pet. How long do they live, and would it be happy living in a large back garden?

    Sheep can live from twelve to fourteen years.

    They are not happy living without other sheep - you need at least two.

    You can check veterinary recommendations for minimum spacing requirements. In my experience, sheep are happier with more space. A small pen will bore them. It's also healthier for them to have access to fresh grass and pasture forage during the growing season. They won't enjoy a diet of only hay all year long - it's the difference between what will keep them alive and what they will really thrive on.

    I stock my fields at five ewes per acre generally, but I also do some rotations. You could probably keep two sheep on 1/2 an acre depending on what types of grass you have. At some point, though, you will have to move them out of that area and let it rest or even reseed it.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      who cares what my name is 

      2 weeks ago

      Hi thank you so much for this very important information although one of my sheep are way skinnier then the rest what should I do

    • profile image

      Wenwen 

      2 months ago

      You're soooo lucky! I want to raise sheep someday when I grow up. And lambs are so cute! I went to a sheep farm and they seem to like me, especially the lambs. I loved reading this keep writing!

    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      5 months ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      Zan, any sprays should be cleared with a vet before use on sheep. Hair sheep are far less likely to get flystrike, however, because they don't have long wool that can become matted with manure. So you shouldn't need to worry. Following a good antiparasite program is also recommended.

    • profile image

      zan 

      5 months ago

      If we pick hair sheep there's no need to shear. Can we then wash them with insect repellent shampoo like we do our other pets? Can they have sprays, etc.? (the fly thing sounds awful).

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Wow, I always thought I would like to have some sheep but I can see it is not like having a dog or cat. Lot of responsibility to have just for fun or a pet.

      You have some very informative hubs I will enjoy reading.

    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      Eddy - Thanks, glad you liked it!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      5 years ago from Wales

      Oh how I loved this gem;I can relate to your feelings and this hub will be so useful.

      I now look forward to many more by you.

      Eddy.

    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      Donnah - I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. I love raising sheep, especially leading up to and during lambing season - lots of work and excitement! Thanks for commenting :)

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I love this article! I grew up on a sheep farm, and it is a great experience to raise these animals. Your article is informative and very useful. Voted up.

    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      Angela - glad you liked my hub! It is true that sheep can graze grass lower than other animals likes horses and cattle, but that alone shouldn't kill your grass. Leaving an animal or group of animals on a piece of ground that is too small to support them will ruin the grass and other forage, however. Rotational grazing is important, i.e., keeping an eye on the available forage and if you see that it is all below three inches, moving the animals off of it. But with pet sheep, it's not likely that a person would have a large enough flock to ruin all of their grass. A good rule of thumb is 1000 pounds of animal per acre, and the average ewe weighs between 150 and 225 pounds. Hope that helps answer your question! Thanks for the comment. Maybe I should add something to the article about making sure you have enough grass for your sheep! :)

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      6 years ago from Central Texas

      I had a pet lamb years ago but he'd moved on to the herd by the time he was grown. I understand that when sheep graze they graze deep and often destroy the grass -- is this true or false? We have more goats than sheep in my home state of Texas. Good Hub -- thanks! Best/Sis

    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      B. Leekley, thanks so much for the votes and various shares! I really appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed the article, it was really fun for me to write and I was hoping it would be helpful :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I doubt if I will ever raise sheep, but this looks to me to be an excellent article for anyone who is into sheep to read.

    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      Thanks, Dirt Farmer! I was a little surprised myself at first when people were calling me from 20 minutes outside the city limits, asking me if they could pay me to shear their sheep. I did a little research and sure enough, pet sheep are allowed in lots of places!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      I learned a lot from your hub! For one thing, I'd no idea that sheep had become popular as suburban pets. Good one.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://pethelpful.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)