Holding as pets sheep
As they are easy to handle and respected for their docile disposition, sheep are often kept as pets or companion animals. The decision to keep sheep as pets should not be taken on an impulse, as with any pet. Learning as much as you can is crucial, so that you can make an informed decision.
First of all, you need to make sure that you can hold farm livestock with your zoning rules or housing covenants. The size or number of animals that you may have can be restricted by both. They can prohibit the holding of sheep as well. Increasingly, zoning laws are being changed to allow individuals to possess small livestock.
If you have enough time to look after sheep, you need to do it. When you go out of town or become ill, you must have a plan for their treatment. You will need to have an escape plan: if they don’t work out or you don’t want them anymore, what would you do with the sheep? It can sometimes be hard to get people to accept pet sheep, particularly in a timely fashion.
And what type of sheep?
As a pet or friend, any breed of sheep may be raised. Typically, it is a matter of personal choice or the product of circumstances at times. Among sheep breeds, mature size varies considerably, from less than 100 pounds to over 200 pounds. Two of the smallest breeds are Soay (eggs weighing just 50 lbs.) and Olde English Babydoll Southdown (18-24 inches tall). The Shetland is another small breed.
The best good choice is probably hair sheep because they do not need shearing or docking. Their coats include a mixture of annual shedding of hair and fur. They are also more heat tolerant and more resistant to parasites from worms. “Because of “hybrid vigour,” crossbred sheep are a better alternative than purebreds. In other words, they are more hardy and disease-resistant, much like “mutt” dogs. They are typically less costly to buy, too. Another good choice for pets is heritage or other landrace races, particularly if you intend to breed your sheep.
For pets, females (ewes) or castrated males are preferred. As livestock, intact males (rams) are not recommended. Rams, particularly during the rut, get larger and usually become aggressive (breeding season). Animals naturally polled (hornless) are also recommended. Although there are several sheep surveyed, there are several breeds in which horns can be borne by males and sometimes females. In horned males, neutering can diminish horn development. Horned animals can get their heads caught in fences and feeders, and other animals and individuals can be harmed.
Sheep are animals which are social. They should not be singularly raised. It is safest for them to be kept in flocks. For cattle, it takes about five sheep to show their normal flocking instinct. Pet sheep can, at a minimum, be kept in pairs. They can also be kept with other livestock, especially goats, but their own kind is their choice. When sheep are mixed with other livestock, you need to ensure that they do not eat feed or mineral mixes that have been manufactured and contain added copper for other livestock. Holding horned animals with polled animals is not advised.
Those raised on a bottle or milk bar—orphans, poddy, or bummer lambs—often make the best animals because they will instinctively attach to their caregiver. This is possibly why sheep, before most other species, were domesticated in the first place. However, if you start with orphan lambs, because of their often-compromised start to life, you need to be mindful that they are more vulnerable to illness (including worms) in their first year.
Orphans also do not drink enough colostrum, the first milk that the ewe provides after lambing. Colostrum helps jump start the immune system of the lamb. Orphan lambs are generally weaned earlier than dam-raised lambs, so they are more easily forced to “grow-up” By the same token, for an extended period of time, it is not recommended that orphan lambs be fed a milk diet. By the time they are 6 to 8 weeks of age, it is best to wean them. Abomasal bloat and other digestive problems, especially those raised by inexperienced individuals, are common with orphan lambs.
There are several different kinds of sheep-containing fencing. You need to be careful in keeping other animals out, including your own dogs, in addition to keeping sheep in. Sheep are a prey species and are prone to attacks, including domestic dogs and coyotes, by various predators. You need to ensure that these dogs do not pose a threat to your sheep if you or your neighbours have pet dogs, especially large breeds. Domestic dogs have a natural predatory instinct, with the exception of livestock guardian dog breeds: there is a “wolf” hiding beneath every dog’s skin. Even if dogs do not attack sheep, they will worry and cause their offspring to abort them. They can cause excessive stress as well.
Woven wire or box wire are the most common forms of fencing for sheep. Woven wire consists of vertical stays with horizontal wires. The size of the squares that the wires generate varies. Since the sheep can not get their heads stuck, the smaller squares are safer and small predators can not crawl into them. On commercial sheep farms, high-tensile, electric fences are widely used but less practical for small enclosures.
As long as the fence is covered with mesh wire or electrical wires are mounted between the boards and between the ground and the first board, a split-rail or board fence may be used for sheep. As they can cause damage, barbed wire fences are less suitable for cattle. In order to contain lambs and prevent predators, several teaching wires will need to be mounted.
Sheep may be tied up, but this can only be accomplished if anyone is nearby watching the sheep. For predators, a tethered animal is vulnerable. In his line, a tethered animal may even get tangled or knock his water bucket over. The same can be said for allowing animals, without fences to protect them, to graze free. Only if anyone is there to watch over them is this recommended.
For your pet sheep to graze, you should preferably have an acre or two. For a few sheep, an acre is normally enough. Pet sheep may be housed in small pens or enclosures if pasture is not available. Pens can be made out of different materials. When the panels are large enough and the openings are small enough, livestock panels sold at farm supply stores perform well. An exercise area of at least 50 square feet should be part of the pen. It is important to get sheep out for exercise and grazing, if the lot is smaller than this. Young sheep, that is to say, anything to hop on, will enjoy environmental enrichment. Sheep prefer higher places naturally.
Sheep should defend themselves from severe weather: hot and cold, rainy and windy. It is not necessary for shelters to be fancy or costly. All they have to do is have a place for the sheep to go to get out of the rain, snow, or wind. The shelter will keep their food dry as well. In hot weather, particularly if it is humid, sheep can seek shelter (or shade). It should be dry inside the shelter to avoid hoofing or other issues with the disease.
Shelters may either be handmade or bought. Three sided run-ins fit well in sheds. For small numbers of sheep, plastic calf hutches or poly domes are common shelters. A further alternative is metal port-a-huts. Cloth systems for shade perform well. Under solar panels and hay waggons, sheep can also seek shade. Small sheep in a large doghouse or igloo can be able to get shelter.
Many pet sheep maintain good health and live for a long time if fed and treated correctly. A sheep’s natural life span is 10 to 12 years. Some are going to live longer. Gastro-intestinal parasites are the most common health issue for sheep, especially lambs (worms). Worm eggs are found in almost any sheep’s faeces. They evolved into contagious larvae that the sheep eat as they graze after the eggs hatch. The larvae grow into adult worms once within the sheep’s body, which lay more eggs that are again deposited on the pasture. In the case of the barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus), adult worms, along with juvenile worms (L4s), the most common parasite affecting sheep, suck the blood of the animal. They can cause anaemia (significant blood loss) and death, particularly in young lambs, if there are enough worms (under six months of age).
In their digestive systems, it is common for sheep to have parasites of different kinds. It becomes a concern only when they have too many. By reviewing the colour of its lower eye lid, you can tell whether a sheep has too many barber pole worms. It has anaemia and needs to be dewormed with appropriate medicines if the colour is pale (white or light pink). Many worms cause intestinal disorders and can cause diarrhoea (scours). For evaluating the need to deworm an animal, faecal tests are not very useful. Medical symptoms need to be looked for instead: anaemia (pale mucous membranes), bottle jaw (fluid swelling under the jaw), weight loss, loss of body condition, diarrhoea, dirty back sides, fatigue, and anorexia (lack of appetite).
The medicines used are called anthelmintics or dewormers to destroy worms. The medications are often liquid formulations (called drenches) for sheep that need to be deposited into their gullet over the tongue of the animal. The worms have developed resistance to the drugs over the years. It is now advised, for this reason, that only clinically parasitized sheep (as illustrated by symptoms: anaemia, bottle jaw, etc.) should be dewormed and given a combination therapy. This implies offering the sheep a dewormer from each “chemical” class.