Unusual Pets: Sheep

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Anyone can have a cat or dog, but all the real cool kids ask their moms and dads for a pet sheep. Heck all the real cool moms and dads already have sheep for pets and environmentally friendly lawnmowers. I know I do.

pet sheep

General Information

Sheep are not city pets, so most people do not even think of them as pets, but many rural people do keep sheep with no intention of eating them, they are cute lawn mowers, often used for pasture control, as well being interesting lawn ornaments, and entertainment for the children or grandchildren. Young lambs are especially cute to watch as they jump to play. I have kept pet sheep for three years now, and thoroughly enjoy them.

Selection and Purchase

Do you want friendly animals, ones that you can pat, or are you happy with sheep that spend their time grazing and are more standoffish? Sheep, by their nature as being prey, are not particularly fond of people, they naturally will run from you. If you want friendly sheep it is important you purchase friendly sheep and spend time with them, it should be noted sheep respond well to bribes, such as an offering of oats or sheep treats.

Bottle fed sheep are the most friendly, but it is a lot of work caring for a young bottle fed sheep so you may prefer to buy one who was a bottle baby and is at least four months old, and finished bottle feeding. Another place to consider purchasing friendly sheep is from a petting zoo.

Wethers are neutered male sheep and you can keep several of them together without problems, or can keep them with ewes, the female sheep. Ewes can be kept together but if you have ewes, you will not want any more than one ram, if any, or you will have to fight between the rams. It is possible to keep many rams together provided there are no ewes for them to compete for.

You can purchase sheep privately or from an auction. Look for animals that are perky and alert, they should have no cloudiness of eyes, and no missing hair or wool. Some wool sheep look rather torn due to lack of regular shearing, until you are experienced you may want to stay away from these sheep to avoid buying an older animal or one with parasite problems. Do not buy an animal who looks thin, or bloated. Either could be an indication of worms. A thin ewe who has just had a lamb, many are normal, or a big looking belly may be a sign of pregnancy. If they have lambs or are due soon, look for an even shape to their udder. If you are buying wool sheep for using for breeding, ones with docked tails will be better. If you are buying hair sheep, they normally do not need their tails docked. Tails are usually docked on lambs only a few days old.

I personally suggest buying lambs or younger animals, three years of age or less. For less maintenance, no shearing or tail docking, I recommend hair sheep rather than wool sheep. I also suggest buying the smaller breeds for ease of handling. Sheep are herd animals, you are always better to buy at least three for their own happiness.

Unusual Breeds

There are literally hundreds of different breeds of sheep and every area will only have a few breeds available locally so rather than listing them all, I will list some of my favorite, more unusual ones.
Blackbelly or Barbado sheep. Both are hair sheep and as such do not require shearing, they are brown and black, the Barbado having beautifully curled horns on the rams. They are hardy sheep.

Jacob sheep. These are wool sheep, and come in unique color patterns, generally spotted, and have multiple horn sets. They are smaller than much other wool sheep.
Icelandic sheep. These are very wooly and come in many colors, the are great for people in northern climates.

Katahdin sheep. Although they come in other colors, white is the most common. They are hair sheep so have the advantage that they will shed in the spring.

Feeding, Care, and Housing

This will depend on where you live as to how your climate is, but typically they require shelter in the winter from cold weather, a shelter can be an open barn, if you have enough animals they will keep each other warm, and the barn will not require additional heating.
In the summer they should have shade, either from a shelter or trees. Sheep will often be out in the rain, but hair sheep are slightly less tolerant of rain than wool sheep.
In the summer sheep can be left on pasture, assuming it is grass, rather than alfalfa or clover. In the winter they should be fed hay and oats, especially if they are bred. They should have salt and minerals, and of course water. The biggest concern is too much copper, as sheep are at risk to copper toxicity.

Sheep can get out of regular barbed wire simply by stepping through it. As such you will require sheep fencing which is wire squares. A good guard animal for your sheep is also a good investment, this can be a dog bred for guarding sheep, a donkey, or a llama. I personally suggest the llama, but only one, because if you have more than one they won’t bond with the sheep.

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