There’s no sweetest sound than the gentle bray/bleat of a sheep. Keeping sheep as pets gives you a chance to discover their unique personalities, and they can love as deeply as any cat or dog. Here’s what you need to know before buying a lamb or sheep:
Reasons You Need Sheep In Your Life
Farm sheep are raised for three main reasons: for their fleece, meat and milk. As far as livestock goes, sheep are comparatively small and require less space and fewer expenses than cows or pigs.
You may decide to raise your sheep as livestock, but they also make great companions. Raising sheep is a great experience for children, who can learn responsibility by helping raise lambs.
If you get your lamb from a breeder, you could prepare your sheep to exhibit in a livestock show. Both children and adults can learn about sheep handling and showing as a hobby.
What Type Of Sheep Should You Get?
There’s hundreds of breeds of sheep all around the world. Some are bred for their meat, others for their wool, while some breeds are dual purpose.
Fleece sheep need to be sheared once to twice per year, which is time-consuming and difficult to do correctly. You may need to hire a shearer, which could be expensive, but worthwhile if you plan to sell wool. Common fleece breeds include Rambouillet, Delaine-Merino and Columbia.
Hair sheep are raised for meat or as pets. They don’t grow wool at all, so they tend to be low-maintenance. Common breeds of hair sheep include Dorper, St. Croix and Royal White.
Dorper is a very common breed, you may also find crossbreeds that contain Dorper. Dorpers are raised for meat, and have both hair and fleece. They’re adaptable, easy to care for, and eat almost any kind of vegetation. They shed in the spring, so they do not need to be sheared.
Miniature sheep are bred to be small, typically as pets. Breeds like the Cheviot, Babydoll and Southdown typically weigh 130 to 200 pounds, and produce quality meat and wool. In comparison, other breeds of sheep tend to grow between 250 and 300 pounds.
If you want to keep sheep primarily as a pet, you’ll want to bottle-feed it as a lamb to strengthen your bond.
A female sheep is called a ewe and a male, a ram. A castrated male is a wether, and a baby sheep under 12 months old is a lamb.
A pet sheep should either be a ewe or a wether. Sheep are social animals and should live in pairs, though a dog or goat can also be a good companion.
All breeds of sheep respond well to human contact and will love you back.
Looking to buy a sheep? You might find one available on your local Craigslist or Facebook buy/sell group, but it’s usually better to go to a professional breeder so you will know exactly what you are buying.
Where Will Your Sheep Live?
Sheep usually live in outdoor pens, but it’s not impossible to keep them inside a house. You might choose to raise your lamb indoors at least part-time while you develop a bond. Some choose to keep sheep in their home through adulthood.
The size of your pen depends on whether or not your sheep will also have access to a pasture. If you don’t have a pasture, 1-2 sheep should be happy on at least a quarter acre. A large backyard is suitable, especially if it is full of grass for grazing.
At minimum, the pen should be at least 16 square feet per animal. It should be lined with straw or hay for bedding. You’ll also need to provide always-available access to water.
How To Feed A Sheep
During the Spring and Summer, your sheep will be happiest if it can graze. You can even let your sheep graze at a friend’s house to help keep their lawn trimmed.
When grass is not available, you’ll need to supply fresh hay. A mineral block should be available in the pen to provide salt, protein and other nutrients sheep need to stay healthy.
Sheep can eat grains, but the majority of their diet should be grass or hay. Grains are important for lambs and nursing and pregnant ewes.
You can use treats to train your sheep to tolerate grooming, come when called, and even do tricks. Chopped carrots, diced apples, pretzel sticks and corn are good treats in moderation.
Have you ever had sheep as pets? Share your story on the comments!