When we think of sheep, most of us picture them in groups or a herd.
But can sheep be kept alone?
Can you leave sheep unattended, and if so, for how long?
Sheep are herd animals and should not be kept alone. Keeping sheep in groups encourages socialization and reduces the stress of being prey animals. Sheep may be left unattended for short periods, but there are risks. They may escape, run out of food or water, or run into predators.
While there are multiple appropriate ways to care for sheep, there are basic requirements to meet regardless.
Keep reading to learn why sheep thrive in group or herd settings, the dangers of leaving sheep unattended, and tips for keeping your sheep safe and healthy.
Sheep Are Herd and Prey Animals
Sheep are herd animals by nature.
They are also prey animals, vulnerable to predators who may attack them.
Domesticated sheep are still prey animals; thus, their natural behavior is always alert for potential imminent danger.
We have all heard the term “fight or flight.”
This phrase describes a vertebrate animal’s sympathetic nervous system and response to potential hazards to its survival.
Predators will often fight, meaning they will stand their ground and fight.
Conversely, sheep fall under the flight category.
A distressed animal who responds with “flight” means its instinct is to run away when they feel threatened to avoid danger and predation.
Can Sheep Live On Their Own?
Prey animals are often herd animals, demonstrating the concept of strength in numbers.
Given the natural inclination of prey and herd animals, it is no surprise sheep do not do well alone.
Single sheep may experience higher stress levels and develop behavioral or health issues in the long run.
Keeping multiple sheep together simulates natural behavior, fosters socialization, and reduces stress.
Ideally, sheep should not be kept in groups of less than three to five.
If multiple sheep are unavailable, you may consider keeping a sheep with other livestock, preferably herd animals.
The list of farm animals you may consider includes goats and alpacas.
Further Reading: The Reasons Sheep Follow Each Other Around
Can You Leave Sheep Unattended? How Long?
In general, sheep should be checked every 8 hours.
At a minimum, sheep should be tended to twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening.
These recommendations assume the sheep’s basic needs are being met, including appropriate shelter, food, and water.
Ideally, sheep should also have a livestock guardian, a guard animal that protects them from predators such as coyotes.
A popular and effective option for a livestock guardian is a donkey.
Situations when sheep should not be left alone include:
- Pregnant ewe
- Newborn lamb
- Sick or injured sheep
Related: Can you keep just 2 sheep?
Risks of Leaving Sheep Unattended
There are certainly risks of leaving sheep unattended.
Unattended sheep may escape, fall victim to predators, ingest something poisonous, or run out of food and water.
If you don’t check on your sheep often, you may miss signs of illness and injury until severe damage has been done.
Sheep’s water buckets may freeze, which not only leads to dehydration but potentially other problems.
For example, if sheep do not have access to water for over 24 hours, they are at risk of salt poisoning, which may be fatal.
Tips to Improve Your Sheep’s Safety, Especially When Unattended
There are some preventive measures to keep your sheep safe and secure, especially if they are left unattended for short periods.
To decrease the risk of escape or predation, fencing should be high-quality and effective, such as electric fencing.
It is wise to check the fencing periodically to ensure no gaps.
We also recommend securing your sheep in a barn or shed when they are unattended.
Good lighting and sound alarms are also options that may help with predator identification.
Security cameras are also a helpful way to monitor for signs of an animal in distress due to illness or injury.
Unattended sheep have a higher risk of ingesting poisonous plants.
We recommend identifying the plants your sheep have access to and checking if they are poisonous.
Any poisonous plants should be removed to prevent harm from exposure.
Ensuring Your Sheep’s Basic Needs Are Met
As with all living animals, sheep need shelter, water, and food.
As a sheep owner, you are responsible for preventing inhumane conditions.
The Importance of Shelter in Keeping Your Sheep Safe and Healthy
Sheep need shelter, often in the form of a barn or shed.
Providing animal shelter is critical in offering your sheep protection from dangerous conditions such as harsh weather conditions and a safe location away from predators.
This includes snow, rain, and danger from the heat in the warmer months.
Sheep’s wool makes them more resilient in colder climates.
However, it may also trap moisture from rain, which can lead to bacterial skin infections like dermatophilosis or “lumpy wool.”
This highlights the importance of having access to a barn or shed to protect sheep from rain or snow.
Access to Food and Water for Your Sheep
Constant access to fresh water is non-negotiable because time off water quickly becomes dangerous.
An average sheep consumes about three gallons of water per day.
Water sources are at risk of freezing during the winter months.
To prevent this, we recommend using a water trough heater like this one on Amazon.
Providing proper food is critical in successful sheep farming.
Sheep are ruminants, and their digestive system is adapted to graze on pasture.
Their diet should consist mostly of grass with supplementation using hay and grain.
Ideally, sheep should have constant access to food by grazing on pasture.
If this is not possible, they must be fed at least twice daily.
A temporary lack of food is not as dangerous as a lack of water.
However, proper nutrition is necessary for your sheep’s overall health.
Preventive Medicine and Routine Health Evaluation for Your Sheep
Sheep require regular health care to prevent intestinal parasites, tetanus, skin infections, and mobility issues.
Preventive measures include vaccination, wool shearing, hoof trimming, and deworming.
Despite these preventive measures, sheep may still fall ill.
Therefore, it is important not to leave sheep unattended for long periods as this prevents early recognition and treatment of sick animals.