Do Sheep Shed Their Wool Naturally?

What happens to wild sheep who don’t have human intervention to shear them every year? 

Do they grow into giant balls of fluff, or do they somehow shed their coat by themselves?

Sheep originally shed their coats naturally, and wild sheep still have this capability. Wild sheep have completely different coats than wooly domesticated sheep. Due to selective breeding over time, wool sheep developed coats sheep owners need to shear at least once a year. 

Keep reading to learn more about how wild sheep turned into domesticated sheep, how sheep with hair shed every spring, and what happens if you don’t shear your sheep. 

do sheep shed naturally

Why Do Sheep Need Shearing?

Ancestors of the current sheep breeds did not need to be sheared. 

However, centuries of selective breeding created the domestic sheep we are used to. 

Big wooly coats were prized because they may be turned into more clothes or blankets to survive the harsh winter. 

The modern sheep descended from these sheep now do not shed their wool. 

If they are not sheared, their wooly fleece will continue growing indefinitely. 

Overgrown fleece is uncomfortable for the sheep, who must carry the extra weight and warmth throughout the year. 

Do All Sheep Need Shearing?

No, not all sheep breeds need to be sheared. 

As we just discussed, sheep only need to be sheared because of generations of selective breeding. 

This means wild sheep who did not descend from domestic sheep have different genes than their wooly counterparts found on farms. 

Also, not all sheep grow wool to keep warm.

Some breeds, especially wild breeds, have hair coats. 

Further Reading: How sheep survive when they can’t be sheared

Wild and Hair Sheep

How do wild sheep shed their hair naturally? 

Wild sheep are found in nature all over the globe, but their main natural habitat is in the mountains. 

It gets very chilly overnight due to the altitude, so wild sheep need to keep themselves warm. 

Just like there are different breeds of domestic wool sheep, there are also different breeds of wild sheep. 

Their hair makes them look very different from the sheep you’re used to seeing. 

You might even mistake them for goats. 

Hair coats have two layers: a coarse overcoat and a softer undercoat. 

During the winter, the overcoat grows out to provide more insulation, like a heavy winter coat. 

When the weather starts warming up, sheep must shed their hair to prevent overheating. 

Shedding hair is called molting, just like birds shedding feathers. 

To help this process, they will rub their bodies against trees or other rough materials to dislodge the fur. 

In Africa, South America, and other warmer climates, hair sheep are more common as domestic animals than their wool counterparts. 

Hair sheep are also growing in popularity in the U.S. because they require less upkeep. 

Domestic Sheep

Around 10,000 years ago, the mouflon breed of sheep was one of the first farm animals to be domesticated. 

Thousands of years later, we have different breeds of sheep used mainly for wool or meat. 

Wool production was prized for creating warm clothing and bedding. 

Wool-producing sheep have the classic heavy fleece. 

Humans bred for the soft undercoat, not the coarse winter coats hair sheep still have. 

They do not shed the undercoat naturally during the spring, so sheep farmers need to shear them. 

What Happens if You Don’t Shear a Sheep

They are susceptible to many problems if you don’t shear your wool sheep. 

First, wool is prized for its warmth during the cold winter. 

A sheep with thick wool during the summer can overheat, leading to heat stress.

Another problem caused by overgrown wool is lack of mobility. 

Wool is heavy and adds extra pounds to a sheep’s weight yearly. 

Depending on the breeds of sheep, they can produce eight pounds of wool annually. 

Leaving the wool on will make it hard for the sheep to move after enough has accumulated. 

Because of this, sheep can get stuck if they roll onto their backs or lie down on a steep incline. 

If unchecked, they might be stuck there without access to water and food, leading to death. 

“Wool blindness” occurs when the wool becomes overgrown to the point of obscuring the sheep’s vision. 

Losing a major sense puts these prey animals in a vulnerable place when it comes to predators. 

The thick wool is harder to clean, as well. 

Fleas, mites, and other parasites will target sheep with a thick fleece coat. 

These parasites can cause discomfort, skin scabbing and lesions, and infection. 

An unsheared mother will also make it harder for her lamb to find her teats to nurse, potentially leading to malnutrition and development issues. 

How to Shear a Sheep

Depending on the number of sheep you have and how familiar you are with the shearing process, you have the option of shearing the sheep yourself or hiring a professional. 

Shearing is necessary for your sheep’s health, but the process requires skill to prevent injury and unnecessary stress. 

Professionals can shear a sheep in minutes, but it is a slower process for those new to it. 

Sheep need to be sheared at least once a year.

Ewes should be sheared before lambing, while rams can undergo the process any time during warm or hot months. 

Do not shear a sheep before or during colder months in winter, as they need the extra wool to stay warm. 

We’ll cover the basic steps of the shearing process, but consult a full in-depth guide before attempting to shear a sheep yourself. 

#1 Prep the Sheep: 

Make sure the sheep are clean and dry. 

Dirty or wet wool will make it harder to shear the sheep. 

If a sheep needs to be bathed, do so at least five days before you plan to shear them.

Related: What happens when sheep get wet?

#2 Have the Proper Equipment: 

Having the right equipment is necessary for the job, but it’s also important to have high-quality equipment to prevent the risk of accidents. 

Electric cutters are usually used. 

#3 Herd the Sheep Into a Pen: 

You don’t want any sheep running away to hide when they’re supposed to be sheared. 

If possible, separate the sheep into lambs, ewes, rams, and yearlings. 

It’s also easier to control penned animals’ food intake. 

Not feeding them (or at least reducing feed) the day before shearing will minimize their discomfort when rolled onto their back for shearing. 

It also makes them less likely to poop during it. 

#4 Get the Sheep In Position: 

You will be maneuvering the sheep into multiple positions, but start with gently tipping the sheep onto its back. 

Hold the sheep’s shoulders between your knees to keep it still. 

#5 Start Shearing: 

Start shearing the belly, which is typically less valuable than other parts of the wooly fleece. 

Continue shearing and changing positions until the sheep is fully sheared. 

#6 Skirt and Roll the Fleece: 

With the flesh side down, place the pounds of fleece shorn on a flat surface and spread into a single layer. 

Remove dirty, contaminated, matted, and off-colored wool. 

Then roll the fleece to make it easier to transport. 

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Growing up amidst the sprawling farms of the South, Wesley developed a profound connection with farm animals from a young age. His childhood experiences instilled in him a deep respect for sustainable and humane farming practices. Today, through, Wesley shares his rich knowledge, aiming to inspire and educate others about the joys and intricacies of rural life.

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