What do you think of when you hear the word “shepherd”?
The answer is probably protection, safety, or something related.
Shepherd is synonymous now with guidance rather than specifically with sheep.
However, there are still literal shepherds in the modern world, and most folks believe they are necessary for sheep. Why?
While wild sheep don’t need a shepherd, domesticated sheep are not the brightest animals and require protection. A shepherd protects their flock of sheep from predators, wandering, and health issues.
Keep reading to learn why sheep need someone to watch over them and how to be the best shepherd for your sheep.
Do Sheep Always Need a Shepherd?
Domesticated breeds of sheep rely on a shepherd for survival.
One version of a shepherd is the traditional setup.
A shepherd will stay with the flock as they roam in the pasture.
A modern version of shepherds may not call themselves a shepherd.
Instead, they might simply call themselves farmers.
When you have a small flock of sheep in a pen, you don’t need to be with them 24/7, but you’re still acting as their shepherd.
When Sheep Need a Shepherd
A shepherd’s job is to protect sheep and keep them safe and healthy.
There are a few different factors to take into consideration.
Protection from Predators
Sheep are prey animals and have no claws or other way to defend themselves against predators.
A helpless sheep’s first basic instinct is to run.
This could result in lost sheep scattered throughout the hillside.
Fences are great at keeping sheep in, but they don’t always stop wolves or other predators from picking their next meal.
Even if one area of the pasture is safe and secure, the sheep will need to be moved to another area once the grass is eaten down.
Predators are bad for the whole flock, not just the unlucky few taken.
Watching their friends get eaten is stressful.
Extended periods of stress can lead to poor health and decreased appetite.
Depending on where you live and what predators are lurking around, you’ll need a weapon to keep your sheep alive.
The iconic shepherd’s crook has multiple uses, including defense.
Other options include a simple slingshot or even a gun.
Research common predators in your area before deciding how to defend your sheep.
Like any animal, sheep will also wander off.
This might be due to boredom, seeing something interesting, looking for clean water, or escaping predators.
Sheep are not the smartest animals; they have even wandered off the edge of cliffs.
Part of a shepherd’s job is to keep the flock together and rescue any missing sheep.
When a sheep disappears, time is of the essence to increase their chance of survival.
The longer it takes the shepherd to find a sheep, the more likely dangerous animals will find it first.
Having a shepherd always with the flock makes it more likely to prevent a sheep from wandering, notice one is missing immediately, and save it.
A shepherd also monitors the flock’s health and takes care of them.
When you are with your animals for such a long time, it is easy to spot when something is amiss.
If you catch disease or injury early on, the chance of full recovery is higher.
A limp or a cough may seem small, but prey animals are good at hiding illness and injuries.
They become a predator’s prime target if they don’t hide them.
You also want to be close by during lambing season.
The birthing of lambs is stressful for the mom, and there might be complications.
Newborn lambs are also more susceptible to being taken by dangerous animals.
Related Reading: Signs your sheep likes you
Keeping Sheep without a Traditional Shepherd
Many sheep owners no longer keep their animals in a way requiring a full-time traditional shepherd.
It’s expensive to pay someone, and it takes much of your time to do it yourself.
Luckily, there are ways to protect your flock without spending so much time and money.
Invest in Adequate Sheep Fencing
First, you need a strong fence system to keep the sheep in and predators out.
They are unlikely to knock it down, but they might slip underneath.
Make sure your fence is at least 4′ feet high, making it too tall for predators to jump over.
For example, wire fencing is recommended to prevent slipping between wires or planks.
If the predators in your area are especially wily, put electric wire on top of the fence.
To prevent animals from digging under the fence, bury woven wire fencing in the ground.
Bury it at a depth of 6″ inches to 1′ foot underground.
Keep Your Flock in a Smaller Area
Flocks with sheep usually roam across a giant pasture with thousands of acres of grass.
With such a large area, they can easily wander or be separated from the group.
Within this area, there are likely predators’ natural habitats.
This puts them at more risk of being attacked.
If you have a smaller pasture, it’s harder for stragglers to wander away.
With this method, you must consider proper pasture management to ensure there is always enough grass to eat.
If you rotate the sheep onto different sections of pasture, you need 1 acre of pasture at a time for 8 to 10 sheep.
Without rotating, you’re looking at 2-3 sheep for 1 acre of land.
Make sure you do not overcrowd your flock.
Overcrowding can cause stress and aggression.
Put Your Flock in a Sheep Run or Barn at Night
The flock’s natural predators are mostly nocturnal, meaning they hunt at night.
Watching your flock in the dark is harder, especially since you’ll be asleep.
To keep them safe, consider building a shelter for the night.
Further Reading: Sheep sleeping habits at night
A sheep run, corral, or barn will work just fine.
This extra security will decrease the likelihood of a predator attacking them.
Get a Livestock Guardian Animal For Your Flock
Livestock guardians have been domesticated and bred to protect animals.
Some are specifically for sheep, like sheepdogs.
These guardian animals also alert the flock when there is a potential danger.
They may round the flock up, saving any stragglers from being picked off.
They will also fight any predators they see.
Common livestock guardian animals for sheep include donkeys, llamas, and certain dog breeds.