Sheep seem so peaceful and easy to get along with, yet every once in a while, you’ll hear or see something about a sheep hurting someone. Are sheep safe to be around or are sheep dangerous?
Generally speaking, sheep are not dangerous. However, there are certain circumstances when a sheep can injure a person like rams headbutting, a sheep bumping into a person causing them to fall or the flock running and potentially trampling a person in the way.
Sheep are not dangerous
Sheep are not dangerous animals, under most circumstances, since they prefer to flee rather than fight. Like all prey animals, the first defense of a sheep is to not be close to the problem so they run away.
The catch is that sometimes a sheep can not run away, for instance if the sheep is cornered or trying to avoid you while in a pen.
Please, do not take this to mean that you could never be hurt by sheep! You could easily put yourself in a situation where you would end up hurt by a sheep.
What I’m trying to say is that a sheep will not hunt you down to get ahold of you. Generally, if there is a problem with people and sheep, the people are too close to the sheep.
How Do Sheep Defend Themselves? is my article that will go further into sheep behavior and how they deal with anything the flock views as a threat.
You can get hurt by sheep
While sheep are not purposely trying to hurt you, there are times when you may end up hurt when you are around sheep.
Here are a few examples that I can think of, sheep could:
- run you over
- kick you
- knock you into something
- trip you
- headbutt you
Sheep can run you over. When sheep run as a flock, they are not thinking about anything other than getting away from whatever it is that scared them into running in the first place.
If you are in their way, you could be trampled by the flock. While this would not be as serious as being trampled by something bigger, like cattle, it could still easily hurt you.
Sheep can kick you. We find this to be much more common when hoof trimming, since the easiest way to trim feet is to have the sheep on her butt kind of sitting up.
This upright sit gives her plenty of room to swing her feet, especially the rear legs, and kick you surprisingly hard.
She’s not trying to hurt anyone, but some will fuss about quite a bit until we are done giving her the care she needs.
Sheep can knock you into something. I have to admit, this one happens to me a noticeable amount. The sheep really didn’t do anything, but I ended up with a bruise when I whacked into something else.
The other problem directly related to the sheep knocking you into something is that the sheep can trip you or knock you down. At first, I know that sounds dumb. Sheep tripping you, really?
Actually, yes, sheep can trip you, mainly by their wool pulling at your pants. Believe it or not, this happens with hair sheep as well, they have enough of a coat to grab your pants, too.
The sheep trip you when they are surrounding you and in a tight group. It’s their sides that grab you combined with bodies pushing in that do it.
Of course, they are not doing it on purpose. Usually, they all want to be first to get the hay or grain, but when it happens you can end up on the ground, whether they meant to trip you or not.
Sheep can headbutt you. Sheep will headbutt each other, we have seen both rams headbutting rams and ewes headbutting ewes and unfortunately have been whapped a time or two ourselves.
While sheep headbutting definitely hurts and can cause serious injury, it is easy to avoid. Do not be in with the sheep.
If these are your sheep, arrange your pen or pasture so that you can feed and water them from the outside of the pen and be sure to keep sheep with pals.
Why Rams Headbutt Each Other And You! is an article I wrote that goes more into rams headbutting and what you can do to hopefully reduce the instances of headbutting in your flock.
When would sheep aggressively come towards you?
There are very few occasions when a sheep would come towards you aggressively. To be clear, I am talking about domestic sheep, not wild sheep, since we have experience with domestic sheep only.
The only time you could say a sheep would come to you, that I can think of, would be if you are talking about a ram that is concerned you are a rival.
Then he just might be coming to you, but only because you are in with him. The easy way to avoid this problem is to stay out of his pen or keep him with other rams so he has other peers to keep track of.
Sheep 101: Headbutting By Rams gives you the scoop on why rams headbutt, what can be done to discourage it and some options on how to deal with it if headbutting becomes a problem in your flock.
Ewes protecting lambs
A ewe with new lambs may decide that you are too close to her new lambs, if this is the case and she decides to do something about it, then she may headbutt you to get you to leave her alone.
Once again, in order for this to happen, you had to go to the ewe and lambs and start interfering with her licking them off and bonding with them.
If you were to see her taking care of her lambs and give her space to keep working, she will do so. She only is forced to headbutt when you do not respect her space needs.
Keep in mind, that a ewe is not likely to headbutt you in the first place and secondly, if she does, this will only last for as long as she needs to keep you away until the lambs are mobile.
Once the lambs get their coordination, her first and best option is to run, it’s only headbutting now because the lambs are not capable of coming with her if she leaves.
Sheep killing a person
If you look up “sheep killing people” you’ll end up with a news story or two about an aggressive sheep headbutting someone then that person dying of the injuries, so it is possible for a sheep to kill you.
‘Comfort’ Sheep Kills Longtime Volunteer at Therapy Farm in Massachusetts is an article from Inside Edition about a farm volunteer being rammed by a sheep then later dying from her injuries.
I found other articles about a ram harassing people in a town in Brazil as well as a pet sheep that is headbutting the side of the car.
Sicknesses you can get from sheep
There are diseases and infections that are transmissible to people from animals, including sheep. Some common ones you may have heard of are ringworm and mange.
Not all sheep have these infections and, even if the sheep does have one of the things on this list, it does not mean that you will get the infection, it just means that it is possible and you should be aware of it.
For a full list of what these diseases are and how you would come into contact with them, read USDA APHIS Zoonotic Diseases of Sheep and Goats.