Sometimes sheep can do crazy things, especially from the perspective of a person!
Occasionally, sheep will get into sticky situations that they need some help to get out of. Being unable to get up off the ground is one of those times!
Normally, sheep lay down and get up multiple times every day of their lives, this is normal. If they can not get up, something is wrong.
In the normal life of a sheep, she will get up and lay down multiple times per day. A sheep will graze or eat hay, then lay down to relax and chew her cud.
When the rest of the flock moves, like to go to water or to move to a shady spot for the afternoon, she’ll get up again and go with the group.
Sheep will also lay down to sleep each night. Learn more with my article Buying A Flock Of Sheep!
When you think about it, you’ll realize that a sheep will get up off the ground hundreds of times every year!
Then, what’s the big deal here? Bloat. It’s ironic that the smallest, most normal activity in the life of a sheep can also be the start of a huge problem!
Do Sheep Naturally Have Long Tails? goes over the differences in tails in various breeds of sheep.
Bloat and sheep stuck on the ground
Anytime a sheep is stuck in a position where she can not have her head above or uphill of her stomach, she runs the risk of bloat.
Bloat is her naturally occurring stomach gasses building up inside of her body rather than escaping through burping.
Since sheep are ruminants, they are constantly fermenting the food they ate to break down the grasses or hay into energy.
That fermentation produces gas. The gas must leave or will kill the sheep.
Bloat is the Achilles heel of ruminants, all ruminants.
Why a sheep can not get up
I know it sounds a little ridiculous, how can a sheep not get up? As I wrote earlier, they do get up all of the time, so what’s the problem today?
- She chose to lay down in a poor position
- She ate something that is causing increased gas when digested
- She physically unable to get up
Poor body positioning
It can be as simple as a mistake in how the sheep decides to lay down.
As I mentioned above, sheep and other ruminants, must be able to release the digestive gasses that normally build up through the day.
If her head is downhill from her stomach, she can not get rid of the gas easily. Gas building up is bloat.
The second body positioning error is when she lays down but accidentally puts her side/tum in a low spot compared to her legs.
Now she is stuck like an upside down turtle!
If the sheep were a person, she would roll over on the other side and get up, but she’s a sheep, so she doesn’t.
Dietary change causing more gas
If the sheep ate something that is causing her to feel poorly, she’ll lay down to rest. Just like you sit down when you need a break or are feeling a bit off.
For sheep, this is usually caused by pigging out on a new feed source. Don’t worry, the feed is fine, she just ate too much of it!
Now, she is producing more gas than normal and is too poofed up to get back up so the gas can more easily come out.
She actually is stuck
When an animal is on the ground and can not get up because her legs are out of position, this is called being cast.
Once her position is changed she will get up and run back to the rest of the flock, she is not hurt.
The first two reasons she can’t get up now because of something she did earlier. Being stuck is the result, not the main cause.
When a sheep is cast, the main cause is physical. Usually she can not get her balance to get her legs underneath her properly to allow her to stand.
There are a few reasons for the sheep to be physically unable to get herself back upright. The most common are late pregnancy, being overly fat or injury.
The common thread here is that the sheep can not shift her weight the way she needs to in order to get up off the ground.
Once she is up, she’ll be fine. Until then, she’s stuck on the ground.
What will happen if the sheep does not get up?
The most common problem will be bloat. Ruminants need to be in the appropriate body position for their digestive system to work properly.
Bloat for a ruminant is a likely death sentence.
If you are able to catch the situation in time, she can sometimes be saved.
Usually, bloat happens so quickly it is difficult if not impossible to save the sheep if she can not walk away when you stand her up.
Can you help a cast sheep?
Yes. First of all, roll her to the side towards her feet and see if she can stand. Sometimes she just needs a bit of help.
This is the easy answer and the best outcome to a problem situation.
If all that is keeping the sheep on the ground is needing a bit of help from you, she’ll run back to her friends when you roll her to her feet.
Yes, problem solved!
Occasionally, a sheep will be “stuck” until you go up to her, then she gets the determination she was lacking and will stand up.
Good news, she just needed some motivation.
If the sheep does have her tum down lower than her legs, a bit of a push and she’ll get up easily.
We’ve had this happen with our sheep a few times and it’s an easy fix when you catch it early.
How do you know the sheep needs help?
The easiest thing to remember is that sheep do not like to be by themselves, being in the flock means being safe.
If one of your sheep is off by herself, something unusual is going on and you need to check it out.
Time to get the vet
If she does not get up and run away, the problem is more than just being stuck on the ground. You need to get the vet.
Please do not waste time here. A sheep that is doesn’t run back to her friends needs competent help, the sooner, the better.
Chances are that she has other complications, the first one to consider is bloat. She needs some help or she will not make it.
When you get the sheep up, she may be a bit wobbly at first, especially if she has been stuck for a while.
If she goes out and starts to eat or do what the rest of the flock is doing, she’s probably fine. Be sure to check on her a few times to see that it was just a small problem.
If she gets up and then continues to stumble around or keeps falling down, you need to call the vet. This is more than just being stuck on the ground.
Where Do Sheep Sleep At Night? has more information on the daily lives of sheep.
Sheep 101 is a wonderful site with all manner of sheep information, written in a beginner friendly way. Be sure to click around, it’s definitely worth a look!