We commonly see sheep outside grazing in the pasture during the day, but what about at night? Do sheep need to be put inside for the evening or can they remain out in the pasture?
Usually, sheep do not need to be locked up at night
Generally speaking, sheep do not need to be locked up at night, as long as they are safe where they are spending the night. Most sheep spend the night outside and are fine through out the year.
Sheep actually seem to prefer to be outside rather than inside when given the option.
If you think that you are helping the sheep be more comfortable by locking them up at night, that is probably not the case.
Where Do Sheep Sleep At Night? is my article that goes over where sheep can be kept overnight and why.
A study done in Estonia monitored two flocks with trail cameras to see how often the sheep were inside or outside, depending upon the weather.
Even in the coldest part of winter and found that at least half the sheep were outside at all times. On more normal winter days, over 90% of the ewes (92.3 and 93.3%) were outside by choice.
Now, we know that the sheep themselves seem to prefer to be outside, rather than locked up overnight, what about special circumstances?
There are a few exceptions that may require your sheep to be locked up at night: things like severe weather or heavy predation.
Dealing with flock predation by bringing in the flock
In my area, the sheep are not normally having predation problems unless it is for the first few days when the newborn lambs are still so awkward. For most of the year, sheep predation here is not a big problem.
However, there are areas in the country where smaller livestock must be locked up at night or the larger predators in the area, like mountain lions, will start snatching some sheep for midnight snacks.
This is more of a problem in the western states or more wild parts of the country. Around here, if there are sheep predation problems it tends to be coyote which is normally handled with guardian dogs.
Another all too common predator of sheep that is frequently overlooked is local dogs. If you have a considerable amount of domestic dogs loose in your area, they will eventually harass your sheep.
You can bring the sheep in for the night or get a guardian animal to keep harassers out of your flock.
Bringing sheep inside for out of the ordinary weather
Occasionally, we have some crazy weather that requires doing something different than normal with the flock to get them through a wild patch of weather. This time was frigid temperatures combined with wind.
We get our share of cold weather and we get a good amount of wind, so neither of those are a surprise. The crazy part was the severity of both and how they both come together. Not good.
We had to move the sheep into the barnyard to get them out of the severe wind, which was a first for us. So odd that it had not happened in the past 20+ years that we have lived here!
They have quite a bit of shelter out on their normal pasture and plenty of space to choose where to stand to be the most comfortable.
Usually when we walk out to them, it’s windy on the way but once you get to the flock, it’s actually calm where they are since the woods is blocking the gusts.
With the specific direction of this wind they needed more. This was unexpected and definitely not handy but the flock needed the relocation so we made it happen until the cold snap passed.
I’m telling you this because sometimes you need to work with what you have, despite your best plans or whatever happens in a normal year.
Is Keeping Sheep Easy? is an article I wrote to give you some insight into the daily life of a shepherd and the things he needs to take into account when handling his flock.
Bringing in new lambs for weather
Occasionally during lambing season the weather really takes a turn for the worse in our area and we have to start bringing inside any new lambs and their moms.
This is a lot of work and the worst part about any lambing season, but is needed to keep the lambs alive in cold weather, especially in heavy rains.
We normally do not bring in ewes during lambing, we choose breeding dates to coincide with the start of fairly reliable good weather in our area, but like anything weather related, there are no guarantees.
Bringing in specialty wool sheep to keep the fleeces nice
A reason to bring in adult sheep at night can be to keep the fleeces in top condition, if the sheep are being raised as a fiber flock.
This would not just be for the overnight hours, these sheep would need to be kept out of the weather, mostly rain and snow, to prevent felting of the fleece.
Since most sheep are not kept for wool, for most shepherds would keep adult sheep outside unless the weather is severe.
If your sheep need help at lambing
If your sheep tend to need assistance at lambing, bring them in for the night if you can.
This will make your job easier, if for no other reason than you will only have to look in the barn for any ewe that needs assistance, rather than trotting around the pasture in the middle of the night.
We have brought in surprise or accidentally bred ewes that are soon to lamb if they will end up lambing in the not so great part of the year.
Even if the ewes have a good spot in the barn and pasture access, we want to lock them in since some ewes will choose to lamb away from the others, which puts them out on the pasture!
If you need to lock them up, how do you get them in?
If you need to lock up your sheep at night, the easiest way that we know of is to train them to come in with some sort of food that they really like. If you feed grain, this is a good time for it.
Also, high quality hay will bring them in, especially if it is a snack of something nice that they do not normally get the rest of the day.
We call them in, if they do not see you with the bucket and are already headed your way. Once the sheep get the idea and catch on to the routine, they will zoom over to get the snacks.
This is why the sheep at the top of the article are so close to me, they think I have some ear corn. I didn’t so they soon wandered off, but they followed me because they knew it was a possibility.
To be clear, you do not have to bribe the sheep to get them in the barn, but it is the easiest way to make them want to come in rather than you having to hope they cooperate.