Recent Posts

How Much Is A Sheep Worth For Slaughter?

When you are looking to buy a sheep for meat, you’ll come across quite a bit of conflicting information regarding price. What’s the reason for all of the confusion?

The problem is you are only getting half the story. What most folks are leaving out is that sheep prices vary by season and location, so the price you find is only applicable if the buyer lives near you.

To figure out what you are likely to pay, we need to get more specific and find the slaughter sheep prices for your area.

The slaughter sheep you want are:The price will be:
not raised near youhigher
in short supply for the time of yearhigher
easily available in your arealower
at an age and condition that is common at that time of yearlower
Here is a basic overview of things that change slaughter sheep prices.

Value of the sheep depends the sheep and the market

The value of the slaughter sheep depends greatly on what sheep you are buying and how much that type of sheep is in demand in your area at the current time in that body condition (amount of fat cover).

I know that is a lot to figure out and since each one has some variability to it, we’ll go over them one at a time.

You should know going into this that your area determines the price.

  • Do you live close to where the sheep are raised or far away?
  • Do you want a sheep at the same time everyone else does, like for a holiday?
  • Are you looking for sheep that are hard to raise for that time of year or area?

These are just a few of the considerations that will affect the price of your slaughter sheep.

For example, if I sell a market lamb at auction this week it’ll bring around $200, but take the same sheep to an area of high demand and low supply, like a larger city, will be worth two or three times that much.

Is Raising Your Own Lambs For Meat Worth It? walks you through the expenses involved in raising a lamb for meat. As a buyer, this information will help you determine if the prices you find are reasonable or not.

What sheep is being sold?

What is the sheep that is being sold? Overall, any sheep that is in good condition for it’s size and age group will sell for more than a similar sheep that is lacking in weight or thriftiness.

What kind of sheep is it? I don’t mean breed as much as what type of sheep it is. For example, are you talking about market lambs, choice 55 pounders or aged sheep?

In my area, the market lambs would bring more total money than the 55 pounders and the culls would bring the least, if all of the sheep were in good condition.

lamb standing in front of ewes in barn
This lamb is a winter lamb, which is less common in our area than spring or summer lambs. This also means that he is likely sell for more when he at market weight simply because there are less lambs or his age at that time.

Prices vary by season

Prices vary by season, normally when there is a lot of something, price is lower, when there are less of a type of sheep than the buyers want, price is higher. This is just basic economics at work.

If we were to sell a cull ewe today, I would expect her to bring around $100, a market lamb $150-200 and a finished 55 pounder would bring $150-165.

Earlier in the fall, the market lamb would have been sold for more like $100-130 or so, which is a common lower priced time in our area.

We have sold a few cull ewes and some early in the season market lambs for nearly the same price per head, which was not great for the market lambs, for sure, but a pretty good price for the culls.

You must do some digging around and see what the going price in your area is, there is no way around it. Check out online ads as well as market reports to get a feel for prices.

How Much Will My Lambs Sell For? is an article I wrote on market reports (auction prices). It will help you understand the numbers that you need to in order to start your research on local sheep prices.

What is the demand for this type of sheep currently?

What is the demand for this type of slaughter sheep that you are looking for in your area? You need to find the current prices and look until you see some trends.

This is a critical question. In our area, sheep prices change dramatically through out the year.

Let me tell you what I mean: in our area as soon as everyone runs out of grass for the year, they start to sell their lambs. This means that there is a glut of lambs from August through the first of December or so.

All lambs sold during this glut tend to bring less than that same lamb would bring if it were sold in late December or after the first of the year.

So, if you are looking for sheep in late summer through fall, those are normally lower priced times.

However, if you are wanting a slaughter sheep later in the year or in the winter, prices change. The price difference is up to twice as much, at least on market lambs, and it’s a reliable upswing.

I can’t say if the same thing happens where you live, but it’s worth a few minutes looking through market reports and trying out some options on the calculator to see if this would make a big difference for you.

For us, selling later in the year, while it costs more to feed the lambs, normally brings in an additional $100 a head. Will that be the case this year, as well? I can’t say until we see what shakes out.

flock of white faced ewes eating hay on pasture in the fog
Other influences like weather or hay prices can and will unexpectedly change the price of slaughter sheep.

Unexpected supply changes to sheep market

Also, the demand for sheep can change due to things beyond normal seasonal changes.

Things like a short supply of hay or grass or high grain prices will have folks selling more stock than usual, which all goes through the slaughter channels and adds to the supply, which tends to plummet prices.

This means that if you buy slaughter sheep during a sell off time, they will be less than normal price for your area.

You should know that once the extra breeding stock sheep are sold, due to something like a drought, the next year or so the prices for sheep will be higher, since there are less adult sheep producing.

Are you buying sheep privately or at auction?

If you want to get out of the “other folks set my prices” situation, you can buy sheep privately.

Private sales should be set up to work well for both you and the seller so that each of you will benefit by dealing with each other.

You save time by not setting all day at the auction and the seller gets to sell a sheep without the fees that pay for the auction’s services.

As a sheep farmer, let me give you some tips for buying privately:

  • do not argue price
  • be courteous
  • show up on time
  • bring cash

I realize that these tips may not be popular or how you are used to doing things, but taking the time to make sure both you and the seller are happy with the deal keeps this buying opportunity open.

Here is the USDA Weighted Average Report from Centennial Sheep And Goat Action in Fort Collins, Colorado for the end of January 2023.

If you do not live in or near Colorado, you are looking for a report something like this to give you prices. Search “slaughter sheep prices (your area)” or “sheep slaughter prices near me” for area specific prices.

What Does It Cost To Maintain A Sheep?

Once you have decided to buy a small flock of sheep, the next thing to consider is daily expenses like hay and other occasional care, like deworming or vet care.

What will your costs be to maintain and care for your sheep once you have them?

We’ll walk through the costs you can expect to have while keeping sheep and I’ll show you how to figure up a fairly close budget based on what you can expect to pay for feed and supplies in your area.

sheep eating haylage out of wooden feeder

Feed costs for your sheep

The first cost most folks think of for maintaining a sheep will be feed costs.

Since sheep eat mostly forages, like grass or hay, we need to figure up their daily consumption and see what that will cost. Since hay is a bit easier to measure than grass, we’ll go with hay.

Figure the hay needed per sheep per day

An easy way to figure the maintenance forage needed for your sheep is 3.5% of the sheep’s bodyweight per day in hay.

This means that if your sheep weighs 100 pounds, it needs 3.5 pounds of hay per day.

Most adult sheep would weigh more than 100 pounds, probably closer to the range of 130-150+ and would need something like 4.5-5.25 pounds of hay per day.

Keep in mind that these are rough figures, the exacts depend upon the condition of your sheep, the nutritional value of the hay and other factors like parasite load or if they are growing or gestating.

So, what does this 3.5% thing do for you? It gives you a place to start and adjust from there. We’ll work out a few examples and you’ll be able to do the figures for your sheep.

7 Tips To Help You Choose High Quality Hay shows you what to look for in hay you are buying for your flock.

An example figuring pounds of hay per day per sheep:

Let’s say you have 3 sheep that you feel weigh 130 pounds each. These sheep need 4.5 pounds of hay per day, which we’ll round up to 5 to keep things simple.

5 pounds of hay per sheep x three sheep = 15 pounds of hay per day for your flock

If you are feeding a 45 pound bale, this bale will last your sheep for three days if they are eating only hay. This would be 10 bales per month and 60 bales for six months of hay only feeding.

On to the cost, let’s say your 45 pound bale costs $8 each, which is $360 per ton. One bale lasts your sheep three days, so $8 divided by three days is $2.6 per day, which is $0.89 per day per sheep.

This means that each sheep that is eating 5 pounds of the $8 per bale hay per day is costing you just under $1 per day to feed.

Same hay for your sheep figured by price per ton:

If you would prefer to use a per ton price for hay, take your per ton price and divide it by 2,000. That will give you price per pound then multiply the price per pound by the number of pounds the sheep needs.

In this example, the numbers would look more like this:

hay at $360 per ton/2,000 pounds per ton = $0.18 which is the price per pound of hay

$0.18 x 5 pounds per sheep per day = $0.90 per day in hay costs to feed each sheep

If your sheep are productive, then the numbers will change. These figures are for maintenance animals only, gestating or nursing ewes have different feed requirements, as will growing lambs.

Should You Give Your Sheep Grass Or Hay? goes into the pros and cons of each for your flock.

Pellets or grain to sheep tends to be more costly

Another option for sheep is bagged feed which is usually pellets, but could also be a grain mix.

The great news is that this feed is easy to handle and get to the sheep, the not so great news is that it is normally one of the more costly ways to feed your sheep.

I mention pellets or grain since they are an easy way to get extra energy into sheep in a situation where pasture is poor or forage quality alone is not sufficient for the flock’s needs.

As far as cost goes, if your bagged feed is $17 per 40 pounds, it is $0.425 per pound which is $850 per ton. This is where the cost of bagged feed can really add up for the year.

If you want to feed sheep more economically, you can buy just about any hay out there, spend less than $850 per ton and get the same well fed sheep.

To be clear, I’m not against feeding grain to sheep if you have thought it through and done the math.

If not, take some time to run the numbers and see if bagged feed or just a nicer hay would serve you and your sheep better.

older ewe lambs eating grass
These are some older ewe lambs that we used to eat down more of the hard to reach spots or awkwardly shaped areas.

What if you are not feeding hay to your sheep?

You have some other options of what to feed your sheep, but keep in mind sheep are ruminants so the main portion of their diet needs to be forage, like grass or hay, for their digestive system to work well.

I started this article with hay feeding, since it is easier to measure and understand, but many sheep farmers feed something other than hay, most commonly grass.

If you were to feed a bit of grain, pellets or give them some pasture they would need less hay. Depending upon your situation, pasture or lawn grazing may be the more economical option, but not always.

Backyard Sheep is an article I wrote to give you some ideas on how to work grazing sheep into your situation, even if you just have a yard.

Grass tends to be more economical than hay or grain

Most folks with sheep would be feeding them on grass for a good portion of the year. Sheep love grass and, as long as you keep the parasite situation under control, can do well on grazing alone.

Generally, grass is the most economical feed for sheep, but, like most things with livestock, this is dependent upon your situation.

We feed our flock grass for the grazing season, which is generally mid April through mid to late November and give hay the rest of the year.

We could feed grain daily or have the flock inside and buy all of their feed, but for us, the option to have the flock on pasture for at least half the year is what works best for us with our current resources.

We could also rent land, move, or reduce flock numbers, all of these are potential options. Take some time and think of what you have available for your sheep and pencil out what makes the most sense.

What Can Sheep Eat Other Than Grass? is another of my articles written to help you see the potential feed resources you have that you may have overlooked or could economically start using for your flock.

white faced sheep grazing behind electric netting
Here’s a good view of the netting we use for just about all of the sheep fencing. Since it is plastic, it does wear get brittle in the sun and will start to break after a few years so we plan on replacing some every year.

Sheep facilities need maintained

The facilities you use to look after your sheep will add to your yearly costs of keeping sheep, as well.

Do you need to buy some cattle panels to keep the sheep out of the flowerbeds or get a gate to section off part of the shed?

What you’ll pay depends greatly on what you already have and how much more extensive you need the facilities to be.

For us, the facilities maintenance costs are more like replacing electric netting or getting another water trough, which are generally small expenses since we have most of the sheep appropriate things already.

Flock medical care costs

You will have some sort of medical or health care costs involved with your sheep. It could be buying a jug of dewormer or a vet visit, but plan on something.

When you are new, it will take you some time to learn what you can handle yourselves and what requires outside help. Plan on a vet visit or two until you get more experience with your flock.

Shearing needs done each year

If your sheep are wool sheep, you’ll need to plan in a cost of shearing, as well. Costs for shearing vary widely, based on how far the shearer has to come to you and how many sheep you have.

If you just have a few sheep, shearing will be costly. Call around and see what other sheep folks in your area are doing. Maybe their shearer can stop by your place on the trip, as well.

This is what our shearer does. He spends two days here, then each night does a small job or two, since he is in the area anyway.

When To Shear: Some things to consider will give you the scoop on planning in your shearing appointment based on fitting shearing time into your farm schedule.

Sheep will cost you in time spent caring for them

Another area enthusiastic folks tend to overlook is that sheep will cost you time, as in the time to work with them everyday. To be clear, sheep are pretty easy to take care of, but you still have to do it.

Do you have an extra 30 minutes to an hour everyday when you are looking for something to do? Can you find that time twice a day, 365 days per year, when you are sick, when the weather is bad, etc.?

Here’s an easy test for you regarding how you spend your day: how is your dog? I would guess that you were not expecting that question, but stick with me here.

Do you spend plenty of time with him? Do you enjoy your daily dog walks or do you feel like your dog and maybe a few other things are being neglected since you have a zillion things to do each day?

Adding sheep to the mix will not make your time commitments more manageable, more like the opposite!

Make sure you have the time you are happy, not just willing, but happy to spend with the sheep. They need you and since your time is the most valuable resource you have, think this one over carefully.

Feedstuffs For Sheep And Lambs is a Sheep 201 article that will go over more of your feeding options. If you have the time, click around on this site, there’s a ton of information here!

8 Things You Should You Not Do When Handling Sheep

When you are getting into sheep, you may have come across tips or suggestions of things that you should be doing when you are around the flock, which is important information, of course.

Equally important are the things you should not do when handling sheep. What are the things to avoid doing when working with your sheep?

When you are handling sheep, you should not rush the sheep, expect the sheep to know what you want, be loud, lose your patience, move abruptly or forget to consider the sheep’s point of view.

Do not rush the sheep

You must take your time with the sheep and work at a pace they are comfortable with.

Sheep love routine. If you are doing something out of the ordinary for them, they will be a little balky about it until they figure out what it is that you want and that it seems okay to them.

It’s easy to get into a hurry. The problems come when we rush the sheep and end up making things harder and usually taking longer than they would have if we had gone slowly to begin with.

Why Do Sheep Need Shepherds? gives some insight on how the shepherd helps the flock in both day to day activities as well as things sheep would have a hard time dealing with themselves, like predation.

Lambs make things take longer

If you have a group of weaned lambs, they will need more time from you than a group of ewes. It takes lambs longer to figure out what you want.

Before weaning, they just followed one of the ewes but now they are on their own and likely to be confused. Plan on extra time to get things done with a newly weaned group of lambs.

If the ewes have younger lambs, plan on everything taking extra time.

New lambs are slow and often make odd choices under pressure, so it’s best to move slow, take your time and you’ll end up actually getting done faster.

A lamb of this size will not move like the ewes. You have to go slowly and take your time to let the sheep move at their own pace or you run the risk of lambs getting hurt, usually by being stepped on by the ewes when you are moving the group with too much pressure. Go slow.

Do not lose your patience with sheep

Sheep can try your patience. They will learn to figure out what it is that you want them to do and if they do not like to do that thing, they will actively work to avoid it.

This can be frustrating, but should be expected. Since you know this type of behavior is coming from the sheep, plan on it and keep your temper when it happens.

For instance, if they do not want to go into the pen where you always catch them, then they will work on being anywhere but that pen until they feel they have to go in it.

We have a working chute that we only put the sheep through a few times a year, but all of the ewes have been through it and most of the ewe lambs, as well.

Sometimes they act like they have no idea what that thing is and no way are they going in there! That’s frustrating, since we know the sheep are familiar with it.

Until they decide to go through the chute, we just have to give them more time and make sure that there is nothing that looks scary in there and that the sheep can clearly see the exit.

Is Sheep Keeping Easy? Answers from a full time shepherd goes over some of the day to day work of caring for sheep.

Not having your set up ready and sheep friendly

Have your set up ready before you get started and look things over from a sheep’s perspective to remove anything that might look questionable to them.

This is one of those times when putting extra thought into your set up pays off. This way you’ll avoid problems rather than having to deal with the sheep refusals or delays from confusion.

For instance, if you have to take sheep down the driveway a bit, like from a pasture up to the barn, make sure you do not have anything, like your car, parked in the driveway.

Even though they could walk around the car and maybe have been up the driveway numerous times, right now, the way up to the barn is not obvious, at least, not to them. Let me explain.

Take a second and stand behind the car. Now, squat down to sheep level. What do you see? Just a lot of car, not the path up to the barn, that they would happily take if they saw it.

white faced ewes on winter pasture following me
The ewes are following me because they think I have snacks, but I don’t so they disperse fairly quickly and go back to eating hay.

Do not forget about the sheep’s point of view

Quite often, if you stop to think about what you are doing or asking the sheep to do, from a livestock point of view, a few of the problems will become clear.

For instance, let’s say you are asking the sheep to go into the barn from the pasture, but you are pressuring them from the back, that’s the first sign to the sheep that something is up.

Next, when you look at the barn entrance from more of a sheep point of view, the entrance looks dark and you have to go through mud to get there. Why would the sheep want to go in there?

An easier way to get these sheep into the barn is to have the entrance well lit, make the footing solid and have a snack of some sort that they like in that pen. A little bit of grain does wonders here.

Other problems we see are the things we bring with us, like a bag with some supplies in it, or your extra jacket that you hang on the side of the pen.

To you, it is nothing and you don’t even think about it. To them the “new” things are different and are distracting the sheep.

The problem with things being distracting is that anything new is automatically scary to a sheep. The area has to look good to them and be put together in a way that makes them want to move through it.

Set up your area so the sheep want to move through it

The other aspect of the sheep’s point of view is that certain ways of moving around make sense to sheep and other ways do not.

For instance, if you can set up your pen that you want them to go into so it looks like they are rejoining the group when they go in, it will be easier to get them to do it.

If you are still not sure what is bothering the sheep, consider reading some of Dr. Temple Grandin’s work and set up your sheep handling according to her suggestions.

white faced lamb staring at camera with ewes in background
These lambs are saying “hey, what are you doing in here?” since I’m not their normal person, yet they are still curious. If I were to make sudden movements or yell they and the ewes would skitter away.

Do not be louder than needed

If you are new to sheep and go into all this thinking that hooping and hollering is how you get animals to move, it’s time to reconsider. Quiet confidence and clarity are what make animals move, not yelling.

I know that sometimes you have to shout to be heard, but keeping a softer tone of voice, even when talking to other people, not just the sheep, will help them to stay more calm.

The other thing is that if you normally talk a lot while with the sheep, keep talking. If they are normally handled with little noise, try to be quieter while doing your work. Animals like what they are used to.

Do not move abruptly

Sheep do not like jerky, out of nowhere movements. Be smooth and calm and deliberate to get them to move calmly. Getting loud or frantic with your movements just keeps their attention on you.

This may sound like what you want, but it actually isn’t, what you are trying to do is put a bit of pressure on them, by standing close to them to get them to move away from you.

If you are frantically moving, you are having them focus on you, rather than giving them the opportunity to think about ways to relieve the pressure by going into the pen or gateway like you want them to.

Do not assume the sheep know what you want

Do not assume the sheep know what you want. This is somewhat like the sheep’s point of view idea with more of an emphasis on your part of getting things done with the flock.

Sheep do not know what you want, they just know what is routine and how to do the things that benefit them the most.

When you throw them off of their routine, they get nervous and when they get nervous, they stop thinking about their options and this is where your problems start.

Is the next move for the sheep obvious?

You have to set up the situation so that it is glaringly obvious for the sheep to do what you want, then wait for them to see the opportunity.

For instance, if you have the gate open, look at the opening from where the sheep are standing.

Can they clearly see that it is open? As crazy as it sounds, just because you opened the gate does not mean it is easy for the sheep to see that they can go through.

This is easily seen when sheep are coming up perpendicular to the opening, all they see is the fence in front of them. The open gate will not be visible until they are right on top of it.

We have a few gate openings at odd angles that are hard to see when they are open, until the sheep get right up on the corner, which they don’t want to go into because it looks like a trap.

It’s not a trap, since the gate is open, but until they see it and the first one or two walk through, to the sheep it looks like a spot they do not want to be.

This is especially true if this is not a gate they go through frequently, it may take them a while to realize that it is now open if they didn’t see you open it.

Don’t forget your safety

Whenever you work with your sheep, you are the brains of the operation. It is your job to think things through and work with the sheep in as safe a manner as possible.

Be mindful of where you are positioning yourself in relationship to the flock and what you are asking the sheep to do.

It’s easy to think of sheep as small and harmless, but we forget that when a flock of small and harmless are pushing hard to get somewhere, they can have a lot of power!

The situations where you can get hurt, at least from our experience, are in close contact activities with the ewes, meaning getting hurt was an accident, not the result of something like a headbutting ram.

For example, my husband and I both have been knocked down by sheep passing by in a tight group and their wool grabs your pants then down you go. Same goes for hair sheep, I was tripped up by Katahdins!

The sheep were in a rush to get somewhere, usually feed, and we were in the way. While none of this is malicious on the part of the sheep, it can still end up with you hurt. Be careful out there.

Using Sheep Behaviour To Your Advantage When Designing Handling Facilities is an publication that covers quite a few of the basics and gives some useful diagrams.

Should You Give Sheep Hay Or Grass?

Are you feeding your sheep hay or grass? For most sheep farmers, one of these forages is the obvious choice, with most folks going with grass, for at least part of the year.

If you are fortunate enough to have both options available, which one should you pick?

Sheep can and do eat both hay and grass. Whether grass or hay is fed is based on which one of the two is more economical at the time. The choice of forage for the flock can, and usually does, change through out the year based on the needs of the flock, the farm and the growing season.

white faced ewe in dried grass pasture
These sheep have some dried grass to eat but are also getting hay everyday as their main forage.

Both hay and grass are good for sheep

Both hay and grass are good for sheep and both can be used to fulfill a sheep’s nutritional needs, as long as the grass and/or hay are high quality.

Sheep can live on only grass or they can live on hay or, as most would, they can eat a combination of both depending upon the growing season.

The catch here is that one of these, either the hay or the grass, usually has a significant economic advantage over the other for the farmer.

Since the sheep can eat both grass and hay and do just fine, which one makes the most sense for your farm?

Do Sheep Eat Hay? goes over the basics of hay for sheep.

What forage resources are available to feed your flock?

What resources do you have available to feed the sheep? Usually, this is an economics question and most sheep farmers feed the forage that makes the most money sense for their situation.

For instance, a farm with plenty of acreage in pasture would probably use grass for any part of the year that it was practical. That would be the easiest way to get plenty of forage to the sheep in this situation.

What about a person with limited land? For those folks, hay is going to play a much bigger role in the everyday diet of their flock.

They could still get some grass to the sheep by turning the sheep out to graze around the house or the building, but mainly the sheep would be eating hay year round.

There is no right or wrong choice here, it’s more about fitting the sheep to your resources, which includes your time and money.

Do sheep like hay or grass better?

We find that sheep tend to like grass better, but that really depends upon the quality of the grass compared to the quality of the hay and if the hay has something in it that the sheep have been lacking.

For instance, if you have a nice first cutting hay and toss a flake or two out to sheep in good grass, they may come over and look at it but they’ll go back to the grass. In this case, the grass is better.

But, take that same flake of hay and toss it into the sheep in the winter, when there is no fresh grass available, they will gobble it up.

It’s the same hay and the same sheep as before when they ignored the hay, this time it’s a different situation and you would get a different result.

The opposite situation may also be true, if your grass is so-so at best and you toss the ewes a flake of really nice alfalfa or another top notch hay, they will be right over and the hay will be gone in no time.

Hay For Sheep: Which hay is the best choice for your flock? shows you things you need to check to make sure the hay you buy is will work for your sheep.

older ewe lambs eating grass
These are some older ewe lambs eating the grass outside the main pasture area.

Start with the grass for the flock

For most flocks, it makes the most sense to start the sheep off with the grass. This is especially true if the sheep are going to be put into an area that would be mowed but not harvested, like a lawn.

If the grass could also be harvested, the options of selling the hay or using the forage as hay for your sheep should be penciled out to see what makes the most sense for your farm.

Spoiler alert: chances are really high that grazing the area with your sheep makes the most sense economically, especially when you factor in costs of equipment. The costs of grazing are hard to beat.

What if you have a very limited amount of grass?

If you are very limited on grass, you can still consider it as part of the diet of your flock. The more limited you are, the sooner you’ll have to start supplementing with hay.

Even if you only have your yard, no problem, put the sheep in there anyway rather than mowing.

Of course, you’ll need to fence them off of things you don’t want them to eat but we find that the sheep do a fairly good job of lawn mowing and seem to like the shorter, lawn type grass.

Backyard Sheep is one of my articles that I put together specifically for folks considering using their smaller areas, specifically yards, as grazing for sheep.

One of the big problems with severely limited grass is parasites due to overgrazing. You’ll have to keep an eye on your sheep and work with your vet to figure out a parasite plan suited to your situation.

What if your flock doesn’t have any access to grass?

If your flock has no access to grass, at all, you can still provide for their needs with hay.

This will be a potentially more challenging situation, ration wise, since the sheep only get what you bring.

Their hay must be high quality and fulfill all of their nutritional needs, which can be tough to achieve. Consider working with a nutritionist if you have concerns with this ration.

The reason I say this is because sheep on pasture have choices of what plants to eat, if they need burdock (a favorite that is eaten first in our pastures) they eat it. Sheep on hay do not have those options.

Multiple farms have sheep completely inside, which was unusual not all that long ago, or mostly inside with very limited pasture access and they are doing well, so it is doable.

white faced ewes at feeder eating haylage
These ewes are inside for the winter, so they are eating only hay unlike the outside ewes that still have pasture to poke around in.

Supplement with hay if needed

Many folks that raise sheep switch around between feeding both grass and hay, depending upon the field conditions and the grazing area available.

For instance, when we are going into winter, the sheep will eventually need to be fed mostly hay, even though they are outside, since the grass is no longer growing.

The first few weeks of feeding hay, the sheep are just sort of interested in the bale, they would rather eat grass then top off their daily intake with hay when they need to.

We have the hay available for the flock so that when they need it, they can choose to go over and eat. Sometimes it is surprising how little hay is eaten, but it is important to us that they have the choice.

Feeding hay in a low grass growth year

Another time you may find yourself considering hay is in a low production year.

If your grazing area is not growing like normal, get some hay out there to supplement the flock or bring the flock in and let the grass recover.

Another option to supplement poor pasture growth would be something like pelleted feeds, but since they are usually more expensive than hay, most folks would look to getting some extra hay, instead.

Do your sheep need higher quality forage than your pasture provides?

Are you concerned with low quality grass and think your sheep need more nutrition than they are getting? If so, put some high quality hay out there and see if they are interested.

You’ll know pretty quickly how the ewes feel about the grass compared to the hay!

This situation would be more likely if you have sheep with high energy needs at times when the forage production of your grazing area is lacking, like fall born lambs.

A few flakes of nicer hay to go with the remaining grass could be just the thing to keep those lambs growing well.

What is 2nd Cutting Hay? or What is 3rd Cutting Hay? would both give you tips on choosing a higher nutrition hay to bump up your lamb’s nutrition.

Your other option in this case would be creep feeding, my article Do Lambs Need Creep Feed will give you the scoop so you can see if it would make a difference to your flock.

If you are interested in an overview of your sheep feeding options, consider reading Sheep 101: What’s for dinner? which goes over pasture, stored feeds and supplemental feeds for sheep.

Are Sheep Dangerous?

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.

older lambs grazing
These are some of our older lambs grazing. They are watching me come up to the fence to take some pictures. When they feel that I am too close, they will start to move away until they feel more comfortable with the distance between us.

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.

white faced ewes grazing
These ewes calm now, but if I were to grab one to check her feet or teeth, she would try to get away and I could end up kicked or knocked down in the process. If this happened, the sheep would not be being mean or aggressive, she’s just nervous and wants to stay with the flock.

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.

Rams headbutting

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.

How Do You Know If A Sheep Is Sick?

When raising sheep, you occasionally get a sick one. We all know that the sooner you notice a health problem in your stock, the sooner you can start treatment and get her back into top shape.

All of which starts with noticing the health problem in the first place, so how do you know if a sheep is sick?

ewes in field in winter
Some of our ewes in the field for the winter. See how they look full and are sticking together? Chances are they are doing well and feeling fine.

Look closely to find problems early in sheep

Sheep are great at hiding problems, looking like everyone else is one of the things that keeps them safe from predators so they are hardwired to try to fool you into thinking they are fine.

This means that you have to look closely and have experience observing the flock when they are behaving normally in order to see the small things that show you a sheep is off and needs looked at before she gets worse.

Is Keeping Sheep Easy? is an interview with a shepherd going over the lesser known aspects of keeping sheep.

A sick sheep acts differently than normal

The first thing that sick sheep do is to act differently than they normally act.

This could be seen when the sheep are:

  • not coming to feed as quickly
  • laying off in the corner rather than getting up when the rest of the sheep get up
  • holding head oddly
  • one ear droops
  • walking all hunched up
  • moving with a stilted gait

These are just a few examples of something that may catch your eye as a bit off, but are not things that would make most new sheep farmers say “that needs investigated”.

This is the biggest mistake folks make with sheep, any problems that you see, even the “something’s not right, but I can’t say exactly what” things, need looked into.

In these cases, chances are you do have a problem to deal with, but that’s secondary to your first problem of not even realizing that anything was going on to begin with.

This is the type of thing that is very frustrating to all shepherds, but especially anyone new to sheep. Health problems in sheep are subtle at first when they are most responsive to treatment.

This means that if you catch problems early, you have a much better chance of the sheep recovering.

If you wait until the problem is obvious, then you have a much more stressed out sheep that is more difficult to treat because the problem is more advanced when you finally noticed it.

A sick sheep probably does not eat

Sheep love to eat and healthy sheep are interested in any new food that shows up. Any time an animal does not eat when it normally would, sheep included, you have reason to be suspicious.

If the sheep are full or like what they already have, they may not eat the new food, but they will still be interested in it to see if they need to switch.

A ewe that does not care about the hay that you give the flock, even though the rest of the sheep are eating it just fine, needs to be looked at.

The sick ewe may go look at the hay but not bother to eat when the rest of the flock is digging in, or she may not even bother to get up and see what the rest of the flock is doing.

Both of these are red flags that tell you something is wrong.

flock of white faced sheep
The flock is moving out, are all of them going or are one or two being left behind? Healthy sheep go with the flock, unhealthy sheep lag behind.

A sick sheep does not stay with flock

When the sheep are out on pasture, a sick sheep does not stay with the flock.

The problem here is that being by herself is instinctively unsafe to a sheep, so if she is off on her own, you need to figure out why.

Unfortunately, by the time the sheep is sick enough that she can not keep up with the flock, she is quite sick and you are late with noticing the problem.

Chances are good she was acting oddly for a bit earlier in the day or on the day before and you did not see the more subtle signs of illness.

Observe your sheep!

You need to spend time with your sheep! There is no getting around this one, especially if you are new to sheep farming.

You need to get to know their normal behavior, so that you can spot abnormal behavior early. The early part here is the key.

Knowing how your animals appear and act when healthy will assist you in determining when they are sick. Observe your animals daily so you will be able to recognize abnormal behavior. 

Dr. Lionel Dawson, Professor of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University

The sooner you start treatment, the more likely you are to be able to bring the sheep back to health.

When you are looking at the flock, does anything catch your eye?

Here are a few examples of things that need further investigation:

  • Is there one ewe that is underweight but the rest seem to be doing fine?
  • One of the sheep just takes a nibble or two then goes off to lay down again.
  • A sheep standing with weight oddly balanced.
  • General signs of sickness like runny nose, sluggishness or odd breathing.

Another common problem is getting in a hurry and skipping over the watch the flock part of your daily sheep time.

It’s so easy to just chuck the hay in the feeders, make sure the water trough is full then head to work or where ever you need to go, after all, most of us have more in our lives than just sheep!

The problem with being in a hurry or skipping out on your daily observation is that it becomes a habit and you start to miss things that you would have caught had you been focusing on observing the flock.

The great news is that spending a bit of time each day observing the flock, just to see how they are doing, is also a habit. It’s well worth your time to prioritize and keep the observation habit in your daily chores.

Veterinary Viewpoints: Is my sheep or goat sick? is a checklist of things to look for in your flock, written by Dr. Lionel Dawson of Oklahoma State University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Why Do Sheep Die So Easily? goes over some of the reasons why sheep get sick and may even die, spoiler alert: it’s stress!