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Do Lambs Need Creep Feed?


When you are raising sheep, one of your management options is to creep feed lambs. The real question is should you, do your lambs need creep feed and why?

Creep feed provides extra calories for lambs, while excluding the ewes. Flocks on high quality pasture generally do not need to creep feed, while lambs inside are normally creep fed. Creep feeding may not be economical for your flock or situation.

Lambs do not need creep feed

To be clear, lambs do not need creep feed, it is an optional source of extra calories for the sheep producer to provide in order to get the lambs gaining weight more quickly.

Creep feed is normally used in a barn, rather than outside, and can be a purchased or homemade mix. Along with the creep feed, the lambs are also given a easy to eat hay, also in the creep area.

Some farmers are dedicated to creep feeding, many farmers in our area need to get lambs growing more quickly and are willing to pay for the grain to do it.

Others do not feel that the extra work and expense is worth the results. You will have to decide which suits you and your lambs the best.

Sheep Creep Feed is my article that goes into the situations where you might want to creep feed your lambs.

Flock management considerationWill creep feeding help?
bottle lambsyes, extra calories and reduces days on bottle
off season lambsyes, extra calories at off time for pasture
little or poor pastureyes, extends feeding ability of pasture you have
putting fat on roaster size lambsyes, easy way to put on finish
plenty of pasture, good ewesnot really, no need for creep feed
raise sheep with minimal cash costsno, creep feed will add cost
Here are some general considerations for creep feeding lambs: if you want to maximize growth, creep feed. If you want less cost into flock, do not. Please note that creep feeding will not eliminate the need for milk replacer, it merely helps reduce total weeks of bottle feeding required.
Here is some of the creep feed that we get for lambs that has a mineral mix in it and smells like molasses. The lambs seem to love it.

Are Sheep Expensive To Raise? gives you a look on what expenses you can expect from raising sheep to see if creep feeding is worth it to you.

Creep feed is a lamb friendly feed for young lambs

Creep feed is a mix of grains and supplement that is made to be palatable for young lambs. A purchased creep feed normally has some pellets, oats and cracked corn with a molasses coating.

You can make your own creep feed using this mix from Virginia Cooperative Extension.

A simple mixture of 80-85% ground or cracked corn and 15-20% soybean meal, with free choice high quality alfalfa hay is a very palatable early creep ration.

https://www.sites.ext.vt.edu/newsletter-archive/livestock/aps-99_03/aps-0037.html

Lamb creep feed can be palatable hay

You can also put a lamb friendly hay in the creep feeder, with or without the creep feed, as a way to keep the ewes off of some nicer hay that you want the lambs to start eating.

Hay will have to be refreshed daily, once they lay on it or worse yet, poop on it, it’s done and must be replaced.

creep feeder for lambs, metal, with lamb peeking around from the side, insets of "top open to fill" and "bar spacing options"
This is an indoor or outdoor creep feeder that we have in the barn right now after being used outside in one of the pastures all summer. It has shelled corn in the trough and the bars can be adjusted as the lambs grow, keeping in mind that too wide of a bar spacing lets in ewes!

Lambs that you might want to creep feed

Lambs that you might want to creep feed are any lambs that could use some extra weight and will be worth the extra money put into the creep feed.

This would be for any lambs born out of season, lambs with moms that are not milking well or lambs that you want to get to a roaster sized (chubby, 55 pounders) sooner than with just forage alone.

Be sure to do the math here, especially if you are using a purchased creep feed mix, it can get pricey!

Creep feeding in limited forage situations

Another situation where creep feeding may help you out is if your area tends to run out of good grazing before the lambs are done growing.

If you creep feed these lambs, they will have gotten used to the creep feed and the feeder by the time your forage is gone or of low quality so they can still keep eating and growing without digestive upsets.

We creep feed any young lambs that are in the barn. For us, being in the barn means they are either “surprise” late in the year lambs, bottle babies or lambs whose moms are not doing a good job.

All of these lambs could use a bit more help in getting calories and an easy way to do that is with creep feed.

Of course, the bottle lambs are by themselves (no ewes) so they do not need the creep gate or feeder, they just eat the creep feed out of a open topped hanging feeder or a pan.

Lambs that do not need creep feed

Lambs on a good pasture with plenty to eat and a good mom do not need to be creep fed, they have everything they need already.

You could creep feed these lambs, if for some reason you wanted to, but most folks would not, since these lambs are doing well, as is.

lamb going out of a homemade creep gate
This is our homemade creep gate, which keeps ewes out of a sectioned off area that has creep feed and usually some lamb friendly hay. The lambs like to go into the creep area to get snacks and have some relaxing space away from their moms. At first, it will take the lambs some time to find the feed, but once they do, they seem to get a kick out of going in and out of the area.

How to creep feed lambs

Generally, creep feed is put in a creep feeder, which is a space that the ewes can not get into.

Normally, the creep feeder has a gate with vertical slats that are set just wide enough for lambs, this keeps out the ewes, for the most part!

A creep feeder can be a small pen or wooden or metal box that only the lambs can get into, which is put inside a pen of ewes. Some creep feeders, like ours, can be used outside or inside.

The second type of creep feeder is more of a creep area, which is a fenced off corner of the main pen with a gate that only the lambs can get through the slots.

For more details on setting up the feeder itself, read my article Sheep Creep Feeder: What is it and why use one?

You can build your own creep feeder or creep gate, this is what we did for years, until we finally bought a metal creep feeder this year. The wooden creep gate we started with is pictured above.

When to start creep feeding lambs

Start creep feeding lambs when they are at a week old or younger.

This will give them time to explore the feeder and nibble around a little before they are old enough to pig out on it and upset their digestion.

If you have older lambs, be careful with the creep feed. Go slowly and give them small amounts that you gradually work up to the target intake amount.

Do not just fill the feeder and leave, that will be a mess. They will go in the creep feeder, suck it all down and end up sick, at the very least, dead at the worst. Work up gradually or do not creep feed, at all.

When to stop creep feeding

You can stop creep feeding anytime you feel that the lambs do not need the special “lamb only” feed anymore.

Many sheep farmers stop creep feeding because the lambs have grown enough to be able to eat the same hay as their moms.

Once the lambs are old enough to be weaned, you no longer need to keep the ewes out of the lamb’s feed since the ewes will be in a separate area.

Don’t stop the creep feed at weaning, that’s too much change in an already stressful time. Keep up with creep feeding, at least until you see that weaning went well, then taper them off the creep, if you need to.

However or whyever you decide to stop creep feeding, do so gradually. Slowly reduce the amount of creep feed or gradually start to transition the lambs over to a different ration. Emphasis on slowly!

Sheep 101 answers the question Should I Creep Feed My Lambs? emphasizing the importance of figuring out if creep feeding is economical for your situation.

Do Lambs Make Good Pets?


Lambs are adorable and seem like such gentle animals, who wouldn’t want a lamb for a pet? This is a question lots of folks consider, since those lambs are darling!

But…the better question is should you get a lamb for a pet? Are lambs good pets and what will you need to do to take care of your pet lamb?

Most lambs will not make good pets, since they are raised by the ewe (a mother sheep) and tend to be wary of people. The exception is a bottle lamb, which will be people friendly and might make a good pet if you are happy to have the adult sheep it will grow into and are willing to care for it for 10+ years.

lamb being carried by shepherd

While some sheep are much more people friendly than others, generally speaking, lambs want to be with their mom or their peers rather than hanging out with people.

Consider reading my article Why Do Sheep Need A Shepherd? It will go over the care you’ll need to provide for your pet lamb, since, as the owner of a pet lamb, you are also going to be the shepherd!

Most lambs would not make good pets

Most lamb would not make good pets, since they have been raised with their moms and the rest of the sheep flock rather than being raised directly by humans.

A lamb learns from the ewe (the lamb’s mom) to stick close to other sheep and be wary of anything that is not other sheep, this includes people.

It’s not that the sheep are scared of people, it’s more that they are wary of all things that are not other sheep. This is hardwired into sheep and is one of the instincts that keeps them alive.

By the time a lamb is old enough to leave his mom, he is also old enough to know that some things are safe, like other sheep and the pasture he is used to, and some things are not safe, which is anything new.

Since you would be new to the lamb, you would automatically be something to be scared of. The lamb will eventually get used to you and learn to be less nervous, but may never be as friendly as a dog.

bottle lambs in pen
These are some of our bottle lambs from the spring. They are small now, but will grow to be just as big as the other lambs in a few months!

Bottle lambs are friendly

There is one exception to lambs being friendly enough for pets, bottle lambs. Bottle lambs are lambs that for one of many reasons were not raised by their moms, they were raised by people

Being hand raised (raised on the bottle) makes lambs friendly, since whoever has the bottle is functioning like the lamb’s mom, at least for as long as the lamb continues to be bottle fed.

Bottle lambs learn that when a person shows up they get fed, this makes people good in the mind of a lamb. This is why a bottle lamb makes an acceptable pet, they like to be around people.

You should know that some lambs seem to grow out of being overly friendly towards people, however some lambs continue to be people friendly their entire lives, it just depends upon the sheep.

Should you get a lamb for a pet?

After you have looked into getting a lamb for a pet and you have decided that you like the idea, consider if getting a pet lamb is a good idea for you and your situation.

Are you are able to take care of the lamb as it grows? Remember, taking care of the lamb means giving the lamb the things he needs, not just the things that you want him to have.

This is the biggest responsibility of a pet lamb owner, to give the lamb a good life from the perspective of the lamb, which is different from what you need from the lamb and your perspective.

Down deep, your pet lamb is still a sheep. Can you give him a happy life from the perspective of a sheep? Plan on keeping your lamb for the next 10 or so years, he’ll probably live that long.

Are you happy to be sharing your life with this sheep for that long or are you really interested in a cute lamb but not so interested in the adult sheep he will become?

Keeping a lamb costs money and time

A small list of your lamb’s needs will include feed, water, mineral, housing, fence, medical care and predator control. Expenses like feed and vet care will be ongoing.

The costs vary hugely with area, in some areas feeding a sheep for a year is not a big deal, cost wise. In other areas, this will be a huge expense.

Start with local hay prices and see what you find. Plan on your lamb eating 5% of his weight in hay per day.

If your lamb grows to 100 pounds, he will need 5 pounds of hay per day and a 50 pound bale will last him 10 days. Since he needs a buddy, you’ll want to double this to feed him and his friend.

And, of course, there is also your time! Your lamb will need you and a noticeable chunk of your time and effort everyday.

7 month old lambs grazing
These sheep are actually lambs! They are about 7 months old in this picture and will be adult size by one year or less.

How big will the lamb get?

There are a variety of mature sizes in adult sheep, some breeds are fairly small as adults, while others will weigh as much as you. How big will this lamb get?

Even the smaller breeds of sheep are still substantial in size when you are comparing them to the size they were as lambs. Plan on your lamb reaching close to 100 pounds as an adult.

Marquis Ranch has a nice article on the Care and Use of Babydoll Sheep which goes over the things you need to keep in mind for pet lambs, which is what their lambs are sold for.

Do you have sheep friendly space?

Where are you going to keep your lamb and will that space still work when the lamb is full grown?

Young lambs are fairly easy to keep in, they are shorter and not as strong as older stock, but as your lamb grows he’ll become more and more capable, especially when you are gone for the day.

Do you have plenty of space for the lamb (and a friend) to live for the entire year? It’s easy to say that a lamb will eat grass, for example, and live in the yard for the summer, but what will he eat in the winter?

Additionally, sheep require protection against any number of problems. Some problems are self inflicted, like the sheep making poor decisions and hurting himself.

Other problems are external, like being chased by local dogs (or your dogs) or being on the radar of your local predators. You need to make sure these things are handled so your lamb is safe and happy.

Lambs need a buddy

The final thing to consider with getting a pet sheep, which has been mentioned earlier in the article, is that your lamb needs a buddy. Sheep are flock animals, they are nervous when they are by themselves.

For your lamb to be happy, it needs a friend, ideally another lamb. An older sheep will not work until the lamb is as big as the older sheep, your lamb needs a lamb friend.

The reason that keeping sheep in a flock, even if the flock has only 2 or 3 sheep, is such a big deal is that sheep are poor at handling stress and a sheep by himself is living a stressful life.

Stress makes your lamb more prone to having health problems, just like having a lot of stress in your life has negative consequences on your health and well being.

Make sure your lamb has a friend or two, so all of you will be happy.

Here are a few more of my sheep articles you may be interested in checking out:

Do All Lambs Have Wool?

Why Do Sheep Have Paint On Them?

How Do Sheep Defend Themselves?

Do Lambs Have Wool?


Lambs look pretty small when they are born and they are certainly not very wooly looking, making it look like they do not have any wool, at all. Do lambs have wool when they are born or do they grow it later?

Lambs from wool breed sheep are born with a short coat of wool. The wool is vital to keep the newborn lamb warm. Hair sheep lambs are born with a coat of hair, rather than wool.

Lambs are born with wool

When most lambs are born, they have a short coat of wool already. It can be hard to see the wool, since it is so short, but the wool is there if you look closely.

This wool will continue to grow all of the lamb’s life, similar to your hair, and can get fairly long if the lamb is not shorn once a year.

What does the wool do for a newborn lamb?

Sheep are mammals, like us. We have to keep a minimum body heat to live and the wool helps the lamb keep warm.

Once the ewe (the mom) dries off the lamb, the lamb’s wool functions like a blanket for a newborn child and will keep in heat so the newborn lamb can warm up and stay warm.

Having the ewe lick the lamb dry (yes, that’s how she does it!) will help the lamb get up and moving sooner and get the wool to dry off so that the lamb is protected from the weather.

lambs with lots of wool on body compared to lambs with less wool
Lambs with lots of wool cover are on the top, lambs with less wool cover (or none in the case of the brown hairs sheep lambs) are on the bottom.

Is the entire lamb’s body covered in wool?

Quite a bit of the lamb’s body is covered in wool, but absolutely all of it, just most!

The lamb has wool on it’s body, neck and tail. If the lamb is a clean headed breed (no wool on head) like Cheviot or Border Leicester, then the head and legs will be wool free and have hair instead.

Some breeds of sheep naturally have more wool cover, so the lamb may also have wool on top of the head, on the face and down the legs. A breed with lots of wool on the face is a Southdown.

The lamb will still have some hair on it’s face, even if it is one of the breeds with wool on the face and lower legs.

hair sheep ewes and lambs with inset of lambs, all brown and white
These are hair sheep. Notice that the lambs have hair, like a goat or a dog. If you look closely at the adults you’ll see that some are still shedding.

Hair sheep lambs have hair, not wool

There are sheep that do not have a puffy coat of wool to shear, these are called hair sheep since they have hair rather than wool. The hair these sheep have is more like the hair on your dog.

Hair sheep lambs are born with hair, not wool and will continue to have hair throughout their lives.

In colder climates, hair sheep, even lambs, will grow a wooly undercoat to help keep them warm, but it will shed out in the spring on it’s own, rather than being shorn like wool sheep.

Sheep 201: Hair Sheep Primer gives a list of hair sheep breeds and has quite a few pictures if you are interested in learning more about hair sheep breeds.

More of my sheep articles you may be interested in:

Why Do Sheep Have Paint On Them?

Are All Sheep White?

Why Do Sheep Need Dewormed? gives you a look into taking care of a flock of sheep and why parasite control is important.

How Do Sheep Defend Themselves?


When you take a closer look at a sheep, you notice that she really does not have a lot of ability to defend herself. Sheep are fairly small, they don’t have sharp teeth or claws and they are not well camouflaged.

So what exactly do sheep have to defend themselves against predation?

Sheep group together and count on the confusion of the flock as their main defense. Sheep also tend to run first and think later, which will hopefully get them out of the range of a predator.

sheep standing in a group
Sheep like to be in a group, it makes them feel safe and gives the individual sheep more eyes and ears to watch and listen for predators.

Being in a flock is a confusion based defense

The first defense sheep have is that they live in a flock, this gives them a couple of advantages over predators, mainly confusion and lots of eyes and ears to see the predator coming.

The flock is confusing to the predator that is looking for an easy meal, picking out one or two of the more likely targets out of the group gets harder when you can’t tell one sheep from the next.

If all of the sheep look the same, how do you keep track of the one you are after?

Predators learn to use their energy wisely. They want to go after the easy or most likely result, not just zoom in willy-nilly and scatter the sheep with no results for dinner.

That is just a waste of energy that will not feed them or their young.

Check out a flock of sheep grazing then watch them notice something that scares them, they immediately bunch together and have eyes and ears on full alert.

Maybe it’s a herding dog coming out to gather the flock or it could be an unfamiliar person walking in the field or a piece of plastic fluttering around in the wind.

Notice that the sheep went from calm to high alert and gathered up in seconds.

Also notice that the sheep you could easily pick out individually when they were grazing is mixed into the group and now you have no idea which one that is.

This is the point of the flock, confusion of the predator is key.

Sheep can “fake it”

Sheep can fake the ability to fit in with the rest of the flock.

Eventually, whatever problem the sheep has will be beyond her ability to fake being normal, but until then, she’ll keep acting like everyone else to the best of her abilities.

For a shepherd, this is one of the things he has to learn to see past in order to catch any problems early so that treatment is more effective and management changes can be made when needed.

In the field, faking it keeps the sheep all looking the same which keeps the predators confused, or at least, does not make their job any easier than it needs to be!

Sheep tend to run first, think later

Many herd animals tend to run or react first and think later, this is definitely true for sheep.

While most of the time there is no reason to run after all, maybe it was just a piece of plastic blowing around that scared them.

But what if that flicker they saw out of the corner or their eye was a coyote and not plastic?

The sheep that did not zoom out of there is likely to be lunch. This is why the reaction of sheep to nearly anything new is to over react to the new situation until they know, for sure, that it is safe.

This run first, think later defense is built in to the sheep and in past generations has saved many sheep from predation.

Sheep 101 has a quick to read section on how sheep evade predators called Flee, Not Fight.

In close quarters, a ewe may headbutt

In close quarters, a ewe may decide to headbutt an intruder. Of course, this may or may not work, depending upon the size of the intruder and the situation of the ewe.

Sheep always prefer to run since that is their main defense, but if they feel they can not run, headbutting is one of the few options she has left.

Not all ewes will decide to take on the aggressor, but some will especially if they have a new lamb and are in a place where escape is unlikely, like in a corner of a fence.

Other sheep related articles of mine that you may enjoy:

Why Do Sheep Die So Easily?

Why Do Sheep Need Shepherds?

Why Do Sheep Have Paint On Them?

Why Don’t Sheep Naturally Shed?

Why Do Sheep Die So Easily?


You’ve surely heard some version of the phrase “sheep are always looking for a reason to die”, usually from folks who tried to raise a small flock and ended up disappointed.

But you’ve also seen people with large flocks of sheep that seem to be doing fine, so what’s the truth? Do sheep really die easily or is there something else going on here?

Sheep do necessarily die easily, however they are more susceptible to stress than most other livestock. As stress increases it drags down the sheep’s health, which lowers the likelihood of recovery.

Acute stress, like a dog attack, can kill sheep and is likely to have longer term negative consequences for the ones that survive.

ewes with young lambs on pasture
Some of our ewes with young lambs.

Sheep have a reputation that they die easily

Sheep have a poor reputation in that they seem to die easily, at least compared to other livestock that folks may be more familiar with, like cattle.

The catch here is that sheep do not actually die easily, what really happens is that they are very sensitive to stress and require close observation by the shepherd to see problems early on.

Many people who are new to sheep expect the sheep to be able to rebound from a health challenge like cattle would, but they don’t.

Pros And Cons Of Raising Sheep goes over the good news and the not so good news of raising sheep, with most of the cons being related to problems from stress.

Sheep tend to hide problems

Sheep tend to hide problems.

When you think about this it makes sense, sticking out from the flock makes you a target for predators, so hiding a small problem for as long as the sheep can helps it to stay alive.

The problem now is that the sheep does not have to take care of problems on her own, a person can help her, but only if the problem is noticed while small and easier to fix.

Sheep are hardwired to blend, in her mind blending in with her fellow sheep is literally do or die. This is why she’s so good at faking!

This is also why you have to observe the flock daily to understand their normal behavior so that you can then see their abnormal behavior and step in to help.

This takes experience on the part of the shepherd and time to learn. Unfortunately, until this is learned the flock will continue to frustrate you.

Lambs are small

Lambs are especially vulnerable, mainly because they are smaller bodied with almost no defense against predation.

Their size makes them an easy target for all predators in the area. Lambs are easy to catch and carry off with little to no interference on the part of the ewe, she is scared, as well!

The other challenge with lamb size is that they have a fairly large surface area compared to their weight, this means they can chill down quickly, like in a cold rain, and have trouble warming back up.

Lambs can easily die as a result of lowered body temperature (hypothermia), even though this type of weather generally doesn’t harm the adult sheep.

Sheep are susceptible to parasites

Another problem with sheep that makes them easy to die, or at least seems to be so, is that they are very susceptible to parasites. This is really a management problem, not a sheep die easily problem.

The catch with parasites is that they are internal, so you can’t see the damage they are causing until it gets to be more than the sheep can make up for.

This means that she has been dealing with parasites for a while and they are finally too much for her.

Her body has been overly stressed by the parasites for a while, you just don’t see the results until she can no longer keep up with her nutritional needs as well as those of the parasites.

Once a sheep gets to the point that you can see she is losing weight and doing poorly in general, she has had a higher parasite load than she can handle for a noticeable amount of time.

But if you didn’t notice, then this is one of those things that seems to come out of no where, but was really fairly obvious, once you look.

Why Do Farmers Deworm Sheep? is an article I wrote to give you the scoop on one way farmers and ranchers keep parasites from harming sheep.

Sheep are very susceptible to stress

Sheep are very easily stressed. The source of stress could be external, like begin chased by neighborhood dogs, or internal, like inadequate nutrition or high parasite loads.

No matter the source, the stress keeps adding to the overall stress load of the sheep and will eventually cause her health problems, just like happens in us!

Acute stress can also kill sheep

Acute stress from predation, including being harassed or “worried” by dogs can kill sheep. Sheep Die In “worst attack in memory” at BBC.com shows the dead sheep that were killed by dogs.

The crazy part here is that it appears that the dogs did not even touch the sheep, the dogs basically stressed the sheep to death.

Ignored sheep end up with problems

Another idea that people who do not spend much time with sheep or who are new to sheep seem to have is that sheep just do their thing and you (the owner) ignore them most of the year.

This is not the case! You need to spend time with your sheep.

Sheep are not hard animals to take care of, but they do require some work and spending some time with them to see how they are handling the current situation, whatever that situation is.

For example, if you get behind on parasite control and are on the “ignore the flock” plan, the next time you drop back in to see your sheep you will not like what you find, the ewes will be in poor shape.

What has happened is that you have not matched the management needs of your sheep with the current situation that you are raising the sheep in.

Something is off and it is now so far off that there are big problems. The something that is off, was off when the problem was small, as well. No one bothered to look into it, so now the problem is a big one.

There are some sheep that appear to be being ignored, but that is not the case once you are aware of what is going on in the bigger picture with flock management.

For instance, Greg Judy has quite a few sheep that get little daily work done with them and it seems to be working out wonderfully well. But dig deeper, what all are you really seeing?

You see sheep that are well suited to the situation, plenty of forage available for the stock year round, no parasite pressure and constant monitoring by guard dogs, for predation control.

So, actually there is quite a bit going on here, it’s just not Greg Judy himself spending hours with the flock each day.

He has matched the sheep to the situation then given them the support they need (like the guardian dogs and parasite free grazing) to live well.

Sudden Death In Growing Lambs at Molecarevetservices.com goes over some of the reasons a growing lamb may die, many of which are related to feeding changes.

Why Don’t Sheep Have Tails?


When you look at most sheep you notice that while they are very similar to other livestock, unlike other domestics, like cattle or goats, they don’t have a tail.

Why is that, especially since some sheep seem to have a short tail and others do not seem to have any tail at all?

Sheep have tails. The tails may be naturally short, hard to see or docked, but all sheep have a tail of some sort.

rams with docked tails
These rams all have docked tails.

Most sheep have tails that are short

What may look like a sheep not having a tail is really a sheep that has a very short tail. Some of these tails are docked and some are naturally short, but either way sheep actually do have tails.

Do All Sheep Have Naturally Long Tails? goes more into sheep tails and why you normally see short tails rather than long ones.

If you look at market lambs at the fair, they tend to have a very short tail that is docked close to the backside to give the lamb a clean, well rounded look that makes the rear leg look bigger.

Sheep kept for show would tend to be on the shorter end of docked tails and are fitted (clipped) to show off their best features.

Most farm or ranch sheep would have their tail docked a bit longer to take off the majority of the natural tail length.

Why would a sheep farmer dock tails? Docking tails reduces flystrike.

Long wooly tails tend to gather manure, especially when the grass is watery. Watery grass tends to make more loosely structured manure which sticks to the tail then the poopy tail gets maggots (flystrike).

Can’t the farmers just use medication to prevent flystrike? Yes, in some countries there are a few approved medications for preventing flystrike, here (U.S.) we do not have any at this time.

Since flystrike is such a big problem once it gets started and not all places have approved medications to prevent flystrike, most sheep farmers choose to dock tails rather than risk the flystrike later.

Sheep breeds have different tail lengths

Sheep breeds have different characteristics, one of which can be tail length. There are breeds with naturally short tails, called rat tails, but most wool breeds have long tails that are docked.

Some breeds naturally have short tails

A few sheep breeds have naturally short tails. Some of these short tailed breeds would include Finn and most hair sheep. Wild sheep would also have naturally short tails.

Most wool breeds have naturally long tails

Most of the sheep in the world are wool breed sheep and most wool breed sheep have naturally long tails. For any of these sheep to have short tails what you are really seeing is that they have docked tails.

There are fat tailed sheep

There are also fat tailed sheep, which are sheep that are selectively bred to deposit fat under the tail, kind of like a camel stores fat in her hump.

These sheep are not common in my area, but are highly sought after in areas that prize this fat for cooking.

Trying to breed tailless sheep in the 1960’s

There was some work done in the 1960’s to try to breed tailless sheep, in order to get rid of flystrike.

This breeding experiment did not work due to the lethal genetic link between internal organ health and having a tail.

This is the problem that tailless kittens, like the Manx have, for some reason being bred to not have a tail also ends up with animals that have serious health problems.

Once it became clear that breeding to eliminate the tail was causing the other health problems that were showing up, the program was stopped.

Short tailed Merinos in Australia

There is a breeding effort in Australia to reduce tail length and wool cover under the tail of ewes in order to eliminate the need for tail docking because of flystrike.

Making Short Tail Merinos A Genetic Option shows the work a farm in Australia is doing with breeding for shorter tails by introducing Finn sheep genetics to the Merino flock.

Sheep 101: Tails is a look at the variety of sheep tails in different breeds of sheep with pictures showing each type of tail.