Sheep standing in the rain look less than happy to be there, we’ve all seen it! But the real question is are the sheep okay out in the rain or do they need to be brought inside?
Healthy adult sheep can be out in the rain as long as they have a sheltered area to go to when the rain is heavy. The more vulnerable the individual sheep, like newborn lambs, the more protection they need from heavy rains.
Adult sheep in good body condition can be in rain
Adult sheep that are in good shape and good health should be able to be left out in the rain of your area, as long as they have some sort of shelter to reduce the direct wind and heavy rain on the flock.
The shelter can be a building, that they can go into or just get around the side of to cut the wind, some trees or hills that allow them to pick a spot where the weather is less severe.
Without shelter, light rains are fine for healthy adult sheep, but heavy rains will start to overly stress the flock, so the sheep would ideally not be out in heavy rains without shelter.
The size of the group can somewhat help with sheltering the rest of the sheep in the flock, meaning in a large group the windward sheep will get the worst of the weather.
This makes the weather less severe for the rest of the flock but this doesn’t do much for the windward sheep! The catch here is this is for large groups, not just your backyard flock and is still less than ideal.
It would be better if the flock had a spot to go hole up in, wait out the storm, then pop back out to their normal grazing area later when the storm has passed.
It is normal for sheep to be in the rain
It is normal for sheep to be in the rain. Think of what another animal, like a deer, does in the rain. It picks a sheltered spot and hangs out until the weather gets better. This is what your sheep want, as well.
Your job is to have them healthy so they can handle a bit of rain and give them the ability to choose where they hang out for the storm.
This means they need to be able to choose an area that is out of the wind and move around to get the most sheltered spot available, just like the deer in your area would do in the rain.
6 Sheep Breeds Perfect For Beginners will help you pick out a breed or type of sheep that would best suit you and your farm.
Get the sheep to shelter before the rain
If you are planning on or need to move the sheep to a more sheltered area for the rain, move them before the rain, not during it!
Sheep do not like to move in the rain and are very difficult to get started once they decide it’s too rainy to bother walking around anymore. Move them before the rain.
I know that this does not make any sense. You’d think as the weather got more severe the sheep would be easier to move since they are looking to be somewhere else, but, no, they aren’t.
Especially if you are trying to persuade them on foot, you’ll be frustrated and likely unsuccessful. Move them before the rain.
Right after shearing (wool gone) sheep are not weather protected
Right after shearing, your sheep are not protected from the weather like they are when their wool is still attached.
Even if the sheep just have a short coat of regrowth, that helps them with weather, but freshly shorn means no natural protection, at all.
If your ewes are newly shorn and heavy rains are headed your way, consider putting them in a sheltered location until the rain eases up.
This will help your sheep handle the weather better and definitely reduce the stress on the flock.
This also would be the case for hair sheep that have fully shed out then need to handle a cold and heavy rain, it will be harder on them than when they had their winter coat, especially if they are underweight.
Spend time in the pastures (even in the rain!)
Spend some time in your pastures. We walk through the main flock everyday. I also take the dogs to the sheep free areas, twice a day, year round on our farm. We know the sheltered spots for the flock.
Since we have been out there in all kinds of weather, we know where we need to go for the wind to be cut. Get out to your pastures, you’ll figure this stuff out, too.
As long as the sheep have options, they will figure this stuff out for you, you just have to let them have the access they need and observe what they do.
Remember, the shelter can be natural, like a small wooded area or man made, like a building. As long as the sheep can be somewhere that the rain is lessened, it should work.
Keep in mind that if the weather in your area comes from multiple directions, the shelter needs to work for storms coming in from different sides.
Unhealthy sheep are vulnerable in the rain
Sheep of any age that are unhealthy are going to be more vulnerable in the rain, simply due to the rain being more stress on an already stressed sheep.
The poor health could be due to age, heavy worm load, poor nutrition, injury, etc., but whatever the reason, the results are the same, that the sheep is more sensitive than most to stressful weather.
If you have a sheep or two in poor health but still out with the rest of your sheep and rain is headed your way, consider bringing in the entire flock or bring in the struggling sheep and a buddy or two.
This way the sheep that is in poor health is still with other sheep, so she feels safe, but she is also out of the weather, which will help her direct her energy toward getting better.
You want to decrease the stress to an already struggling sheep, if the coming rain is heavy that will be a lot of added stress to her already stressed system.
Stress kills sheep, if you can gently get the lagging sheep and a friend or two inside, she will be better for it. If separating off just a few is hard or adding stress to the struggling ewe, get everybody in.
Newborn lambs are vulnerable in rain
Newborn lambs are the most vulnerable animals that you have in your flock, nearly everything is out to get them, including the more severe weather.
If you have a round of heavy rains headed your way, the best bet for most pasture based producers is to get the newborn lambs and their moms inside.
Giving the newborn lambs a day or so out of the heavy rain will make a world of difference.
It is more work for you, but if that is what the genetics of your flock require then that is what you need to do.
If the sheep in your flock are proven capable of lambing outside without help (not the case for most), then the best bet for your flock is that they are already in place at a well sheltered area.
Do not expect your sheep to be able to have newborn lambs in the rain if:
- the rain is heavy
- the ground is saturated
- the ewes are underconditioned
- there is little to no shelter
- you normally do anything at all with your sheep during lambing
To some folks, this section will sound preachy, but I’m willing to keep going on about it since this is such an important idea and there seems to be plenty of misunderstanding around livestock genetic abilities.
If your sheep have been heavily selected (for years, decades even) to not need you and are suited to the situation in your area, you’re good. The are genetically capable of handling things mostly on their own.
If your sheep have been helped by people for years and you decide to stop helping, they are not genetically capable of handling things on their own.
Poor weather conditions will take a heavy toll on your flock, especially the lambs.
Other sheep articles you may be interested in reading:
One of my favorite sheep websites is Sheep 101, which has great articles on all things sheep, including Care Of Newborn Lambs which touches on weather related problems for lambs.