Can sheep choose the best place to sleep at night by themselves or do you need to put them in a barn?
What about in the inclement weather, like snow or rain? Let’s get this sorted out!
Sheep sleep at night in a place where they are comfortable and feel safe. Depending on the weather, this could be out in the open or in a sheltered area.
You’re thinking of getting your first few sheep and are wondering about all of the care they will need from you, especially at night.
You want to do a great job and have happy sheep, so how do you make it happen? When can the sheep choose for themselves and when do you need to choose for them?
Want to learn more about sheep? Check out my article How To Find The Right Sheep Breed For You.
Maybe you are wondering if you have enough space to keep sheep? My article Small Acreage Or Backyard Sheep will help you figure it out!
Where do sheep sleep?
As long as the sheep are safe and content, sheep can sleep nearly anywhere.
If given the choice they will go to the spot that they feel is the best for the night, normally on higher ground.
Their favorite sleeping spot can and will change with the weather, especially winds.
The sheep will all move together as a flock to their sleeping area, usually as the day nears twilight. Unless something startles them, they will remain in the same spot all night.
Our main flock of ewes is outside year round. They enjoy being outside to sleep, especially when they can all sit on a hilltop or hillside in one big group.
Sleeping sheep make an oval shape of not frosted grass
If there was frost in your area last night and your sheep sleep outside, here’s something cool. Get up early and headed out to see your sheep, you will be able to see an oval of grass where they slept!
If you are really lucky, you can find other oval spots, outside of your flock’s pasture. What are those? Deer bed down at night just like sheep, so they make a frost free oval, too.
Can sheep sleep outside at night?
Yes, they can. Our sheep sleep outside all year. It is normal for animals to sleep outside at night.
Where things can get wonky is when the sheep are in a windy or wet area and can’t leave. In nature, they would just camp out somewhere else for the evening.
On your farm you have them fenced in a specific spot, so you are now in charge of making sure they have a nice sheltered place to stay for the night.
When I write sheltered, I don’t mean inside a building. I mean out of the wind and harsh weather.
This could be a grove of pine trees, a hilly area, beside a woods or next to a wind break.
How can you tell if the area is sheltered?
Go stand in the pasture, seriously!, when it is windy and see if the sheep can get to a wind free place.
Remember, that the wind can change direction, so you’ll need to be sure the sheep have a few options.
As people, we tend to over complicate things. This is easy to figure out, just get out there and experience your pasture through the eyes of a sheep.
We have an area at the back of our farm that is always nice to be in, no matter the weather at the front of the farm.
It can be pretty windy walking back there! It will be just as cold there, of course. There is no wind in that area, even when it is crazy windy up by the house.
Can sheep sleep outside in winter?
Sheep in full wool can be out in the winter
Yes, assuming they still have a full coat of wool, since wool is great insulator.
Check out a flock of sheep in the snow, they like it outside. Sheep like the cooler weather and fresh air, (it’s the heat that gets to sheep).
See how the snow is building up on their backs? That means their wool is keeping their body heat in so well that the snow doesn’t melt.
If the sheep were loosing body heat, the snow would be melting off of them.
Living With Gotlands has an interesting article about sheep in the winter. This farm is in Vermont and has a flock of Gotland sheep.
Shorn sheep need to be in a barn in winter
There are many reasons to shear sheep in the winter, preparation for lambing being the most common.
A sheep counts on her wool coat to keep her warm, so if she is shorn before spring, you must keep her inside.
Shorn sheep can have access to pasture, of course, they just need to have the option to go back into the barn.
Sheep that should sleep inside
- Ewes that are soon to lamb (other than the summer)
- Ewes with new lambs
- A sheep that you need to check through out the night
There are a few groups of sheep that should be kept inside, for sleeping or otherwise.
Ewes that will lamb soon (in cold weather)
Once again, in the summer, the ewes and new lambs will be fine on pasture.
However, in the other seasons newborn lambs can chill down quickly if the ewe is not a superstar mom.
Are all of your ewes, superstar moms? Probably not, so keep them inside.
If it is winter, the soon to lamb ewes need to be inside no matter what the weather report told you or how good of moms your ewes tend to be!
Cold temperatures with a little bit of wind is a big problem for new little lambs!
I have to admit, that keeping the ewes inside will not make it much warmer in the barn on a sub zero evening, (sad, but true). But it will make checking the ewes easier for you!
Ewes with young or small lambs need protected from harsh weather
The main group to be concerned about here is young lambs needing shelter. Unusually small lambs will be in this group, as well.
Ewes with new lambs sometimes have trouble keeping track of their babies and a lost lamb can chill down quickly.
Normally, chilling is not a problem because most lambs would just sleep beside their mom.
When it is windy, rainy or the weather changes at night enough to make the ewes uncomfortable, the situation changes.
In this case, the ewes get up and go to a sheltered area and the lambs get left behind!
For the first few days lock them inside at night (unless it is summer), then let them choose whether they spend the night inside or outside.
Once you can see that the lambs are putting on weight and growing well, they are usually old enough to easily keep up with mom.
Any sheep that needs checked throughout the night
Any sheep that needs monitored through the night will be best kept in the barn, if only for your sake.
This is especially true for giving medications or double checking first time moms.
Running around with a flashlight trying to find the twin to a lamb that looks too small to be a single, is a frustrating way to spend the wee hours.
If the sheep are in the barn, looking for the mystery other lamb is pretty easy, outside it’s a mess.
If you want to learn more about sheep, read Sheep 201 Beginner’s Guide To Raising Sheep. This is the index to a great site, chock full of all kinds of sheep information, it’s a wonderful resource.