What To Know About Sheep Needing a Shepherd
Even today in some parts of the world, you will find shepherds guarding sheep flocks. This is often seen in areas of the Middle East and Europe where sheep may be left to roam in large areas of land. If you plan on getting sheep, you may be wondering whether or not a shepherd is necessary to guard your flock.
So, do sheep need a shepherd? Sheep needing a shepherd largely depends on the region and environment that the sheep live in. In America, sheep tend to live in smaller pastures where they can easily be monitored by a farmer and guarded by a livestock guardian animal. In parts of the world like the Middle East, South America and Eastern Europe, sheep may live in areas where they can roam for miles and they are not protected by fencing. In these instances, a flock may require the protection and guidance of a shepherd.
Sheep are incredibly fearful animals who base their decisions almost entirely on the safety level of an activity. If they are missing the security of good fencing, safe shelter, and the guidance of a livestock guardian, sheep can be extremely susceptible to predators or other danger. Sheep are most likely to survive and thrive if they have someone to look out for them. Read on to learn more about shepherds and alternative methods to protecting your sheep!
When and Why Do Sheep Need a Shepherd?
Shepherding is among the oldest of occupations, having existed for five thousand years or more. Sheep have long been valued for their wool, and also for their meat and even their milk. The task of caring for sheep, therefore, has been a very important one for a long time.
But why specifically were shepherds needed at the beginning of sheep raising and rearing? We don’t ever hear about cowherds or goatherds. Why do we hear about shepherds from stories that were written thousands of years ago?
Because, as we stated above, sheep are especially special and need a little more help keeping out of trouble. They need protection from predators as well as protection from themselves when wandering could result in them falling off a cliff or getting lost in the wilderness.
Shepherds were needed to do all that protecting, and so they have done for many years since.
Protection From Predators
One important part of shepherding is keeping the predators away. Because sheep are incapable of defending themselves beyond running for the hills, they are easy prey for wild dogs and other dangerous animals. Most fences that are good for keeping sheep in are not as effective at keeping predators out. And as pastures are eaten down, it becomes necessary to move sheep to other areas that may not be as effectively fenced.
Shepherds have long been responsible for keeping predators at bay, whether with a slingshot or a gun or other method. This is important not only for preventing the event of a predator running off with a lamb between its jaws, but also because the presence of a predator will stress the whole herd, and stress can be unhealthy. Extended periods of stress can cause decreased appetite, which can result in dehydration and digestive issues. And sheep will dart away into the wilderness to attempt to outrun a predator, which can result in many missing sheep who are so scared that they may even bolt from the shepherd if he can even manage to find them.
It’s best to keep predators away from your property as much as possible, and especially to make your fence as effective against them as you can. Not only could an animal kill one or more of your sheep, but it could also scare many of them into spooking and making a run for it. Finding and catching them again will be a real challenge.
Prevention of Wandering
A good shepherd keeps sheep from wandering off. Sheep are prone to wandering off out of boredom and interest in any random thing, in addition to attempting to escape predation. But a good shepherd knows how to call his sheep back, or at least follow them and direct them back before they get too far.
Appropriate fencing can help with this as well, but there’s a human component to shepherding that a fence just can’t beat. A human can actually be aware of when a sheep gets through a fence and can pursue it to keep it from getting too far.
Sheep have also been known to wander into a trap for a predator or right off a cliff. A shepherd can keep an eye on his sheep and help prevent these kinds of things from happening.
Early Notice of Injury or Illness
Another benefit to having a shepherd who is used to these particular sheep is that someone who knows the sheep so closely will be much more likely to notice when something is not quite right. Because sheep are prey animals, they are masters of hiding illness and injuries because showing those things would make them a prime target for a predator.
But a good shepherd notices things like little limps and minor abnormalities in behaviors before they advance to being life-threatening. Nothing can rival the effectiveness of a trained eye in spotting health concerns before they become irreversible.
Without a human to watch over them, sheep can easily be picked off by predators, scared into running off and getting separated, or fall into a dangerous situation by wandering aimlessly. They can also become ill or injured and be unable to receive medical help if no one is there to watch over them. A shepherd is very important to sheep, even though they don’t realize it themselves.
Alternative Ways to Keep Sheep Safe Without a Shepherd
While having a shepherd watch over a flock of sheep is probably the best way to keep your sheep safe, it isn’t always an option for some people. Maybe you don’t have the funds to pay a shepherd full-time or you don’t have the time yourself to dedicate to your flock 24/7. The great news is there are simple ways to protect your sheep and keep them safe without a shepherd.
Invest in Adequate Sheep Fencing
Sheep aren’t animals to try and knock down fencing or climb over it; however, good fencing is vital to the protection of your sheep. A fence should be able to keep predators out of your sheep field, whether they’re trying to climb over it or dig under it.
The best type of fencing is welded wire fencing. This fence creates a barrier that a predator could not crawl through. Your fence should be at least 4′ high to prevent predators from jumping over. You can also put an electric wire on top of the fence if you have predators in your area that are known to climb.
If you have predators in your region known for digging under fences, you can bury woven wire fencing into the ground. By burying your fence 6 inches to 1 foot into the ground, you can prevent most predators from trying to borrow their way under.
Keep Your Flock in a Smaller Area
When flocks require a shepherd, they are usually turned out to roam across thousands of acres. In a space so large, it can be easy for the sheep to wander away or get separated when running from predators. There can also be existing predatorily habitats within the specific area the sheep roam.
By keeping your sheep in smaller pastures, stragglers won’t be able to wander away from the flock. It can also let you keep an eye on them from your barnyard. With proper pasture management and rotation, you can keep 8-10 sheep on 1 acre of pasture at a time. However, avoid overcrowding in small pastures, as this can cause your sheep to become stressed and aggressive with each other.
To learn more about keeping your sheep flock in smaller pastures, visit my article How Many Sheep Should You Have Per Acre? Essential Guide.
Put Your Flock in a Sheep Run or Barn at Night
Most predators are nocturnal and will hunt at night. This greatly increases your flock’s chance of being attacked during the dark hours. For this reason, consider shutting your flock in a sheep run, corral, or barn for the night. This can provide them with an extra level of security away from the open range where they could be attacked by predators.
Get a Livestock Guardian Animal For Your Flock
Livestock guardians are different species of animals that are known to be loyal to sheep flocks and fight of predators. Livestock guardians can also alert the flock to potential danger when it is sensed. Popular livestock guardian animals for sheep include certain dog breeds, donkeys, and llamas. Each of these animals have a fighting streak in them that will cause them to ward off potential predators.
To learn more about whether you should get a livestock guardian for your flock, visit my article What Are the Best Livestock Guardian Animals?
Give Your Sheep a Daily Visual Health Check
If you have a large flock of sheep, it can be time consuming to physically check each sheep for sicknesses, injuries, or abnormalities each day. That being said, you can still look them over visually when they come in to eat or come to be corralled for the night. Look for sheep that may be lagging behind the rest or one that may be acting weird. Usually, it’s easy to spot a sheep that may not be feeling good.
I one time walked into the sheep barn during feeding time to notice all the sheep climbing onto of another sheep at the food trough. I instantly knew something was wrong because a normal sheep wouldn’t just lay there as the rest tried to stand on it. I went into the pen and shooed the rest of the sheep away to discover this sheep could barely move and was rigid stiff. It turns out it had been greatly affected by meningeal worms. Because I noticed this behavior in time, I was able to de-worm the sheep and save it.
What Does It Take To Become a Shepherd?
Believe it or not, shepherds still exist today. As in people whose full-time job it is to tend the sheep. It’s not a very lucrative business, but the top paid shepherds in the US make a little over $36,000 per year.
Shepherds need to be physically strong and in shape, because there’s a lot of walking and some running involved, as well as sometimes they need to carry a sheep. Depending on the breed of sheep, they can weigh 70-250+ pounds.
It also required the ability to work in adverse weather conditions. Depending on where you live in the world, there may be days of shepherding in subzero temperatures and snow. It’s the shepherd’s job to keep the sheep alive in those conditions. On days when the heat and humidity are sweltering, a shepherd must remain calm and clear-headed and keep the sheep alive despite the heat.
A shepherd must also be capable of making difficult decisions. Sometimes an animal can’t be saved. Sometimes it’s the shepherd’s fault, whether directly or indirectly, that an animal is suffering. It’s the shepherd’s job to tend to it and make a difficult decision about its life. A shepherd must have a hardy heart but a tender heart at the same time in order to deal with the emotional difficulties of being in charge of so many lives.
Shepherds also need extreme patience. Sheep may do the same dumb things over and over again and require constant rescuing. And they may test your patience in other ways. You must be willing to do the work and put in the time to see the job through in spite of all those difficulties.
Shepherding is not a simple task. It requires physical labor, emotional hardiness, and intellectual problem-solving skills. It is a job that should be respected and taken seriously. If done well, it is a job that can be extremely satisfying and enjoyable to the right person.
Caring for your sheep it vital to maintaining a healthy flock. To learn more about sheep care, visit my article Why Is My Sheep Not Eating? Common Causes & Solutions.