Keeping Sheep as Pets: What You Need to Know
Sheep are popular livestock to have on the homestead, raised for their fleece, their milk, and their meat. If you have been around sheep, you have seen how docile and gentle they can be. You may have wondered if sheep can be kept solely as pets.
Can you keep sheep as pets? Sheep make wonderful pets due to their gentle nature and manageable sizes. If you are looking for a pet sheep, you will want to take a few considerations into account, like the age of the animal and breed specifications such as size at maturity and whether the sheep produces wool or hair. You will also need to ensure that you have adequate space to keep a sheep, and that you are prepared to meet their unique needs.
Before we discuss details of what a pet sheep will require, let’s first dive into what makes sheep great pets, and also what challenges might be presented with pet sheep.
What Challenges Might You Face With Pet Sheep?
While their gentle nature is appealing, there is another trait that almost all sheep have in common – they are fearful and flighty. Sheep are particularly fearful, more so than other livestock, and will flee at the slightest hint of danger. Because of this, if you plan to adopt an adult sheep as a pet you will need to take great care in learning as much as you can about her personality before making a commitment. Visit her several times if you can, so that you can see her reactions when approached by people. This particular challenge can be alleviated by purchasing, or adopting, a young lamb instead of an adult sheep.
How Many Pet Sheep Are You Looking For?
Sheep are flock animals, and have a strong herding instinct. This strong herding instinct is the reason they have developed a reputation for following one another without question (even into danger at times). Because sheep are herd animals, you will need to have multiple sheep to keep them happy – most recommend a herd of at least three sheep. This will provide them the feeling of safety and security they are looking for in their herd, and will also allow them to develop their own social structure.
It is never a good idea to keep a single sheep. Your sheep will not be content or feel safe, and will instead be lonely and depressed. Humans do not make up for the lack of other sheep, so if you plan on being your sheep’s “herd”, please re-think that. Sheep need other sheep, and if you cannot house at least three of them together, they are likely not the pet for you.
To learn more about the community setting sheep require, visit my article Can You Keep a Sheep By Itself? Essential Guide.
Can Sheep Be Kept As House Pets?
Technically, so long as you are zoned for livestock, sheep can be kept indoors. But should they? There are a few factors that you will need to take into consideration before you decide whether or not you would like to give this a try.
A Sheep Will Not Replace A Dog
Sheep are not dogs. Or cats. Sheep are not typically cuddly animals, even when they do trust you and have developed a bond with you. If you are looking to adopt a sheep as a house pet because you want to cuddle on the couch with them, you may be disappointed.
Sheep Are Bigger Than Other House Pets
Sheep will mature to at minimum 60 pounds (for a Babydoll), and several hundred for other breeds. Not only are you looking at one large sheep in your home, but because of their strong herding instinct and social nature, you will need to think about having three large sheep in your home. Most residential homes are not large enough to accommodate three mature sheep residents.
If you’re interested in keeping a smaller breed of sheep, visit my article How Big Do Babydoll Sheep Get? What You Need to Know.
While sheep are intelligent, they are not easily house-trained. You should not expect any success in properly house-training, or litter-training, a pet sheep. For those who do choose to keep sheep in their homes, most opt to use diapers with holes cut in the middle for their tails. If you do decide to keep your pet sheep in your home, know that you should expect them to eliminate wherever they please, unless you have a diaper on them.
Can Sheep Be Kept In Your Backyard?
Whether sheep can be kept in your yard will depend on your zoning laws. If you are zoned for livestock, you can keep 8 – 10 sheep on one acre of land, so long as you are providing additional hay for them to eat. If you would like your sheep to be able to sustain themselves on your pasture alone, you can keep up to 2 sheep on one acre of land. So long as you are appropriately zoned, you may keep 3 sheep on less than one acre, if you are providing additional fodder for them.
To learn more about the amount of space sheep require, visit my article How Many Sheep Should You Have Per Acre? Essential Guide.
What To Look For In A Pet Sheep
If you are looking for a pet sheep, there are several factors to consider. You will want to consider the age of the sheep you are looking for, the size at maturity, the gender of the animal, and whether the sheep has hair or wool.
Look For A Young Sheep
The younger the sheep, the easier it will be to learn to trust humans and develop a relationship with you. If you adopt an older, skittish sheep, you will likely never be able to tame him to the point of making him a good pet. It is best to look for lambs, so that you can gain their trust early and train them to enjoy the company of humans.
Look At The Size Of The Sheep
Some sheep breeds are larger than others, and you will want to research the size that your sheep will reach at maturity. If you don’t mind caring for large sheep as pets, then a 400-pound Suffolk might work for you. If you want to try to keep your sheep in the house with you or you’re limited in space, you may be more inclined to look at a 100-pound Babydoll.
Will Your Pet Sheep Have Hair Or Wool?
Most sheep produce wool and must be sheared annually. Some sheep breeds produce hair instead, similar to the coat of a deer. These hair breeds will shed naturally and do not need to be sheared. Are you looking to get wool out of your pet sheep? If so, you will need to look into a breed that produces wool. Are you wanting your sheep solely as a pet, and you don’t want to deal with shearing each year? There are good hair sheep breeds to choose from if so, such as the popular Katahdin.
Will Your Pet Sheep Be Male Or Female?
While sheep are known for their gentle nature, if you are looking to keep sheep solely as pets, you will want females or castrated males (wethers). Unaltered males (rams) can become aggressive, especially when there are females around who are in heat. Not only is there the possibility of aggression, but rams will also exude a smell that is considered unpleasant (to humans, not to ewes!) due to hormones. If you are keeping a sheep as a pet, you would probably be wise to stick to the calm, pleasant-smelling wether or ewe.
Why Do Sheep Make Great Pets?
While the adorable face and the fluffy wool might be the first traits to grab your attention, it is the sheep’s personality that really shines when factoring whether they make good pets. Sheeps are known for their quiet and gentle personalities. They are not prone to being aggressive, and are generally good-natured. This is why many homesteaders who have children like to keep sheep.
Despite their reputation, sheep are also very intelligent and have the memory capacity to recognize faces and objects, which makes them trainable. Just how trainable they are will depend on the individual sheep, as some are more motivated than others. Your expectations may also need to be adjusted, as even the smartest sheep will not be as trainable as a typical pet dog. Sheep also have the ability to create bonds with one another, developing friendships with specific flock members that they are particularly drawn to.
Sheep also make good pets because of their size, relative to other livestock. This is another reason that sheep are a good pet for younger children – the size of the animal is manageable, compared to the size of a cow or a horse. Large animals can be intimidating, even when combined with a gentle nature, and the size of sheep tends to be less imposing than that of other farm animals.
Is A Pet Sheep Right For You?
Now that you have looked into the pros and cons of raising sheep as pets, you should be able to determine whether pet sheep are the right fit for your family. While their gentle nature makes them a good candidate for a family pet, you will also need to take the challenges of raising pet sheep into consideration before deciding to take that plunge.
Another thing to be aware of when deciding whether sheep are right for you is to determine if you have the resources and time sheep require. To get a complete rundown of what goes into caring for sheep, visit my article How to Care For Sheep: Essential Guide For Beginners.