Everything You Need to Know About Female Sheep
Like any livestock animal, sheep require their own unique terminology to define characteristics, members of the flock, and common sheep practices. Before you own sheep, it’s a good idea to study up on sheep terminology so you can be in the look when it comes to buying, owning, and caring for your sheep.
So, what’s a female sheep called? The official term for a female sheep is a ewe. If the female sheep is a baby, it would be called a ewe lamb. If you’re referring to the female sheep as the mother to a lamb, you would call it a dam.
If you plan on raising sheep, especially for breeding, it’s important to understand the behaviors and needs of ewes, as they will be responsible for birthing and raising their lambs. To learn more about ewes, keep reading!
Different Terms Used For Female Sheep:
When it comes to sheep, you may use different terms to describe female sheep depending on the situation. Here is a list of the common terms used to refer to female sheep:
Brood Ewe: an adult female sheep that will be used for breeding purposes. Female sheep can start being used for breeding at one year of age.
Cull Yow: a female sheep that is too old to be bred. While sheep can continue to breed into their old age, for the sake of their health, it’s recommended to stop breeding them between 7 – 8 years old.
Dam: a term that refers to the female sheep as a mother to its lambs. You will often hear this term used when discussing pedigree and registration.
Ewe: the official term for female sheep
Ewe Lamb: a female sheep under the age of one year old.
Gimmer: an unofficial term for a female sheep
Yearling Ewe: a female sheep that is between one and two years old.
Yow: a slang term for ewe; however, it’s typically used when describing female sheep that have been bred before
The Lifespan of Female Sheep
Just like any animal, ewes go through a lot of change as they age and develop. It’s important to be able to recognize each stage in your sheep and understand the specific care they need. Here is what you need to know about female sheep at each stage in their life.
Sheep Gestation Timeframe
The average period of time for ewes to be pregnant is 150 days. There are many ways to tell whether or not a ewe is pregnant. Sheep go through an estrus cycle, or into heat, about every 16 days. If you notice that this hasn’t been happening, your sheep is probably pregnant. A pregnant ewe also won’t show interest in flirting with a ram. As the pregnancy progresses, your sheep’s abdomen will get wider and their udder will start to look rounder and full.
Ewe Lambs: 0 – 1 year old
If a sheep has given birth to a female sheep, the baby will be known as a ewe lamb. This term can be used to describe the sheep until one year of age. For the first few weeks of life, the ewe lamb will be completely reliant on its mother’s milk; although, it may start to nibble at grass and hay. Ewe lambs are usually weaned from their mothers at 60 days old, or when they weigh at least 45 pounds. At this time, they should be getting their nutrients from grass and other types of forage.
Maturity: 8 Months – 7 years old
Female sheep reach maturity around 8 – 12 months old. You can start breeding female sheep as early as one year old. During the age of maturity, your ewe sheep will be most productive, whether it’s producing lambs or growing heavy wool fleece.
Old Age: 7 – 12 years old
While it’s not uncommon for sheep to live well into their teens, most will start to show signs of age around 7 years old. The average sheep lifespan is 10 – 12 years old. As your sheep gets on in life, it may not be as productive in producing wool, and it can become dangerous for ewes to reproduce. Farmers will usually retire their sheep or send them to market when they turn 7 – 8 years old.
How Much Do Female Sheep Weigh?
The average weight of a ewe can vary depending on the breed of the sheep. Sheep come in all shapes and sizes; Babydoll sheep are small and weigh on average 60 – 120 lbs (27 – 54.4 kg), while the Suffolk sheep, the largest sheep breed, can see ewes weighing in as 300 lbs (136 kg)!
That being said, ewes usually weigh anywhere from 100 – 200 lbs (45 – 100 kg). For the most part, ewes will rely on grass, hay, and other types of forage for their sustenance. Pregnant ewes are often fed grain to help them sustain their diet and nutrients during gestation. Sheep can also be given mineral salts to help them get proper nutrients and stay healthy.
How Tall Are Female Sheep?
As I mentioned earlier, the height of your sheep can vary greatly depending on the breed you have. Babydoll ewes stand around 20 inches (51 cm) tall at the withers. The average ewe stands around 36 inches (91 cm) tall at the withers. Although a 3-ft tall 300-lb sheep can seem intimidating, sheep are generally gentle and docile animals, especially the ewes.
Want to know more about Babydoll sheep? Read How Big Do Babydoll Sheep Get? What You Need to Know.
Can Female Sheep Live With Wethers?
Wether sheep are male sheep that have been castrated, usually at 1 – 7 days old, or before maturity. Due to lower testosterone levels and the inability to breed, you may be wondering whether you can keep your ewes in with wether sheep.
Female sheep can be kept with wethers. Wether sheep are often more docile and gentle than rams, and won’t try to dominate the flock. Ewes and wethers are often run together to preserve land and resources and are known to get along well.
Although, if you have a wether sheep that wasn’t castrated until maturity, it may not be a good idea to keep him in with ewes. This type of wether sheep has produced higher levels of testosterone and will still be prone to some ram-like behaviors that can agitate and even endanger your ewes.
Want to learn more about wether sheep? Check out my article Wether Sheep: Definition of Wether Sheep & Unique Characteristics.
Can Female Sheep Live With Rams?
The only time ewes will usually live out with rams is during the breeding season, which is usually October or November in the United States. In this type, the female sheep will go into heat and will breed with the ram. Once the breeding season is complete, it’s best to remove the ram and keep him elsewhere.
Rams can be destructive, dominant, and aggressive. Having him in with your flock can lead to ewes and lambs getting injured, fencing getting damaged, and you being chased every time you try to approach the flock. While some rams may be more behaved than others, rams are typically known to be difficult to hand and more aggressive towards other animals and humans.
You can keep your ram separate from the ewes by putting him in with a herd of other rams or wethers. This way, the ram doesn’t get lonely or stressed. While this may use more of your resources, it will provide your ewes with peace and quiet during their gestations.
Do You Need to Separate Pregnant Sheep From the Flock?
Do you need to separate pregnant sheep from the flock? You may be asking yourself this question since there are some farm animals, like horses, that are usually separated from animals when pregnant and when it comes time to give birth. Pregnant sheep are usually run together and not removed from the flock. Removing your pregnant sheep from the flock could cause stress and anxiety, which could lead to negative health effects on the pregnancy.
As prey animals, sheep live in a flock to provide protection and security. With a flock, there are more eyes and ears to notice predators or approaching threats. Studies have also been done on sheep that show how they bond with each other and provide the social aspect that prey animals require.
To learn more about why you shouldn’t separate your sheep from its flock, read my article Can You Keep a Sheep By Itself? Essential Guide.
How Many Lambs Can Ewes Have?
There are types of livestock that usually only birth one offspring at a time, like cows and horses. So, are sheep the same? Sheep can birth 1 – 3 lambs at a time. This high return on investment is why many farmers invest in sheep; they are able to produce more offspring at a more rapid pace than large livestock.
Do Ewes Have Horns?
Ewe sheep may have horns depending on the breed of sheep. A few sheep breeds that see ewes with horns include Dorset Horn Sheep, Manx Loaghtan, Wiltshire Horns, and Jacob sheep. In other breeds, only the male sheep will grow horns. There are also hornless breeds, where neither the males nor females will grow horns.
Do Ewes Headbutt?
The only time a ewe will usually try and headbutt another sheep, animal, or human is when they are feeling protective of their newborn lambs. Otherwise, ewes are generally friendly and gentle. They will often flee from danger or things they don’t recognize instead of trying to stay and fight.
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