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While a lot of people always regard sheep as “just another farm animal”, some find them an excellent choice for a pet due to their docile nature and valuable produce.
The thing is, most of us are only used to seeing sheep in large herds only, whether in nature or in farms, which leads us to wonder “can sheep live alone?”
In today’s article, we’ll walk you through a brief guide that will answer this question and walk you through a brief guide with everything you need to know about keeping sheep alone. Let’s jump right in!
Can a Single Sheep Live Alone?
The short answer here is yes and no. Yes, a single sheep can technically live alone. However, this is generally a very bad idea because sheep are communal animals with very strong flocking instincts.
Sheep need to keep the company of each other in the wild to protect themselves from predators as well as socialize and learn some essential behaviors.
Separating a sheep from its herd will make them feel insecure, stressed, and may even cause them to develop some health and behavioral problems in the long run.
In fact, a 2019 study of sheep psychology revealed that sheep have a remarkably high emotional intelligence that was once perceived, and they do feel quite lonely when they live alone without the company of other sheep.
The sensation of loneliness can have a serious impact on the sheep’s quality of life and can make it depressed.
This can also affect its health indirectly by making it act out or eat less, which lowers the sheep’s immunity and exposes it to serious health risks.
Ideally, a sheep needs at least one to three other sheep in order to flock and keep each other company, as any numbers less than that can keep them in a continuous state of stress.
Can Multiple Sheep Live Alone?
As a rule of thumb, it’s generally not the best idea to keep any farm animal alone for a long time. However, when it comes to having a small flock of sheep (at least 3 to 5), you may be able to leave them alone for some limited time with a few precautions.
This is because sheep as a flock are capable of taking care of themselves as long as you provide them with easy access to food, water, and shelter. However, there are some problems that may arise the more you leave them alone for too long.
For instance, sheep have a very underestimated ability to jump over high fences, so they can escape pretty easily and put themselves in danger or get attacked by a predator.
In some cases, they may even get stuck to the fence while jumping it, which can be a bigger problem if the fence is electric.
They can also jump over a garden fence and eat fruits in your garden or orchard, especially if they run out of food. Similarly, they may also run out of water or have their water buckets frozen if they’re kept outside in winter.
Additionally, you might want to keep some other aspects in mind, such as developing any diseases or birthing early in the case of pregnant sheep.
So, while you’re able to keep sheep unsupervised for a couple of days, you may still need to check on them every now and then to make sure that they’re doing okay.
How Long Can a Single Sheep Survive Alone?
There are plenty of reasons why you might end up having to keep a single sheep alone. For instance, you might be starting out and your budget can only afford a single sheep and you’re planning to upgrade as soon as possible.
As previously mentioned, a sheep that is kept alone will have a continuously elevated level of stress, which can cause several health and welfare issues that can lead to various complications, including a shorter lifespan.
For that reason, if you had to keep a sheep alone and you have no other option, it should be for as little as possible. For example, you might want to avoid keeping them alone for longer than a day or two.
Can a Single Sheep Live with Other Non-Sheep Companions?
Although having sheep companions is the best possible option to keep the flock happy and thriving, involving the sheep with any other sort of flock companionship can work as a relatively viable solution.
Many farm owners have noticed that sheep will accept the companionship of other herd animals and livestock if there are no other options.
These animals can be anything from goats and calves to other less similar animals, such as horses, dogs, or even chickens.
This shows how extremely difficult it is for a sheep to live alone, so you shouldn’t resort to this option unless you don’t have any other option. In fact, many sheep owners will recommend not having any sheep at all rather than having a single sheep.
Factors to Keep in Mind While Keeping Sheep Alone
There are plenty of factors that you need to keep in mind if you want to keep sheep alone for some time. Let’s check them out:
1 – Weather and Elements
A sheep that is kept alone will be frustrated and stressed with time, so they might end up spending more time outside hoping for finding companions than usual.
This makes them prone to more diseases, especially during the cold season, so make sure that you keep an eye on them.
However, even if you keep a flock of 3 or 5 sheep alone, you still need to make sure that they have a proper shelter when the weather goes bad, so they don’t fall ill or die.
2 – Shearing
Unlike wild sheep, domesticated sheep can’t drop their wool, and it can grow so thick that it starts to cause them trouble walking or even seeing. In some species of sheep, the wool can grow up to 2 or 3 times the original size of the sheep.
Not only that, but excess wool can actually increase the risk of overheating, especially during the summer.
Even if summers in your region aren’t too hot, too much wool can cause other problems, such as getting stuck to fences, serious infestations of ticks and fleas, interrupting the pregnancy (lambing).
For that reason, it’s important that you keep your sheep sheared, even if you only have a single sheep.
Luckily, shearing isn’t a frequent task and you may only need to shear the sheep once a year, which is usually in the summer so that the sheep is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
3 – Protection
One of the main reasons why sheep resort to flocking and living in a communal society is to protect themselves from potential threats.
Predators like to hunt down sheep because they’re relatively easy targets, so they gather in large groups so that predators don’t catch them off guard or when they’re sleeping.
For that reason, if you’re keeping a small flock of sheep alone, it’s extremely critical that you provide them with proper protection.
This can be easily achieved using electric fences that repel predators and prevent sheep from wandering outside the fence.
Additionally, you can keep a livestock guardian on the premises. Dogs like Great Pyrenees and Shepherds are among the best and easiest dogs to train for this task.
4 – Feeding
Sheep are grazers, so they typically feed on pastures in the field, preferably spots with short and tender grass. Besides grass and dry matter, they can also feed on shrubs, clover, legumes, chicory, and more.
A single sheep will eat anywhere between 2.5 to 3 percent of its entire body weight every day.
Depending on the breed of the sheep, the average weight of an adult may vary anywhere between 140 to 150 lbs (63.5 to 68 kg)
In that case, you should expect every single sheep in the flock to consume anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 grams of dry matter.
Can a Sheep Produce Milk When it’s Living Alone?
A female sheep, also known as “ewe”, would be able to produce milk if it’s living alone as long as it’s pregnant. In other words, without pregnancy, a sheep that is living alone won’t be able to produce milk.
If, however, the female sheep is pregnant, it should be able to produce milk for up to 180 days after she gives birth to a lamb, with an average of about 1/2 a gallon every day during that time.
This amount is usually produced by milking the cow by hand twice a day so that the first one is early in the morning and the second one is later in the evening. To get a sheep pregnant, you need either artificial insemination or having a ram.
Can a Sheep Produce Wool When it’s Living Alone?
Producing wool shouldn’t be a problem for the sheep, whether it’s living alone or within a flock, as long as it’s getting proper amounts and quality of food.
Ideally, you should expect a single sheep to produce up to 15 lbs of wool every year. Of course, the quality and quantity of the produced wool will vary greatly depending on several aspects, including the breed of the sheep itself.
For example, Merino and Suffolk sheep are among the best breeds to raise if you’re looking for quality wool production.
Remember that wool will keep on growing and too much of it is actually a problem, so you’ll need to make sure that your sheep are annually sheared to avoid these issues.
How Much Space Do Sheep Need to Be Comfortable?
Since you’ve been wondering whether you can keep a single sheep or a small flock, there’s a good chance that you may not have proper space for sheep to thrive.
Ideally, you need to afford a minimum space of 20 to 25 square feet per sheep. However, the recommended space is about 6 to 10 sheep for every acre of land.
Since 3 sheep are the minimum you can go to form a happy and social flock of sheep, about 1/2 an acre is the minimum space you can start with. Make sure that the pasture quality is also high to ensure the sheep’s welfare.
Do You Need a Special License to Own a Sheep?
While the answer here depends on the region you live in and the local laws in your area, having a sheep as a pet won’t require a license in most places.
However, if you’re starting a farm, there might be some credentials and licensing that you need to go through before starting your own ranch.
In the United States, the easiest way to find out more about the required paperwork for such a purpose is by contacting the following:
- U.S. Small Business Administration’s Business Licenses and Permits (USSBA)
- National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).
What Are the Best Breeds of Sheep to Keep?
There are plenty of excellent sheep breeds out there. However, each one of them is better suited for a specific purpose.
If you want a sheep as a pet, your best bet would be the Corriedale sheep. This one has a docile temperament and is able to thrive in a wide range of climates.
However, if you’re raising the sheep for milk or wool, there are some alternatives that you might want to consider. Such as:
- Merino, Suffolk, Rambouillet, and Leicester sheep if you’re looking for wool
- East Friesian sheep, British Milk sheep, Awassi, and Lacaune if you’re looking for milk
This wraps it up for today’s guide that answers the curious and common question “can sheep live alone?”.
As you can see, while sheep can technically survive on their own for a few hours, it’s always recommended that you keep the sheep in flocks of at least 3 sheep due to their heavy communal instincts.
If you’re leaving sheep alone for an emergency, no matter their number, make sure that you provide them with easy access to food and water as well as proper shelter to keep them safe.