With all the fascinating breeds of sheep found at fairs or at fleece and fiber festivals, the idea of bringing a wonderful wooly creature into your own yard can be tempting. So what kind of pets do sheep really make? Just ask Sue Weaver.
|With quiet handling, nearly all sheep make great pets, says author Sue Weaver, pictured here with her sheep.|
Sheep also have a strong flocking instinct. It’s more prevalent in some breeds than others but it’s always there. Researchers find that most sheep are continually stressed unless kept in a flock of at least three sheep, so keeping a single pet sheep is rarely an option.
The exceptions are bottle babies reared by humans and consider themselves small, woolly people. Take Ursula, who rode in the cab of the tractor while her human dad worked the fields and slept on the porch swing instead of in the barn. Or Norman Sheep of Orange, in New South Wales, Australia.
Pet barnyard sheep are an easier option and a good one if you understand their needs and behaviors. Even so, pick pet sheep carefully because even within a single breed or even a single flock, sheep are individuals like you and me.
Consider Baart, a Classic Cheviot wether (that’s a neutered male) born on our farm seven years ago. Baart head-butted us when he was two hours old. Not a good sign! Our sheep are very non-aggressive, even adult rams, so Baart was an oddity in our breed. However, once castrated, he lost his aggressive urge and simply became a very fearless sheep. He’s gentle now but constantly in-pocket, even toward visitors. Baart is a great pet sheep.
Does breed matter? Probably not. While some breeds are frequently sold as pets—Babydoll Southdowns pop to mind—sheep of all breeds respond to quiet, compassionate handling. Our previously untouched Katahdin ewe and her lamb were tame and in our pockets in two short weeks!
Sheep are lovely creatures but keep their nature in mind before you get some.
Photos courtesy of Sue Weaver and Jane Russell
The Backyard Cow, The Backyard Goat, The Backyard Sheep, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Homegrown Pork. Weaver and her husband share their ridgetop farmette in the southern Ozarks with an array of animal friends. Visit Sue on her Facebook page.