SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

The right environment for your sheep

All sheep should live in a suitable and comfortable environment. A sheep’s home affects how the sheep thinks, feels and behaves.

When designing your sheep’s environment, it is important to consider their age, body condition, whether they have been recently shorn, health, whether they have experienced similar weather conditions, and physiological stage (e.g. pregnant). These factors play a role in whether sheep are able to cope with changes in weather, and if additional shelter needs to be provided.

The ideal environment for sheep

  • Consists of spacious areas of pasture, with constant opportunities to graze.
  • Is safe from hazards, predators, and toxic substances.
  • Fencing:
    • Must be sturdy, inspected regularly and well maintained. The fence must also be capable of containing all the sheep in the flock (i.e. lambs)
    • Electric fencing can sometimes be ineffective for containing sheep with excessive wool and must not be used for horned sheep
  • Has appropriate shade and shelter, either natural or artificial.
  • Shelter must:
    • Provide shade and protection from heat and cold stress.
    • Minimise exposure to cold or drafts, especially for lambs or ewes close to parturition.
    • Allow for good ventilation (this helps to prevent respiratory issues and avoid high humidity and condensation).
    • Have a comfortable and dry lying areas (i.e. can be lined with straw).
  • Is in a flock, as sheep are highly social and feel safest when in a flock of other sheep.

It is important to remember that sheep are prey animals, which means:

  • Sheep may react to moving objects in the far distance, as they have a wide field of vision.
  • Sheep have acute hearing and may react suddenly to noise.
  • Sheep are flock animals and should not be isolated.

Be prepared

Emergency supplies of water and feed should be readied in preparation for adverse conditions, such as drought or snow. If the weather deteriorates, sheep should be relocated to sheltered areas, and extra feed provided as appropriate.

Transportating sheep

  • Do not transport sick or injured sheep in the heat of the day.
  • Sheep must have access to food and water up until the point of transport.
  • Loading ramps must be non-slip, with sides that prevent animals from falling and a slope of no more than a 20 degrees.
  • Floor must be covered with bedding to prevent injury.
  • When handling sheep, do so in a quiet and gentle manner, and do not catch or move sheep using their fleece alone.
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