Can you keep a sheep as a pet? Years ago no one would have imagined sheep as anything other than a farm animal. Now, people are opting to bring sheep into their homes or at least their yards rather than just restricting them to the barn.
Can you keep sheep as pets? Sheep can be kept as pets because they are docile and easy to handle, but they can also become very large. Sheep will do best as pets if they are handled from birth and trained as lambs. It’s also important to understand the size that the lamb will become when fully grown. Many varieties of sheep can grow to be a lot larger than most people realize.
It’s also important to define to what extent you hope to keep sheep as a pet. You may be envisioning keeping outside sheep that your children can handle and care for as pets.
Or, you may be wondering if it’s possible to have an indoor sheep as a pet, much like you would a dog or a cat.
If you want to own a house-sheep as a pet, there are pros and cons to keep in mind. You also need to know what you need to care for a sheep and how to train and care for them as a pet.
If you’d like to skip ahead, here are the main chapters in this guide:
- Reasons Sheep Make Good Pets
- Cons of Owning Sheeps As a Pet
- What Breed Should I Get For A Pet?
- Is A Ewe, Ram, or Wether Best?
- Can I Get Just One Sheep? The Flock Instinct.
- What’s The Best Age To Get A Sheep As A Pet?
- Indoor or Outdoor Pet?
- Sheep Essentials: What You Need to Know About Caring For Your Sheep
- Tips For Training Your Sheep
1. Reasons Sheep Makes Good Pets
Sheep can make great pets for kids and adults. They are generally mellow and have a gentle temperament. Sheep can form a strong bond with their owner if they are bottle-fed from a newborn lamb.
Sheep seldom get aggressive. Even rams are usually mellow. Sheep are one of the best farm animals for kids because of how mellow they are.
They are usually easy to handle and are more likely to before afraid than they are to ever be aggressive. As a result, sheep get along with kids and usually get along with animals. (Dogs can be the exception as they often terrify sheep).
Did you know?
Studies have found sheep to have high intelligence and strong memory. They can recognize individual human faces and voices.
They are also empathetic and can build friendships with specific sheep within the flock.
They can even wag their tails when they are pet!
- Gentle Temperament
- Easy to Handle
- Gets Along with Children and Other Pets
2. Cons of Owning Sheep As House Pets
First, know that sheep are never going to be the same kind of a pet as a dog or a cat.
- Sheep are not as cuddly as dogs are generally
- Sheep have hooves, which can damage and wear out flooring
- Sheep are easily frightened, even when kept as a pet
- Sheep are not easily potty trained
- Housetraining sheep is very difficult, and some say impossible
- Logistical difficulties if you live in a city
Sheep are not likely to snuggle you or hop in your lap like a dog or a cat would.
Plus, their hooves are hard and can hurt if they step on you. They can also cause damage to flooring.
Although sheep have been domesticated for more than 10,000 years ago, they’re still wired to flee when they get scared. This can cause some commotion if you live in a city or suburb where loud noises can frighten your sheep.
If you are planning to have sheep as house pets, then you should consider how you will keep your house clean from the droppings.
I’ve occasionally heard of a sheep that is house trained, but I’ve yet to actually see it in action. Sheep are very hard to house train.
Most people with indoor sheep solve this problem by using a disposable diaper with a hole cut out for the tail. As the sheep gets bigger, you can purchase larger diapers.
3. What Breed Of Sheep Should I Get As A Pet?
Keep in mind that sheep can get pretty large. My neighbor has sheep that are as tall as a grown person’s waist and weigh close to 200 lbs.
An average-sized sheep will be a much more difficult pet to keep indoors. It can easily knock over a child or break household items without meaning to.
If your sheep will be outside- that’s not as big of a deal, but if it’s an inside sheep, size definitely matters.
When you’re scoping out sheep for a pet, take a look at how the individual sheep are behaving. Most sheep are gentle, entertaining animals but it’s important to remember that some still revert back to those natural instincts of running when scared.
You’re probably going to want to avoid any sheep that panic or run as soon as a human comes near them. Sheep at that level are most likely not trainable and will never become an ideal pet
Hair or wool sheep:
In addition to size, you should also consider whether you want to have a wool lamb or a hair lamb. Hair lambs don’t have to be shorn every spring.
A wool lamb will become very uncomfortable as summer approaches if they still have their full winter’s wool. This is additional time or expense you will need to plan on if you have wool lambs.
Some wool lambs shed their wool naturally each spring. This could cause its own hassle if your sheep is an indoor sheep and you have to clean up shed wool.
Horned or polled
Sheep that don’t have horns are called polled sheep. Many sheep breeds can have horns or be polled. Still others the rams may have horns, but the ewes are polled. It’s important to know what your particular sheep is likely to have from it’s parentage.
Some breeds have spurs, which are small remnants of horns.
A horned sheep inside your house can cause it’s own problems so it’s important to know what to expect if you aren’t adopting a fully-grown sheep.
Soay sheep are smaller and fine-boned. They generally have a brown-colored face and brown fleece that varies from very light to very dark. The fleece is a mixture of fine wool to hairy fiber and sometimes a mix. It generally sheds its fleece in the summer.
Soays are very hardy and can survive in many different environments. They are usually characterized as intelligent and nimble and have excellent mothering abilities and good resistance to health problems. Ewes can be polled or not polled, wethers are polled.
Olde English Babydoll Southdown Sheep
The Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep is actually a breed developed in the United States after the original Southdown sheep found in England.
They are small sheep with short legs. Their trademark characteristic is their teddy bear-shaped face and “smile”. Neither gender has horns. They have very docile temperaments and good mothering ability. They’re good “weeders” in vineyards and orchards.
Shetland sheep are one of the smallest breeds but you’ll find a lot of variety in the breed as far as color and markings. Shetlands come in 11 main colors and 30 different markings. Both genders can have horns but it’s more likely in wethers than ewes.
The sheep are very adaptable and can do well in almost any environment. They’re easy to handle and have very soft fleece.
The Ouessant is the smallest breed of sheep in the world. They are found in Northern Europe. They are a short-tailed breed of sheep that were developed in France. Ouessant sheep are a variety of colors including black and are desired for their wool. They are thought to have been brought by the Vikings. They are also known as Ushant, Breton Island Dwarf, and Mouton d’Ouessant. Ouessant sheep are used in France to manage public lands. They are fairly rare. They often have multiple babies.
The Croix sheep are named for the island of Saint Croix. They were developed in the US Virgin Islands are believed to have been brought from Africa in the 1600s. Croix are a hair sheep that is heat hardy and parasite resistant. They are valued primarily for meat production. Croix generally only have single babies and can get up to 200 lbs as adults.
The Katahdin sheep was developed in Maine in the second half of the 20th century. They are still relatively small sheep, weighing between 120 to 250 pounds depending on the gender but that’s compared to some sheep that can get up to 300 pounds.
Although not as small as other possibilities, Katahdin sheep do shed their winter coat so you don’t have to shear them. They can come in just about any color. The breed is particularly resistant to parasites.
Cheviot sheep are a medium-sized breed. They originated in the Cheviot hills that border Scotland and England. Cheviot are well-known for their distinctive white face and legs and dense white fleece. Wethers are sometimes horned, but ewes are not.
The sheep are hardy and the ewes have the same strong mothering abilities as other sheep we’ve mentioned.
|Breed||Hair or Wool?||Average Weight||Horns?|
|Soay||Wool, but shed naturally each spring||Ewe: 50 lbs||Large horns, but some are polled|
|Old English Babydoll Southtowns||Woo, but they naturally each spring||2 feet tall||Polled|
|Shetland||Wool||75-100 lbs||Ewes Polled, Rams have large horns|
|Ouessant||Wool||Smallest breed in the world||Ewes are polled, Rams have large horns|
|Croix||Hair||Ewes: 150 lbs||Polled|
|Katahdin||Hair||Ewes: 120-160 lbs||Polled|
|Barbados Blackbelly||Hair||Ewes: 110 lbs||Polled|
|American Blackbelly||Hair||Ewes: 75-95||Ewes are polled, Rams have horns|
|Dorper||Hair||200 lbs||Most pulled. Rams can have spurs|
|Cheviot Sheep||Wool||Ewes 130-170 lbs||Ewes are polled, wethers can be horned.|
4. Is an Ewe, Ram, Or Weather Best As A Pet?
Another aspect to consider is the gender of your sheep. Ewes will naturally be smaller than rams in any species. In addition, a fully intact ram will become more aggressive as an adult.
Rams are more likely to be aggressive during the breeding season. Rams will also have a smell around the time they mature. That’s the hormones they exhume.
If you choose to have a male as a pet, you should consider castrating it. Castrated rams are called wethers and will not get as large as adults. They will not be as aggressive and they will not grow as large of horns.
In many cases, if castration is done early enough, the horns won’t grow at all, but if the horns have already started growing, they will continue to grow.
And- it starts early!
5. Can I Get Just One Sheep As A Pet? The Flock Instinct
It’s important to understand that sheep are very social animals. If you adopt a single sheep as a pet, it will not be happy. Sheep need at least one other sheep to keep it company.
Sheep have a very strong herd instinct. They love to flock together and to have the company of other sheep. It’s ideal to have at least 5 sheep together so that they can flock and keep each other company.
But, if you can’t keep 5 sheep, you should at least keep 2 or 3 sheep together. Research has shown that sheep in flocks of less than 2 are consistently stressed.
Three is ideally the smallest flock you should plan to have.
A lonely sheep will not be as healthy, will not live as long, and will mope around more.
Even if you are planning to keep your sheep as an indoor pet, plan on keeping two of them together.
If you are planning on keeping them outside as yard pets, then it may be possible to keep more than two sheep as company.
6. What’s The Best Age To Get A Sheep As A Pet?
You may consider adopting a grown sheep or a lamb, but if you are looking to house train your sheep, a lamb will be much easier to train.
A young lamb, preferably one still being bottle-fed will most easily bond to its caretaker.
The younger the lamb, the more it will bond and the more accustomed to people it will be.
Bottle Fed lambs will bond very strongly to its caregiver. It will learn to recognize the voices of the caregiver and to follow to obey it. Shepherds, not sheepherders, in Europe can call their sheep by name and the sheep come to the voice and command of the shepherd.
The same can happen if you put in the time and care to pet sheep you adopt.
7. Indoor Or Outdoor Pet? Where To Keep Your Sheep
One of the first things to consider is where your sheep will stay. Will you keep it in your house or have an outdoor shelter?
Keep in mind that although you may be happiest inside your house, even a pet sheep might prefer to be outside with the ability to roam around.
A fenced-off yard can provide some freedom to your pet without confining it indoors. Sheep are happiest when they have fresh grass to eat, sunlight, and some space.
8. Sheep Essentials: What You Need to Know About Caring For Your Sheep
Sheep have specific needs that you should be aware of.
- Annual Sheering
- Nutritional Needs
- Hoof Trimming
- Vaccinations and Deworming
- Lifespan of a sheep is 10-12 years
- Safe place to roam
- Be aware of poisonous plants
- Local laws
Most breeds of sheep will need to be shorn in the spring.
That means that you will either need to learn how to do it or will need to pay someone to shear your sheep. A wooly sheep is super uncomfortable in the summer and can more easily get heat exhaustion.
You will also want to be aware of the nutritional needs of your sheep. Sheep should never be fed human food. It will cause them extreme digestive discomfort and will make them very unhealthy. They aren’t like dogs, where many dog owners feed their pets table scraps, regardless of what the vet says… Sheep will get sick and will not live as long if fed table scraps.
And that’s assuming they are willing to eat the scraps.
Sheep are vegetarian. They do best on a diet of hay and grass. In the winter they can be fed grain as an additional supplement to their diet.
Do not feed normal livestock grain to sheep. Grain that is fed to sheep should be 100% balanced for sheep.
But, even grain can easily make a sheep overweight and unhealthy. Consider how your will feed your pet sheep hay if it is a house pet. Will you feed it outside, in the garage, or in a room in your house?
Another nutritional need of sheep is salt. They should have free access to a salt block. Be careful not to purchase a mineral block for goats however, as sheep can get copper toxicity from goat salt blocks. My suggested product is found on my Resources page.
- Grass and hay is best for sheep
- Grains should be given sparingly
- Sheep feed can be purchased
- Minerals or salt block on demand
The hooves on your sheep will continue to grow and will need to be occasionally trimmed. You can do it yourself with hoof trimmers (see resources page) or you can pay someone to do it.
Trimming the hooves helps to keep the hooves even and to keep rocks out, which can split, damage, or hurt your sheep’s hooves.
You will want to trim the outside of the hooves until the hooves are flat and even. Stop trimming when you encounter pink, which is the living part of the hoof.
Holes, gaps, or other dirt in the hoof should be cut away to avoid hoof rot.
Vaccinations and Deworming
Sheep only need one vaccine, which is for clostridial diseases. There are a couple of options for this vaccine so it’s best to talk to your vet about the best one for your sheep. They’ll need two vaccines as a lamb and then an annual booster.
Generally, sheep are healthy but the biggest health issue they might face is worms. It’s relatively normal for sheep to have some worms in their system but it becomes a problem when they get too many.
Take a look at how sheep get worms:
- Worm eggs in the sheep’s feces hatch
- The infective larvae from the eggs get onto the grass
- The sheep eats the grass
- Worms grow in the sheep’s system
Signs of a worm problem include a sheep who is not eating properly, losing weight, lags behind the flock (not so easy to tell with a pet), or is weak.
If you suspect worms, check in with your vet for a test and a deworming product.
Another thing to consider is the companionship needs of a sheep. As I’ve mentioned, (and will keep mentioning) it is vital that you plan to provide your sheep with at least one other sheep companion.
If you aren’t able to do more than 3 sheep, you can provide your sheep with additional animal companions such as donkeys, goats, or other animals.
You should also be willing and able to spend time with your lamb and continue to spend time with your sheep.
If you raise the sheep from a lamb, be willing and able to continue to care for it. Sheep can live 10-12 years so it is quite a commitment that should not be taken lightly.
It’s a good idea to have a contingency plan in place. Maybe a house-pet sheep isn’t working out. A contingency plan may move you to provide a barn or stable as shelter and some yard for your flock to graze in.
Or, perhaps the particular sheep you adopted seem too aggressive for your family dynamics. Perhaps an aggressive sheep needs a larger flock or is used to more area to roam.
Safe Place To Roam
Sheep need to be outside during the day. They will need a fenced-in area that’s safe from predators.
Ideally, you want at least an acre of grassy area for your sheep. If you can’t manage this, you need at least 50 square feet. You can choose from a few different types of fences for your sheep or goat enclosure:
- Woven/Net wire
- Electric fence
- Split rail with wire
Barbed wire fences are not recommended, and neither is tethering your pet to a tree or post. Both of these options leave your sheep vulnerable to attacks from predators. They can also get themselves stuck in the line.
If your sheep will spend a lot of time outdoors, it also needs somewhere to get out of the elements. This might be an extra-large doghouse or a large doggy door that allows them to get into a garage or shed.
You need to keep your pet sheep away from any garden areas. Certain plants are toxic and you don’t want to risk your pet sheep getting a hold of them. This is not a complete list but here’s a look at some toxic plants:
- Black locust bark
You also need to keep the sheep away from any fruit trees. The fruit won’t harm the sheep but you can lose the fruit tree if the bark gets stripped.
If you live in the city limits, you should check with local law. Some cities have restrictions on what animals you can own inside city limits.
Sheep are usually considered livestock and as such, are often banned inside city limits.
9. Tips To Training Your Sheep
It’s important to train your sheep so they’re easier to manage and you can actually enjoy having them as a pet. Sheep do better with routine and training anyways.
It may take some practice but with a few practice runs at a new behavior and a lot of positive rewards, you’ll have a trained sheep. For positive rewards, sheep especially appreciate treats like a bit of extra grain.
Putting the grain in a bucket and rattling it while calling your sheep is one way to start training the desired behavior. Some sheep also appreciate an extra scratch but start under the chin and work up to the head to avoid getting head-butted. Headbutting seems to be the natural reaction anytime you make a movement toward a sheep’s head.
Think motivational training rather than negative reinforcement when it comes to training your sheep. Keep calm and repeat, repeat, repeat. Sheep are not people pleasers like other household pets so it will take some work but they can be trained.
What kind of milk can I feed baby sheep?
Lambs can’t drink any milk. They need a special lamb formula. It has a specific level of fat, certain lactose levels, and specific acids formulated specifically for a lamb’s growth.
The replacement milk normally comes as a powder and you mix it with water.
Check out my resources page for specific product suggestions.
How Can I tell if my sheep is sick?
There are several signs your sheep may be sick.
- Isolates itself (can also occur when a ewe is ready to give birth)
- Stops eating
- Hangs its head
- Ears and tail may droop
- Teeth grinding
If you have any concerns, it’s always best to check in with your veterinarian. Don’t forget to check out Part 2 in our series on making sheep pets.
You may also find these other articles in our sheep series.