All sheep should be allowed to express their normal behaviours. A normal behaviour is the way an animal acts in its natural environment. Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal’s own kind, allows and encourages the expression of normal behaviours.
Did you know that there is a special law protecting animals?
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that animals in your care must be provided with an environment and care that meets their five welfare needs. These welfare needs are five important conditions that need to be met for animals to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the five freedoms.
One of these five freedoms is: freedom to express normal behaviour. In this section, you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your sheep express normal behaviour.
The most important natural behaviour for a sheep is being able to graze. Sheep can spend up to nine hours a day grazing, so it is obviously very important to them.
If you decide to have a sheep, it is very important you allow your sheep to graze. If your sheep do not get the opportunity to graze for their food, they can become depressed, ill and develop problem behaviours.
Remember, not being able to graze is not normal or natural for a sheep. You will need to have enough space to keep sheep comfortably so that they do not feel confined and so that there is enough pasture to keep them busy munching on.
An adult will need to maintain your pasture too. You can read more about this in the resource on keeping sheep free from hunger and thirst.
Another reason it is so important for your sheep to graze is because they need to digest their food properly.
We talked earlier about the special stomach your sheep has, which makes them a ruminant.
Sheep are naturally social animals, so they will always need another sheep friend. Separation is very stressful for sheep and they will act depressed and express abnormal behaviour if they are alone. They can also get very panicked in these situations and can cause themselves injuries trying to get to other sheep - therefore, being in a group is one of the most important things for a sheep. If you plan on having a pet sheep, you probably should get a few.
A small group of about 4 -5 sheep is the ideal number for keeping as a lifestyle situation, however, you need to ensure that you have the right amount of space, time and money to keep them in the right way to ensure they are happy and healthy. Any less than this and your sheep will not be too happy – sheep are used to very large groups.
Once you have a small group of sheep, you will notice them flocking together.
This is very common for sheep. Sheep tend to stick together, as this makes them feel safe and secure. You might see your sheep run from something that maybe frightens him/her – when this happens, all the other sheep will run with it and they will band together in a group to feel protected.
Sheep have a strong need to follow one another, so having a group of sheep will allow your sheep to be able to do this natural behaviour.
Sheep are more intelligent than many people give them credit for. They can be trained to come to food – which is helpful for any veterinary procedures, or shearing.
They can also be trained to run mazes and even clicker-trained. Visit your local library to find resources which will give you the right way to train your sheep.
Interesting fact: Sheep can recognise different sheep faces within their flock, as well as recognise goats!