Behaviour of Sheep

About Sheep

Like all ruminants, sheep are members of the order Artiodactyla, the even-toed ungulates. Although the name "sheep" applies to many species in the genus Ovis, in everyday usage it almost always refers to Ovis aries. Sheep are most likely descended from the wild mouflon of Europe and Asia. One of the earliest animals to be domesticated for agricultural purposes, sheep are raised for fleece, meat (lamb, hogget or mutton) and milk. A sheep's wool is the most widely used animal fiber, and is usually harvested by shearing.

Sheep are very social animals; ewes tend to stay in maternal groups for life. No sheep should be housed alone. Isolation of a single sheep can cause health problems due to the stress of being alone.

Be very calm and gentle in your approach. Sheep are suspicious animals by nature, and will spook easily if they are yelled at, handled roughly, or even approached quickly. Sheep and gentle goats get along well, so mixed herds are often fine. Aggressive goats will pick on and potentially even injure sheep.


Sheep are flock animals and strongly gregarious. Farmers exploit flocking behavior to keep sheep together on unfenced pastures such as hill farming, and to move them more easily. Shepherds may also use herding dogs in this effort, whose highly bred herding ability can assist in moving flocks.


Sheep: over one year of age usually produced offspring.

Lambs: is less than one year of age which is not lambed.

Ewes: a female sheep. (Ewe lamb: young female)

Ram: a male sheep. (Ram lamb: young male)

Wether: a castrated male sheep.

Wool: The fiber that most sheep produce is wool

Lambing: Act of giving birth to young one.

Tupping: Act of mating in sheep.

Shepherd: is a person who cares for sheep.

Mutton: meat of sheep.


Sounds made by domestic sheep include bleats, grunts, rumbles and snorts. Bleating ("baaing") is used mostly for contact communication, especially between dam and lambs, but also at times between other flock members. The bleats of individual sheep are distinctive, enabling the ewe and her lambs to recognize each other's vocalizations. Vocal communication between lambs and their dam declines to a very low level within several weeks after parturition. Apart from contact communication, bleating may signal distress, frustration or impatience.

Feeding behaviour

Sheep are exclusively herbivorous mammals. Most breeds prefer to graze on grass and other short roughage, avoiding the taller woody parts of plants that goats readily consume. Sheep use their lips and tongues to select parts of the plant that are easier to digest or higher in nutrition.

Digestion in Sheep

Like cattle, sheep are ruminants. A ruminant animal has a compartmental stomach which contains the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. The rumen allows the animal to consume plant material and retain it long enough to allow bacteria, protozoa and fungi to break down and digest the material. The plant material is consumed quickly, regurgitated and re-chewed and then swallowed. This process is called cud-chewing. A healthy mature sheep will chew their cud for several hours each day.


Water is the single most important nutrient required by livestock. Sheep require a daily amount of 1 gallon per 100 lbs of bodyweight. One square foot of surface water area must be provided for every 40 head of sheep.

Water can contain dissolved minerals, pollutants, micro-organisms, suspended solids as well as organic and inorganic compounds. Water sources should be tested to determine the quality, as poor water quality will have negative affect on production.

Learning behaviour

Sheep are frequently thought of as unintelligent animals. Their flocking behavior and quickness to flee and panic can make shepherding a difficult endeavor for the uninitiated.

Reproductive behavior

Onset of Puberty 6 - 12(months)
Optimum breeding age12 – 18 (months)
Sexual Season Short day breeder
Estrous cycle 16.4 – 17.5 (days)
Estrus 1 – 2 (days)
Metestrus 3 – 5 (days)
Dioestrus 7 – 10 (days)
Proestrus 2 (days)
Ovulation type Spontaneous
Ovulation time Last day of estrus
Pregnancy 144 – 152 (days)

Estrus detection in ewes

Ewes will search out the ram and stand to be mounted by him or other ewes but not as often as cattle. Rapid tail wagging or raised tail. Nervousness and increased vocalization. Decrease in milk production and appetite. Physical characteristics include, reddened, swollen vulva (not easy to detect because of wool and small size of vulva).

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