A shepherd carrying sheep

Can Sheep Live without a Shepherd? (Reasons They Need a Shepherd!)

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Due to the hectic nature of sheepherding, it’s natural to question its necessity. Can sheep live without a shepherd? The answer is no. Sheep can’t live without a shepherd. In fact, they depend on human beings for care and protection. Leaving them unattended endangers their lives.

It isn’t easy to look after livestock. Although sheep are calmer than goats and cattle, sheepherding is tiring and sometimes overwhelming.

In addition, you must be watchful to ensure the animals don’t stray into a neighbor’s property. You must also be vigilant to protect them against predators.  

can sheep live without a shepherd

Can Sheep Live without a Shepherd? Explained Further

Why do sheep need a shepherd? Sheepherding is an old occupation that has existed for thousands of years. Sheep are valuable animals, with many people keeping them for meat, wool, and sometimes, milk. For these reasons, humans take it upon themselves to care for their herds.

But why do sheep need more care than other livestock? For instance, it’s common to see free-range cattle and goats, but it isn’t the same with sheep.

Here are the top reasons why sheep cannot live without a shepherd.

Protection From Predators

The most crucial reason for sheepherding is to protect the animals against predatory attacks. But, first, sheep have poor defense strategies – when frightened; they run around in circles instead of fleeing.

Second, even if they could run, the predator would catch up because they aren’t fast. Thirdly, sheep aren’t strong enough to fend off attackers.

READ ALSO: How Fast Can A Sheep Run? (How Fast Exactly?

Besides poor defense, most farmers put up makeshift fences that confine the sheep but can prevent predators from intruding. Unfortunately, this makes sheep easy targets for wild dogs, coyotes, wolves, and other wildlife.

Shepherds help to keep predators away. For smaller animals like dogs, human presence is enough to keep them away. In areas prone to wild animal attacks, the shepherd usually carries weapons to scare away the predators.

Human presence does more than protect your animals’ lives. Lurking predators can cause stress among your sheep, which has adverse effects.

Prolonged stress reduces appetite, resulting in digestion issues and dehydration. Sometimes, sheep might get lost while trying to flee from predators.

Having a shepherd isn’t always enough to keep predators away. Sometimes, they can be too many and overwhelm the shepherd, especially if they come as a pack.

For this reason, it’s important to use other prevention measures, such as erecting a fence and using scaring mechanisms.

Controlling Sheep Movement

Sheep tend to wander off to curb boredom or to try new things. Sometimes, they might be fleeing from predators.

However, when a shepherd is present, they can control the movements. This ensures the sheep don’t get lost.

Installing a proper fence can help to control movement, but it can’t match human awareness. In addition, barriers are inanimate, meaning they won’t detect when an animal sneaks past them into the wild.

A human being can spot the sheep and bring them back before they expose themselves to danger.

Quick Response to Potential Health Issues

Shepherds can easily spot when their sheep aren’t alright because they’re familiar with their normal behavior.

In addition, sheep are good at concealing discomfort and diseases, as showing such vulnerabilities makes them a prime target for predators.

For this reason, it might not be easy for a person who isn’t accustomed to their habits to notice when something is amiss.

However, a shepherd can notice the subtlest behavioral changes, such as minor limbs, inactivity, and dullness.

Since most of these changes are disease symptoms, early detection leads to a quick response to potentially life-threatening issues. As a result, you can save lives and avert losses.

How Do Sheep Know Their Shepherd?

Despite the notion that sheep aren’t intelligent, they have an excellent memory. Research shows that sheep can remember up to 50 human faces and several flock members. This means that they can easily recognize their shepherd.

Sheep associate shepherds with food, water, cleaning their pens, and several aspects of their well-being. When a familiar face approaches, they react positively – they can start bleating or even run towards the shepherd.

On the other hand, they display a reserved attitude when approached by strangers. For example, if the barn door is open, they will attempt to run outside.

Otherwise, they will confine themselves to a corner, away from the unfamiliar face.

READ ALSO: Do Sheep Recognize Their Owners?

What Happens When the Shepherd Is Absent?

Naturally, sheep-like staying in a group. You will rarely see an animal on its own unless there isn’t another in the flock.

When left alone, sheep will do everything as a group. They will graze, move or rest together. If one moves, the rest will follow.

Although staying as a group seems like a sound defensive strategy, it can be harmful. For instance, if the ‘leader’ walks into a predator trap, the rest will fall into the same trap, resulting in massive loss of life. Similarly, the rest will likely do the same if one animal falls over a cliff.

Additionally, sheep rely on humans for grooming. As a result, when a shepherd goes missing, their wool overgrows, causing discomfort on hot days. Overgrown wool is also a prime habitat for fleas that hurt the animal’s health.

When sheep lack human guidance, they struggle to locate water and pastures. Over time, the ewes will grow frail and stop producing milk for their lambs. This results in death.

A shepherd carrying sheep

How Do You Keep Sheep Safe without a Shepherd?

Employing a shepherd is the best way to guarantee your sheep’s safety, but not everybody has the resources to hire one. Sometimes, you might not have the time to look after the livestock.

Fortunately, you have alternatives. Here are ways to keep your sheep safe without a shepherd.

Install a Reliable Fence

Unlike larger ruminants such as cattle, sheep won’t try to knock down a perimeter fence. However, this doesn’t mean a makeshift fence is enough to confine your flock.

Remember, the wall also acts as a barrier that prevents predators from attacking your livestock. Therefore, ensure it is tall enough to prevent attackers from jumping over it and deep enough to prevent burrowing.

Likewise, the spaces in-between must be small enough to avoid intruding on animals.

The best fence type is a welded wire fence. It has close-knit meshes that don’t allow predators to pass. The wall must be at least four feet high to prevent jumping predators, and you can make it more effective by running live electric wires at the top.

If your area has burrowing and crawling predators, bury woven wire fencing one foot into the ground. This will prevent the attackers from digging into your farm.

Maintain Smaller Grazing Fields

Most shepherds look after large flocks of sheep in grazing fields spanning thousands of acres. It’s easy for sheep to get lost in such vast spaces. Also, large tracts of land are likely to have several hiding spots for predators.

If you’re a small or medium-scale sheep farmer, maintaining smaller grazing fields makes it easy to protect the animals.

A smaller farm enables you to monitor your animals closely – if one goes missing, you can look and find it within a short time. It also allows you to clear potential predator hiding spots.

Ideally, you should keep 10 to 15 sheep on a one-acre farm. Then, with proper pasture management, your flock will grow healthy.

Ensure you trim your herd whenever the number increases to avoid overcrowding and unnecessary resource competition.

Build a House

Most predators that target sheep are active at night. This means your flock is most vulnerable to attacks after sunset. You can avoid this risk by building a house where your sheep stay overnight.

Ensure the house has strong security features, such as reinforced doors and no gaps between the walls and the roof.

However, you shouldn’t overemphasize security and overlook ventilation. Excessive heat is deadly.

Get a Livestock Guardian Animal

Livestock guardian animals, also called predator control animals, protect your sheep from predator attacks. The most common guardians are donkeys, llamas, and specific dog species.

Donkeys are gaining popularity because of their affordability, both in cost and maintenance. They also live long and can share food with sheep.

Donkeys protect your sheep by braying and actively pursuing the predators. Since they have herding instincts, they will stay close to your sheep and alert you when wild dogs, coyotes, and other hunters attack.

Dogs are the most popular guardian animals. However, not all species are friendly to sheep. Guarding means the dog perceives sheep as members of its pack rather than prey.

Sheep-friendly species include Akbash, Himalayan Sheepdog, Rafeiro do Alentejo, German Shepherd, etc.

Final Words

Sheepherding is cumbersome and stressful. In addition, you must remain vigilant throughout to ensure the sheep don’t wander off or get attacked by predators. As a result, the shepherd eventually gets tired.

However, sheep can barely survive without human presence. Unlike wild sheep, domestic sheep rely on humans for everything, including food, water, grooming, and shelter. More importantly, they need humans to defend them against predatory attacks.

You can invest in alternative methods listed above, but nothing beats a human shepherd. If you can’t look after your sheep, consider hiring someone to do it for you. Otherwise, get rid of the animals.


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