why do sheep have paint on them

Why Do Sheep Have Paint on Them? Interesting Facts

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You may have noticed that sheep fleeces have numerous natural markings and colors. Some are specific to breeds, while others are seen in individual sheep. Also, some farmers put artificial markings on their sheep using paint, and you probably wonder, why do sheep have paint on them?

Sheep have the paint to help farmers and shepherds identify them. The markings also help farmers monitor their ewes to identify the ones to check for lambing and the already vaccinated ones.

You will mostly see vast pastures with green grass and differently colored sheep.

why do sheep have paint on them

Why Do Sheep Have Paint on Them? (Detailed Explanation)

Painting your sheep may not be necessary if you have just a couple of them. Also, you can skip the practice if the members of your flock have unique natural markings that make it easy to identify them.

However, you will need impeccable memory, eyesight, or both if the ear tags on your sheep are too tiny to spot from far. The same applies if you have sheep of the same color and breed.

Therefore, painting sheep comes in handy if you have a huge flock. In addition, this will help you identify the sheep that have received treatment or are vaccinated from the ones that are not. It also makes it easier to pair ewes with their lambs.

Some people paint their sheep purely for cosmetic purposes. In addition, paint protects sheep from insect bites and sunburns.

The Different Types of Sheep Paint

Farmers have their favorite colors and system of painting their sheep, from colorful dots and patches to numbers.

Some may avoid green because it is the color of vegetation, while some simply do not like red. The commonly used ones are:

1. Post-scanning Colors

Pregnant ewes often spot dots or different colors on their backs based on the number of lambs they carry. This is done after performing a pregnancy scan.

2. Pairing Ewes with their Lambs

Pairing your ewes with their lambs is a great idea since it will help pair them with their mothers. Therefore, spray the same number on the lamb and the mother after the ewe delivers.

That way, matching them if they get separated gets easier, lowering the risk of lamb death or mismothering by exposure.

3. Raddle Paint

You could put a crayon harness on your rams’ chest or paint their brisket when they join the ewes during the breeding season.

You will then transfer the colors into the rumps of the females after they mate with a ram to show which ewe a ram has bred with.

Changing the paint color after a cycle of breeding (17 days) gives you an approximate calculation of the ewe’s due date. For instance, you will know when ewes with a particular color will lamb.

4. Whitening Products/Chalks and Show Dyes

You can dye your sheep’s fleece with individual breed colors before a sale or show. For instance, a bright orange color will be hard to miss once your sheep get to new fields.

In addition, applying whitening products on the fleece after cleaning the white areas makes your sheep stand out.

Your sheep need to look beautiful and amazing before a sale or show to increase your chances of fetching more money or winning, respectively.

sheep with paint

5. Veterinary Treatments

Marking your sheep with spray dots after vaccination lets you know which ones have been vaccinated, what they got, or the specific veterinary products used.

For instance, it could be medicines for preventing fly strikes or antibiotic/antiseptic sprays.

Every farmer has a specific dot code with various numbers of dots or colors for different timing or products given. For example, farmers monitoring lameness treatments usually put a mark on the leg that is affected.

If the animal has over 2 to 3 dots after a couple of months, it will probably be slaughtered as a repeat offender.

6. Herdwick Fabric Patches

Conventionally, young female sheep (gimmers) weren’t meant to breed while still too young on certain Fell farms.

However, stopping a tup from finding gimmers would be impossible because Herdwick sheep would freely roam the hills.

Therefore, farmers would sow hessian or fabric patches into the backside wool of the ewes as contraception.

7. Smit Marks

Sheep in certain parts of the world are allowed to roam in the fields and hills for most of the year, then gathered together by the farmers a couple of times annually.

While these sheep know where to stay and which parts to avoid, sometimes, they intermingle or stray.

Therefore, farmers would put smit marks (color stripes, dots, or crosses) on the sheep’s back, haunches, neck, and far and near sides.

A farmer uses specific smit marks to distinguish their sheep from the other farmer’s sheep. Today, farmers make smit marks using chemical dyes

The Disadvantages of Painting Sheep

While painting sheep is advantageous, it also comes with some drawbacks. These include:

  • Using toxic pain can harm your sheep. For example, your sheep could be irritated or even blinded if paint gets into their eyes. In addition, paint can get into the sheep’s stomachs and mouths should they lick it, which could make them sick.
  • Painting your sheep is also a time-consuming endeavor. Moreover, it can be highly costly if you use expensive paint.

Ethical Debate on Painting Sheep

The ethics of sheep painting is pretty complex. Some people believe painting sheep qualifies as animal cruelty, while others believe it is not, provided you care for your sheep and use non-toxic paint. In Ireland, sheep painting started to mark the field boundaries of each farmer.

However, the practice has since evolved, with some farmers doing it for aesthetic purposes. Some people find sheep painting attractive and can raise tourism in remote and rural areas.

Whether you believe sheep painting is ethical or not, it is undoubtedly a fascinating practice.


Painting sheep is popular in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Farmers here do it to protect their animals from intense weather conditions and predators. In New Zealand, sheep are painted white to prevent sunburn.


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