Sheep are great livestock. Compared to larger species like cows or more labor-intensive species like pigs, sheep are easy to keep and handle.
But some people find sheep so cuddly and adorable the temptation to get just one as a pet is strong. But is this a good idea? Can you keep a single sheep?
No, you shouldn’t keep a single sheep. As herd animals, sheep do best in groups. A single sheep will likely become anxious and stressed without the company of other sheep. If you’re considering keeping a single sheep, think again.
Generally, you cannot keep just a single sheep if you want the animal to thrive. There are some exceptions to this rule, but in most circumstances, it’s best to keep multiple sheep together.
If you’re set on keeping a sheep as a pet, keep reading to learn more.
Sheep are Herd Animals
Just like many other animals, sheep are herd animals. Herd animals stick together, moving and reacting together, most of the time.
This means that any individual sheep will feel better and be healthier when they’re in the company of other sheep.
This is because a sheep’s instincts are to stick together as a group for mutual protection from predators.
When they’re by themselves, they feel anxious and stressed because they aren’t fulfilling this instinct; they instead feel unsure, vulnerable, and nervous.
Herding is simply mandatory for the well-being of most sheep.
Sheep Tend to Become Stressed When Alone or When They Don’t Have a Flock
In some cases, a single sheep may become so stressed that it becomes sick or dies after a prolonged separation.
A sheep that doesn’t have a flock is likely to become stressed, especially if it’s unable to see or interact with other sheep.
A study done on Polish dairy farms found that when ewes were kept in isolation from their flockmates they produced less milk and had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is released in response to stress and can have negative impacts on an animal’s health if it’s present in high levels for too long.
For example, cortisol can suppress the immune system, which can make an animal more susceptible to diseases.
In addition to having higher cortisol levels, isolated sheep also showed signs of being anxious, such as pacing and head-tossing.
These behaviors are similar to the self-comforting or agitated behaviors people exhibit when they’re feeling anxious or stressed.
Categorically, any sheep that was among even a few other sheep or ewes with lambs were the least likely to show signs of stress, which indicates clearly that close social contact is important for sheep.
Generally, Sheep Need 3 or 4 Companions
So, how many other sheep does your single sheep need in order to not be stressed?
Research indicates that three or four seems to be the magic number for “flock” satisfaction.
Research has also shown that sheep with just two companions had higher levels of cortisol on average than those sheep with three or four companions. This suggests that two isn’t enough, but three or four is at least adequate.
Of course, every animal is an individual to a degree, so there will always be some exceptions to this rule.
Some sheep may do just fine with only one or two other companions, while others may become stressed with anything less than a sizeable flock.
It really depends on the individual sheep’s personality and preferences.
Exception: A Sheep that is Bottle-Raised May be Fine Around People
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Just like some people do better living alone, every once in a blue moon you might find a sheep may do just fine on its own.
But this is usually only the case dependably if the sheep in question has been raised as a pet and is used to human interaction.
For example, a sheep that has been bottle-fed by humans since it was a lamb may be content living near people and other pets without being part of a larger flock of sheep.
These sheep have usually had so much contact with humans that they see them as their “flock”.
Believe it or not, the same goes for sheep raised by other animals, such as puppies or kittens.
These oddly socialized sheep may feel more comfortable around their non-sheep companions than they would around other sheep after growing up!
Can You Keep a Single Sheep as a Pet or Not?
So, can you keep just a single sheep? In most cases, no. Sheep are herd animals and do best when they’re in the company of other sheep.
There are some exceptions to this rule like the ones listed above, but generally speaking, it’s best to keep multiple sheep together if you want to have sheep at all.
The bottom line is that sheep are social animals and need the company of other sheep to stay healthy and stress-free. Most of the time getting a single sheep will be dooming it to a stressful and sickly life.
If you’re considering keeping a sheep as a pet, make sure you have enough space for at least three or four other sheep as well!
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.