Keeping sheep: How to keep sheep in your garden

If you have a yard with a large area of ​​grass and pasture, you may have considered keeping rescued sheep. But can even beginners give sheep a pet-friendly life at home in their garden? And what foundations must be laid for animals to feel comfortable in the long run?

We at PETA Germany have the most important information for you about sheep welfare.

Can everyone keep sheep?

Basically, every person in Germany can give a home to sheep. The Animal Welfare Act only states that owners must acquire the necessary knowledge of species-appropriate feeding, care and supervision of animals. In addition, sheep must be reported to the competent veterinary clinic – this also applies to private individuals who do not want to remove the wool and sheep’s milk from the animals for commercial purposes or kill them for their meat. From one year, you must also report the sheep to the Animal Disease Fund. [1]

Man with sheep behind a fence
Anyone can keep sheep, but raising sheep has its challenges.

What is the minimum number of sheep you should keep?

Before adopting sheep, for example from an animal shelter or animal rescue, you should know that sheep are pack animals and have a strong social behavior. A flock of sheep usually consists of ewes and their lambs. Therefore, sheep should never be kept alone and at least in groups of four animals. With two bucks, caution is generally required because despite castration, fierce territorial and resource battles can occur.

How much space do sheep need?

Sheep should never be tethered. You need plenty of space and a lawn spacious enough for extensive grazing and exercise. Two sheep need about 1000 square meters of pasture to feed exclusively on grass. Green areas of 2000 to 3000 square meters are best.

Sheep in a pasture
Sufficiently large pastures for free movement are essential for raising sheep.

When should the sheep go to the barn?

Basically, it should be possible for the animals to be outside all year round, because sheep like to be outside in the pastures even in winter. Their thick fleece protects them from the cold. Sheep can find food even under a foot of snow.

However, when grazing all year round, the animals must definitely have a stable available as shelter and protection from weather influences such as rain and cold. You should close this windbreaker on three sides and line it with enough straw for thermal insulation.

By the way: Sheep like to rub against tree trunks. If there is no rough tree trunk, you can also “rub” the sheep with a broom or incorporate species-appropriate “cleaning devices” in the stall – a pleasant result is guaranteed.

What can sheep eat and what not?

Grass, hay and straw, as substances with a high crude fiber content, are absolutely sufficient for the healthy nutrition of sheep. Animals should be able to eat at any time, for example through their own pasture or in the form of hay when it snows in winter. The hay rack should be placed dry in the stable or shed and be easily accessible. A watering can with clean water should also be available at all times. In the heat of summer, sheep’s water requirements can increase by as much as 10 to 18 liters. [2]

These in-between snacks are suitable for sheep:

  • Vegetable peels, such as carrots and potatoes
  • salads
  • cabbage and sugar beet
  • Foliage and bark of deciduous trees
  • mineral lick
  • apple pieces

Caution: Offer apple pieces only to fully grown sheep, because there is a choking hazard with lambs and they can’t use them well anyway.

The sheep eats straw in a meadow
In addition to grass, hay and straw, various vegetables and fruits are suitable as snacks for animals.

Especially in winter or if you keep old and sick animals with increased energy requirements, you can offer the sheep additional feed. It is available in small pellets or as the so-called sheep muesli. Bread should rarely be included in the menu and should be dried, as the carbohydrates it contains irritate the stomach and can lead to acidification of the rumen.

How and when should sheep be sheared?

Most of the sheep living in Germany suffer from their torture. Through this they produce so much wool that they no longer have a natural coat change. In the wild, these animals are often no longer able to survive, so further reproduction through breeding must be prevented at all costs. Therefore, you should always adopt sheep and never buy from breeders.

Sheep should be sheared once a year to relieve and allow the skin under the heavy fleece to recover. Gentle, professional trimming also makes it harder for parasites to nest in the fur. The best time for shearing is either mid-May after the Ice Saints or after the so-called sheep cold, which leads to a drop in temperature between June 4th and 20th. Either way, there should always be a suitable shelter where the animals can retreat when it’s cold and warm in enough straw.

sheep in the stable
Sheep only need to be sheared because they have been bred with an unnaturally high amount of wool.

Important: Shearing should only be done by professionally experienced and empathetic people who take their time and reduce the stress on the sheep to a minimum!

Combine foot care in shearing sheep

Wild sheep in the wild do not usually live in soft pastures and wet stables like our captive “domestic sheep”. In addition to green pastures, they actually need a rocky, hard surface so that their toes are adequately worn. For this reason, “hoof care” is often necessary.

Frequent standing on soil that is too soft quickly leads to long, overgrown nails, which not only lead to poor posture and difficulty walking, but also promote the development of painful diseases such as foot rot. For “hoof care” you should turn to experienced groomers: in-house or take a corresponding course yourself for the necessary expertise. For the animal, foot care is often associated with bloody, painful injuries and stress from confinement. So, as with haircuts, a lot of time and empathy should be planned. It is best to combine hoof care directly with trimming, so that restless animals only have to be restrained once.

What can you do with wool?

Wool contains large amounts of nutrients such as sulphur, potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus. This makes it ideal as a vegetable fertilizer for your beds. Due to the structure of wool, nutrients are slowly released into the soil and plants. In addition, wool is a good water reservoir because it can absorb many times its own weight.

Animal shelters and other non-profit organizations also accept wool donations. However, shearing should never be turned into a business and the sheep exploited for it.

The person plants something on the ground
Sheep’s wool is suitable, for example, for fertilization and mulch in the garden.

Proper fencing protects sheep and wolves

When it comes to keeping rescued sheep, it is important to know that sheep are not actually found in our local ecosystem. Therefore, anyone who wants to adopt sheep should protect the animals from wolves and other dangers, such as dog attacks, by installing an electric fence. According to studies, “domestic animals” such as sheep make up only 0.75 percent of the wolf’s prey range, but for the sake of the sheep and the protection of the wolves, it should not be in any danger and secure fencing should be installed. [3]

Specialist dealers will give you comprehensive advice on which fencing is effective. In addition, the fence should be checked and maintained regularly, otherwise accidents may occur with wild animals and the fenced sheep. Sheep, goats and wild animals such as deer are often caught in electric fences that do not activate, causing them to die slowly and painfully.

Why do people keep sheep?

There are several reasons why people choose to keep sheep as ‘pets’. In fact, the sheep is considered the oldest “domestic and farm animal”. Because sheep are often kept for self-sufficiency for their meat, wool and milk. However, this is morally wrong, because animals are not there to be exploited – not even on a “small scale”.

Stakeholders should always keep in mind that the division of sentient beings into “farm animals” and “pets” are speciesist ideas. There are good reasons why animals are not there for us to “use” for our purposes. One of them is that we humans are animals and not above other species.

Woman petting the sheep
Don’t keep sheep to “use” them for your purposes.

When raising animals, the primary aim should always be to provide them with a natural life as suitable as possible for the species. Sheep rescued from the wool industry, for example, often end up in animal shelters. With an adoption, you give them a second chance at a happier, self-determined life.

Report now on the suffering of sheep in the wool industry

Do you love sheep and would like to do more for the sensitive animals? Then learn now about the agonizing exploitation of sheep in the wool industry – also in Germany. Learn more about why wool is still an undervalued animal cruelty product and why you should turn to vegan wool alternatives.

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