All sheep should be allowed to express natural behaviours. Behaviour refers to the way that an animal acts. An important type of behaviour that an animal expresses are those that are instinctive (what they would typically do in the wild). Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal's own kind, encourages the expression of natural behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your sheep receive the exercise and enrichment they need to express their natural behaviours.
The most important natural behaviour for a sheep is being able to graze. Sheep can spend up to nine hours a day grazing, so it is obviously very important to them.
If you decide to have a sheep, it is very important you allow your sheep to graze. If your sheep do not get the opportunity to graze for their food, they can become depressed, ill and develop problem behaviours.
Remember, not being able to graze is not normal or natural for a sheep. You will need to have enough space to keep sheep comfortably so that they do not feel confined and so that there is enough pasture to keep them busy munching on.
An adult will need to maintain your pasture too, which you can read more about this resource on keeping sheep free from hunger and thirst.
Another reason it is so important for your sheep to graze is because they need to digest their food properly.
We talked earlier about the special stomach your sheep has, which makes them a ruminant.
Sheep are naturally social animals, so they will always need another sheep friend. Separation is very stressful for sheep and they will act depressed and express abnormal behaviour if they are alone. They can also get very panicked in these situations and can cause themselves injuries trying to get to other sheep - therefore, being in a group is one of the most important things for a sheep. If you plan on having a sheep, you probably should get a few.
A small group of about 4 -5 sheep is the ideal number for keeping as a lifestyle situation, however, you need to ensure that you have the right amount of space, time and money to keep them in the right way to keep them happy and healthy. Any less than this and your sheep will not be too happy – sheep are used to very large groups.
Once you have a small group of sheep, you will notice them flocking together.
This is very common for sheep. Sheep tend to stick together, as this makes them feel safe and secure. You might see your sheep run from something that maybe frightens him/her – when this happens, all the other sheep will run with it and they will band together in a group to feel protected.
Sheep have a strong need to follow one another, so having a group of sheep will allow your sheep to be able to do this natural behaviour.
Sheep are more intelligent than what many people give them credit for. They can be trained to come to food – which is helpful for any veterinary procedures, or shearing.
They can also be trained to run mazes and even clicker-trained. Visit your local library to find resources which will give you the right way to trainer your sheep.
Interesting fact: Sheep can recognise different sheep faces within their flock, as well as recognise goats!