All sheep deserve to be happy. Loving your sheep and learning to understand their needs will help you identify the things you must do to give them positive experiences and prevent them from feeling worried, upset, frightened and stressed.
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 Mental Wellbeing. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your sheep have positive experiences and are receiving the love, understanding and companionship they need for their mental wellbeing.
Sheep are prey animals, which means they are naturally always on the lookout for danger and feel the need to stay protected within their flock.
Due to this fact, your sheep may appear quite frightened, especially when you first bring him or her home. When you first bring your sheep home, do not overwhelm your sheep with too much people interaction - they should be with other sheep as soon as possible.
Over time, with positive reinforcement and behaviour, your sheep will get used to you.
If your sheep feel threatened or like they have something to fear, you might notice a range of different behaviours in your sheep. Most sheep, when they are scared, will run to their flock and stay with their friends. However, at other times when sheep feel scared you might notice the following behaviours:
If you notice your sheep is acting like he/she might be scared, look around and think about what might be scaring or threatening your sheep. Have you put something new in their area that they are unsure of? Can they hear a dog barking in the distance?
Did you run into your sheep’s area too fast and give them a fright? Once you figure out what might be scaring your sheep, try to remove or change whatever might be scaring them.
Sheep are flocking animals and prefer to stay together as much as possible. This makes them feel safe. If you are going to get a sheep, you need to get enough to form a small flock.
Sheep that don’t have the company of other sheep will feel scared, unprotected, unhappy, panicked, anxious, and be very hard to handle. If you give your sheep the company of other sheep, you will notice that all your sheep gather and stay in groups.
This will make your sheep feel happy and safe. When your sheep have company, he/she has other sheep to feel close to, to eat with, and you will even hear them communicating with one another too from time to time.
Sheep have very unique eyes. You might notice that sheep’s eyes are nearly on the side of their heads and are quite far apart. This means sheep can see nearly all around them, from both left and right. Whereas we humans can usually only see what is in front of us.
Although sheep can see all around them very well, their eyes are not very good at telling how far away things are or seeing distances between things. This is why your sheep might seem like they cannot see things sometimes, and you might notice they will examine objects closely in order to get a better look.
Due to their poor vision, sheep will be afraid to enter areas where there are shadows or where the light changes from bright to dark. To make your sheep feel less scared around you, you should always approach your sheep from where she can see you and approach slowly.
Never approach her from behind where she might not see you in her field of vision, as this will give her a fright. If you do approach from the front, make sure you walk slowly and calmly so your sheep have time to see that you are coming and can safely tell how far away you might be.
You can also try talking gently and moving in a calm manner. This will put your sheep at ease and not make it feel like you are rushing at it out of nowhere. Sometimes providing sheep nuts, or something special for them to eat will encourage them to trust and approach you – over time.
You can try to help your sheep feel less nervous about things they cannot see very well by making sure you let your sheep observe objects closely before interacting with them. Making sure areas in your sheep’s housing are well lit and don’t appear scary for your sheep can help as well.
It’s not that your sheep don't like you – your sheep are just naturally afraid. Sheep have learnt over time to avoid anything that looks scary or like it might be a threat.
Sometimes this might mean your sheep can be a bit scared of you at first. The good news is that there are some things you can do to make your sheep feel less scared of you.
Sheep have excellent hearing. They are really frightened by any sudden loud noises, especially yelling or raised voices. This will make them feel stressed and nervous.
When you are around your sheep, always talk in a quiet, calm voice. This will help them to be less afraid.
With positive reward based training and gentle handling, your sheep will learn to trust you. Always use a soft, gentle voice around them and never yell at him/her.
Approach your sheep from where he/she can see you clearly and won’t get a fright.
There is lots of information on positive animal training and handling available; try your local library or access information on the internet through a well-respected and reputable organisation.