Sheep: What to Look for When Purchasing One

Sheep: What to Look for When Purchasing One

Sheep: Buying a Sheep

A sheep flock and lambs on a newly green spring pasture represents renewal and peace, but sheep are much more than lawn ornaments in a pretty farm scene. Sheep provide companionship, excellent wool, and delicious milk, cheese, and lamb roasts. Whether you’re considering adding a new animal to your farm or you’re specifically interested in the products sheep can provide, it’s critical to ensure you have the time and resources necessary to care for them.

Historically, sheep were raised on farms and ranches to generate income for the farm and family. While some farms rely heavily on sheep production, sheep production is more often than not a secondary or tertiary enterprise on a farm. Indeed, sheep farming complements a variety of other agricultural endeavors. It is a well-liked enterprise among many part-time and hobby farmers. Sheep farming is an excellent activity for youth and retirees.

There are numerous tax benefits associated with sheep farming and similar agricultural activities. Specific individuals raise sheep primarily to properly tax them at agrarian rates. A farm is defined legally differently in each state and country.

If you’re thinking about purchasing sheep for your farm, there are a few things to consider. This article will talk about what to look for when purchasing one and some of the potential health risks. The following is a checklist of considerations to make before buying sheep.

Tips for Buying Lambs

Avoid Auction Animals

Avoid purchasing sheep during a sale! While buying sheep at an auction (or those that are otherwise heavily discounted) will almost certainly save you money, you will also be purchasing breeder’s problems.

Auctions are incredibly ill-advised because they prevent you from seeing the original flock from which the animals were derived. You have no idea how they were raised, and sometimes animals are medicated before the auction so that you will be unaware of any behavioral issues. 

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Visit the Farm

Rather than purchasing a “discount” sheep or attending an auction, visit a local farm. If you have the opportunity to visit the farm, you will better understand how the sheep were raised. If the area is relatively clean and the sheep appear to be well-cared for, you probably don’t need to be concerned about how they were raised – or whether you’ll be bringing any health problems home with you. 

Get a Breeding History if Possible

Not all farmers keep meticulous records of their breeding stock – and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Often, it is not that a farmer is concealing something; instead, he was not in the habit of recording genetic and lambing data. Nevertheless, it’s always worthwhile to ask a few pertinent questions, such as:

  • Whether a ewe or ram has previously bred and what the results were
  • A ewe’s maternal characteristics
  • The rate at which twins, triplets, and so forth are produced

Find Out the Reason for Selling

Always conduct a thorough investigation into the seller’s motivations for selling his sheep. They may be completely innocent in some cases, such as quitting farming or switching to a different livestock breed or species.

At other times, you may have difficulty obtaining a direct response. If the seller refuses to disclose why he is selling his sheep (or if you do not trust his answers for whatever reason), you may have to look elsewhere for your sheep. Purchasing sheep from a questionable source may result in the acquisition of animals that are sick, aggressive, or injured in some way.

Where to Buy a Sheep?   

Investigate nearby farms to locate a shepherd raising sheep in the manner you wish to raise them once they are on your property. This is by far the best helpful method of locating and purchasing sheep.

One of the reasons this method is so effective is that the sheep will be accustomed to the conditions in your region. They will have demonstrated their ability to thrive in your area and cope with conditions similar to those they will encounter on your property.

Additionally, if you have any questions or require assistance during the early stages, the breeder is nearby to assist you. This could take the form of telephone advice or a visit to your farm. Whatever the cost of your sheep, this is an invaluable resource for new shepherds. Local breeders are financially rewarded for treating you well.

Obtaining sheep from a non-local source is fraught with danger. If the sheep you purchase have difficulty adapting to their new environment, you may have difficulty growing your flock. You may be forced to cull certain animals that do not thrive on your farm.

What Breed is Best For Me?

Consider why you want to keep sheep before deciding on a breed. Are you interested in wool harvesting? Are you in the mood for meat, milk, or cheese? Are you going to keep them as pets?

Sheep are generally classified into wool, meat, and dairy breeds, but some breeds can perform dual or even triple duty. The online breed directory maintained by the American Sheep IndustryOpens in a new tab. is an excellent place to start.

The majority of shepherds begin with a starter flock based on available breeds, which may indicate sheep that thrive in your area. It is critical to seek out this type of local information. What is described in a book as beneficial to sheep may cause illness or injury in the same sheep kept in a different environment. To begin your research, meet with an experienced shepherd in your area or contact your county extension agent. Individuals associated with 4-H clubs, fiber festivals, and county and state fairs can also assist.

Commercial wool and meat producers rely on a small number of breeds to ensure the consistency of their products. On the other hand, a hobby farm provides the ideal opportunity to care for rare, conservation, and heritage breeds, frequently hardier. Learn more about heritage breeds by visiting The Livestock Conservancy.

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What About Rams?

Unless you intend to breed sheep, a ram is unlikely to be a good fit for your farm. Rams can be ferocious and can injure inexperienced handlers. Additionally, they require additional nutrition during the breeding season, and you’ll need to separate them from the ewes to manage to breed correctly. When you first begin keeping sheep, aim for a flock composed primarily of ewes and possibly one or two wethers (castrated rams).

If you intend to raise sheep for milk, you will eventually need to breed your ewes. There are, however, breeding options available to farmers who choose not to raise a ram themselves.

How Many Sheep Can My Land Support?

Sheep are ruminants and flock animals, which means they will graze on pasture and are happiest when accompanied by at least one other sheep; however, you must provide supplemental feed and clean water for the sheep flock. When introducing sheep to farm, plan for the driest time of year and begin with fewer sheep than you believe your land is capable of supporting to determine your land’s capabilities. A common rule of thumb is that one acre of land can support two sheep, but this differs significantly depending on the amount of rainfall and soil quality. If the rains are plentiful and fertile soil, your land may support more than two sheep per acre, whereas an acre in a drought-stricken area may support only one. Again, this is an area in which local research can be beneficial.

Calculate the exact amount of pasture available for grazing and identify the plants that grow on it. Not all of them are likely to be agreeable. Sheep are not permitted or required to eat every plant that grows. Because your pasture’s nutritional value and flavor will vary according to the season, plan to rotate pastures to maintain vegetative plants.

How Do I Safeguard My Sheep?

Sheep require safety from predators and inclement weather, and shelter makes tending to them more comfortable. A ewe requires between 12 and 16 square feet of housing, though slightly less space is adequate if your sheep spend most of their time on pasture. Make additional storage space in your barn or shelter for tools, feed, and bedding.

Sheep thrive in a variety of habitats. While new barns, pole barns, and prefabricated metal structures are costly, they provide superior protection. Outbuildings and barns on your property can also be used as housing and may not require much adaptation for sheep raising. Numerous sheep facility building plans are available online, and salvaged construction materials are frequently available for free or at a low cost.

Choose a slightly elevated, well-drained location for your shelter. Even if they are small ATVs or UTVs, vehicles must be able to access it for feed and bedding deliveries, and you must decide whether you want running water or electricity in the shelter, which will affect your site selection.

Along with shelter, install movable and permanent fencing. When rotating pastures, flexible, electrified netting in the 36- to 44-inch range works well: It is lightweight and helpful in moving sheep between paddocks. Permanently fence the perimeter of your property to keep sheep on it.

If your area is home to coyotes, you may require additional predator control. Donkeys, llamas, alpacasOpens in a new tab., and guard dogs provide invaluable protection for livestock. When determining whether keeping sheep is financially feasible, consider the quantity and cost of their feed and care.

How to Keep your Sheep Healthy?

If you choose to keep sheep, you must budget time to observe your flock, become familiar with their normal behavior, and be prepared to respond immediately when something goes wrong. As prey animals, sheep are adept at concealing problems; seemingly insignificant abnormal behavior can be fatal. Spending daily time with your sheep is an excellent way to maintain flock health. Maintain a basic veterinary first aid kit on hand and develop a relationship with a local veterinarian.

De-wormers and vaccinations are included in primary sheep care, though some shepherds choose not to vaccinate. Consult a livestock veterinarian to establish a health care plan for your flock. You’ll want to trim hooves to avoid hoof rot, which is more prevalent in sheep kept in damp areas, and shear sheep yearly to avoid skin afflictions and other problems. Because experienced shearers are in short supply, seek out and schedule one well in advance. Additionally, some shearers trim hooves.

Shepherding is one of the oldest occupations. If you are considering adding a sheep to your farm, give sheep careful consideration. They may be the ideal animals for you.

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Physical Things to check before you Purchase

Sheep Body condition

It is critical to keep regular weight measurements or estimates of a sheep. If a sheep has lost a significant amount of weight, it may be due to illness, malnutrition, worms, or other parasites. Additionally, it could be a symptom of OPP or Johne’s Disease. If a mature sheep has gained a significant amount of weight in a short period, it is critical to avoid overfeeding them, particularly with alfalfa, treats, and snacks. Keep an eye on the sheep’s body condition. The spine, rib cage, and hip bones should be concealed. Concentrate on these areas rather than their stomach—even an emaciated sheep may have a large stomach.


How do they hold their heads in their cradles? It is preferable if they do so voluntarily. If they are trembling, hunching over, concealing themselves, or tucking their head, this may indicate an illness or injury. Ascertain that their horns are not posing a threat to them due to their rapid growth. Examine their heads for abscesses that may indicate Caseous Lymphadenitis, a highly contagious infection that requires quarantine and treatment.

Sheep Eyes

The eyes of the sheep should be clear, clean, and alert. They should be clean and odorless. Cloudy, watery, dry, swollen, or crusty eyes indicate an underlying illness or injury. Pink eye, a highly contagious infection, may present with the symptoms listed above. Their pupils should be similar in size and responsive to bright light. Conduct a visual examination of the sheep’s membranes near their eyes, using the FAMACHA systemOpens in a new tab. as a guide (after receiving certification from a qualified veterinarian). Please keep track of their FAMACHA score at each health examination to determine what is normal for them. If they are abnormally pale, this may be a sign of anemia. If you examine young sheep and notice that their eyelids are growing irritatingly close to their eyes, these are Entropion symptoms, which need prompt veterinary treatment.


Their ears may contain some earwax or debris, but they should be mite-free. Excessively sticky, yellow, or odorous earwax should be removed. A gauze pad can be used to extract excess earwax or to collect ear mite samples. Ears should be firm and not swollen. Consider how sheep typically maintain their ears. If their ear position changes from the norm, this may indicate distress or illness.


The snout of the sheep should be clean and free of discharge, fluid, crustiness, or blood. Their nose should be supple and unbroken. An excessively runny or clogged nose may be a sign of nasal bots or an upper respiratory infection.

Sheep Mouth

You should not be able to hear a sheep breathe in ideal circumstances. Their breathing should not be labored, wheezy, rattling, sneezy, or whistling. A mature sheep should generally breathe between 12 and 20 times per minute. It’s always prudent to compare a sheep’s respiratory rate to that of other herd members, as their rate increases when they’re hot or active. A sheep with difficulty breathing may have Lungworms, a severe and potentially fatal infection of the respiratory system. They should not cough either wet or dry. Most of these symptoms could be caused by pneumonia, to which sheep are highly susceptible.


It is critical to monitor a sheep’s poop and to recognize the appearance of healthy sheep droppings. Poop from a healthy sheep forms small, round pellets and is not runny. If it is discolored, pungent, watery, or bloody, it could be a sign of diarrhea, parasites, illness, or malnutrition. If you are primarily concerned about a dropping, you may bring it to your veterinarian for analysis; however, you should consider fecal testing on a healthy-animal basis. You are regularly inspecting sheep for internal parasites.

On the other hand, monitor the sheep’s bowel movements closely, as they are prone to constipation. Their urine should be light in color and not very concentrated. Bloody urine in sheep may indicate the Toxicity of Copper.

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How much does it Cost to purchase a sheep?

This is a difficult question to answer, but it’s prudent to have a ballpark figure in mind before reaching for your checkbook.

On average, a mature ewe costs between $200 and $250. (Think to pay more if she is registered, less if she is on the older side). Lambs are typically priced between $75 and $150. 

Is it Legal to have a Sheep as a Pet?

Sheep are occasionally kept as pets or companion animals due to their easy handling and docile nature. As with any pet, it is keeping sheep as pets that should not be taken lightly. It is critical to acquire as much knowledge as possible to make an informed decision.

To begin, you must ensure that your zoning regulations or housing covenants permit the keeping of farm livestock. Both of these factors may impose restrictions on the size and number of animals that you can own. Additionally, they may prohibit the keeping of sheep. Zoning regulations are increasingly being revised to allow for the keeping of small livestock.

Do I need a Licence to Keep Sheep?

If you transport sheep between holdings, including to the abattoir, you must obtain a movement license. When you purchase your sheep, the seller will complete and give you a copy of the movement license, so you will need your CPH number before purchasing. The license must be retained for six years.

Do Sheep make Good Pets? 

If the sheep are used to being handled and have developed trust in one or two humans, they will generally enjoy being petted by humans, and many of mine will actively seek it out. They regard me as a scratching machine brought to this planet solely for their hedonistic pleasure.

Which is better, Sheep or Goats?

The goatsOpens in a new tab. are generally easier to handle than sheep during routine procedures such as deworming, vaccination, and hoof trimming, because fearful sheep, even if they are usually tame, flee.

How long do sheep live?

When properly fed and cared for, most pet sheep maintain good health and live a long life. A sheep’s natural life span is between 10 and 12 years. Specific individuals will live longer. The most prevalent health issue affecting sheep, particularly lambs, is gastro-intestinal parasites.

Final Thoughts

Successful sheep raising requires matching the sheep’s best abilities to the flock’s tasks on the farm. There is much to enjoy about sheep and lamb raising – but it is critical, to begin with, a healthy, happy flock. 

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