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Can Sheep Be Left Alone? If So, for How Long?

I’m currently in the middle of planning my homestead (let’s be honest, the planning is never finished), and I’m worried about having enough time to tend to all of the livestock, and in this case–sheep. While sheep aren’t my first choice for livestock, since they are herd animals, I was curious how they handle being alone. So, I set out to find the answer. After some research, here’s what I found.

If your herd of sheep has food, water, and shelter, they can be left alone for about 8 hours. However, there are some dangers to leaving them alone, such as if they escape or a predator breaks in. In general, sheep should be checked on once in the morning and once at night and have a livestock guardian with them.

So, while we know a bit more about leaving sheep alone, what does it mean if you have a single sheep? And if for some reason your sheep doesn’t get fed right away, how long can they go without food? Let’s take a further look and answer these questions.

Can Sheep Be Left Alone?

a sheep next to a woman

There can be some downsides to leaving sheep alone. They could escape, eat your fruit trees, or get attacked by a predator. There are also many other possibilities, which is why it’s generally not a good idea to leave any animal alone, especially sheep. But if you’re busy with work or other tasks on the homestead, this can be hard to prevent. So, can sheep be left alone?

Sheep shouldn’t be left alone, but if they are properly fed, watered, and sheltered, they’re usually fine for most of the day. However, you should still be aware of potential threats that could occur when you’re gone. Some preventative measures to help include electric fencing and light or sound alarms.

While sheep can be left alone if you can provide them with what they need in a day, there are some proactive measures you can take to reduce the possibility they’ll run into problems on the homestead while you’re gone.

First, let’s take a look at a bigger list of the problems sheep can have if they’re left alone.

  • Water buckets freezing
  • Running out of food
  • Escaping
  • Eating your orchard or garden
  • Getting attacked by a predator
  • Falling ill
  • Getting stuck in a fence or structure
  • Birthing early

It’s almost impossible to prevent any of these issues from happening, but there are a few things you can do to help you be more at ease when you’re away from the homestead.

Here’s a list of helpful ideas you can use to keep your sheep more safe and sound:

  • Upgrade their fencing (electric vs woven wire)
  • Get them a livestock guardian
  • Close them in the barn while you’re gone
  • Install bucket heaters for their water
  • Setup a remote camera that connects to your phone
  • Give them extra feed
  • Check the perimeter for any gaps in fencing or signs of predators
  • Ensure there aren’t any poisonous plants in their pasture

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I’m hoping it gives you a few ideas you can put into action before you leave your sheep alone for a good chunk of the day.

At the very least, consider letting them out of the barn in the morning, refilling their food and water, and cleaning out their bedding as needed. Moving them inside the barn at night is also a good idea to prevent predators from attacking. Generally, if you’re tending to your sheep at least once or twice a day, and you provide them with their basic needs, they should be fine.

Can You Keep a Single Sheep?

Most times, you won’t be keeping a single sheep unless one is orphaned, you’re considering one as a pet, or you have a small backyard. However, there are some downsides to keeping a single sheep.

Sheep are herd animals and should not be without one. It’s best to keep at least 3 sheep together because they depend on other sheep to learn behaviors and to socialize. If a sheep is separated from the herd, they can panic and, over the long term, this can lead to behavioral or psychological issues.

Their herd will make them feel secure and help them develop well, psychologically. Sheep that are kept alone, or with other livestock that aren’t their own, can develop health issues from the stress.

However, sometimes sheep can be kept with goats, and while this can work in most cases, they prefer being around other sheep.

When you’re thinking of having sheep on your homestead, it’s helpful to know the amount of land you need. The suggested amount of sheep to keep is about 6-10 sheep per acre. With a minimum herd size of 3 sheep, you’ll need at least half an acre to provide a good environment for your sheep.

How Long Can Sheep Go Without Food?

Hopefully, it won’t be often, but there might be times when sheep go without food for short periods. This is different than if your sheep isn’t wanting to eat. Some cases when you might not be able to feed your sheep right away could be if you’re stuck in town, there’s a blizzard, you’ve run out of food, or it spoiled and you need to go out and purchase some more. Of course, there are ways to help prevent these situations from happening.

Like most animals, sheep can go without food for up to a few weeks if they are in good health and have a decent body fat percentage. However, during transport, sheep should not be deprived of food or water over 48 hours. Ideally, sheep should have constant access to at least water.

 “The maximum total time off water is 48 hours for cattle and goats over the age of 6 months and sheep over the age of 4 months. For adult pigs, the maximum time off water is 24 hours.”

RSPCA of Australia

Again, this is only in extreme cases or long transport. Sheep should have constant access to at least water and normally be feed at least 2 times per day. Since sheep have adapted to live on a pasture, their digestion is better suited to graze rather than eat large volumes in a short time.

A good approach to take when feeding and watering sheep is to let them out in the morning, allow them to graze most of the day (while supplementing any food or minerals), and locking them up in the barn at night with access to water.

Lastly, during the winter or poor weather, grazing can be substituted with hay feed and can be provided in the barn as well.

Final Thoughts

Overall, sheep shouldn’t be left alone unless there is an emergency. For this reason, providing them with excess food and water is a good practice. If you do have to leave sheep alone, consider upgrading their protection or increasing the size of their feeders. You also may want to find someone who can keep an eye on your sheep when you’re away.

Sheep shouldn’t be kept in herds fewer than 3 and should have constant access to food and water. While it can be hard to keep an eye on sheep during the majority of the day, consider delegating it to someone who can help, or even a livestock guardian (great Pyrenees are a popular sheep and livestock guardian).