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How Sheep Get Along With Other Species

Two woolen sheep stand outside next to a black rooster.

Updated September 18, 2020

If you’re caring for sheep with limited space, you may be wondering how they get along with other species of animals. Because individual animals each have their own unique personalities, preferences, and histories of trauma, this resource may not apply universally to all sheep and the other species they interact with, but it should provide a good starting point in regards to how well a sheep will get along with other animals. If you’re planning on keeping a sheep with anyone new, regardless of species, make sure to carefully monitor their interactions until you are satisfied that there will be no trouble when you go off to attend to other sanctuary needs!

Headbutt Holdups

If you are caring for a sheep who is prone to headbutt play, it is very important that you frequently monitor their interactions with any other animal you place them with; although headbutting is not typically done out of aggression, other species may feel very threatened or be endangered by such actions.

Sheep And Other Sheep

Typically, a sheep should have no problem living with other sheep (and in fact, this would be preferable to a sheep living alone), provided that they have enough space, food, water, and mineral access so they don’t feel the need to compete. Sheep are inclined to follow a social hierarchy; once they’ve established who’s in charge (sometimes through a brief confrontational encounter), they will typically peacefully coexist.

Protecting Bighorn Sheep Flocks

If you live in an area with bighorn sheep flocks, be aware that they can contract Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae from domestic sheep. While the disease typically causes only minor illness in domestic sheep, it has a very high mortality rate in bighorn populations and can threaten entire flocks. Steps should be taken to prevent any contact with wild flocks both to protect your residents and to protect their wild cousins.

Sheep And Goats

Sheep can live with goats on the same pasture, provided that they have ample space to avoid each other if they choose, with one major caveat: goats can eat minerals formulated for sheep, but sheep can not have access to minerals formulated for goats; minerals for goats have copper supplemented in them, and sheep are highly susceptible to copper toxicity. If you need to keep sheep and goats in a shared space with mineral access for both, you may have to carefully supplement the goat’s copper separate from the minerals both species receive. Some goats may be a bit too rambunctious for your sheep residents, and those with horns could cause injury if they are being too playful or are confrontational towards the sheep. If your sheep residents seems stressed by living with particular goats, you’ll need to find another living arrangement that keeps everyone safe and happy.

Sheep And Donkeys

With sheep and donkeys, how they do together is entirely dependent on the personalities at play. Some donkeys get along quite well with sheep. Others, especially those rescued from abusive or neglectful situations, may be more territorial and defensive around all species, including sheep. Always closely monitor the pasture and make a careful introduction between donkeys and sheep, keeping in mind the possibility that they may need to live separately. In rare, tragic instances, donkeys have injured and killed sheep. If you do have sheep living with donkeys, ensure that sheep do not have access to donkey minerals.

Sheep And Other Farmed Sanctuary Mammals

Sheep and other sanctuary mammals such as cows, pigs, llamas, alpacas, and horses can live harmoniously on the same pasture and do not tend to bother one another (though some individual personalities might not mix, just like with anyone). You must ensure that any minerals used are safe for all species of resident who have access to them and may need to supplement some species separately. It’s also important to employ fencing that is appropriate and safe for all species being kept in the same pasture. If any of the sheep have mobility impairments, you should ensure that they are not going to get caught in the path of a much larger species, such as a cow or pig! Pigs also may create terrain that is uneven and difficult for elderly or mobility impaired sheep to navigate. Feeding schedules might be complicated to coordinate with certain residents, such as large breed pigs, so even if you’re having everyone in the same pasture, you’ll probably want to keep them in separate living quarters!

Sheep And Farmed Sanctuary Birds

Sheep should have no trouble sharing an outdoor space with birds such as chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks, provided that all species have their specific needs taken care of (like dust baths accessible for chickens or turkeys or accessible ponds for ducks and geese). Ensure that there is plenty of space to avoid any situations where a bird (especially a mobility impaired resident) might get caught underfoot from a sheep. Sheep are also (quite reasonably) particular eaters who will not eat pasture or food that has been defecated on by another animal, including birds, so if you’re going to keep sheep and birds together, it would be preferable to find a solution to keeping the sheep’s living spaces clean! If you choose to house chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, or other smaller bird species with sheep residents, you will need to give special consideration to overnight accommodations.  These avian species must be secured in predator-proof housing overnight, but it may not be advisable for the sheep they are living with to be closed in with them. Some very docile sheep may be fine, but those who are more playful could inadvertently cause injury to a bird resident. You do not want to create a situation where a sleeping bird resident, especially someone who may be sleeping closer to the ground, is injured by a sheep they cannot get away from. Sheep also may become too warm if closed in a predator-proof space designed for birds. In general, it is safest to give the bird residents a safe space to sleep away from their sheep friends.

Sheep And Dogs

As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to let dogs interact with any animal at a farmed animal sanctuary. As the species in your care are prey animals, there is a high chance that there will be a negative reaction, either from the dog or the resident, and it is never worth risking an animal’s safety when there is any possibility to avoid conflict.

When it comes to letting dogs spend time around sheep, it is entirely dependent on the individual personalities at play. Some dogs and sheep have been known to get along very well, without any issues. However, other personalities might not ever be safe around one another, especially dogs who are more prone to chasing or aggression. If for some reason a dog must spend time around sheep, plan for a great deal of supervision, with the knowledge that some dogs may live peacefully with sheep one day and decide to chase the sheep the next day. Some sheep might be too skittish or afraid to ever peacefully be in the same pasture as a dog. Even many dogs that are known as good “sheepdogs” might be too intimidating for a sheep to spend time with.

Sheep And Cats

Sheep should be able to coexist fairly easily with cats; most likely they’ll do their own thing apart from one another. Some have expressed concern about cats spreading toxoplasmosis to sheep, though this should not prove to be a practical concern if the sheep’s food source is not defecated on by an infected host cat.

Sheep And Wildlife

Given the large pasture spaces sheep typically require, they will likely share their space with other animals who call the sanctuary grounds home. While in many cases, sheep and wildlife can safely co-exist, some animals can pose a serious threat to sheep.

Predators Of Sheep

Certain animals are especially dangerous to sheep and will attack or try to eat them if given the chance. This includes stray dogs, coyotes, wolves, foxes, wild pigs, cougars, bobcats, mountain lions, and bears. Some larger birds such as owls, vultures, eagles, and even ravens have been known to attack vulnerable sheep and lambs. The best defense is a properly monitored outdoor living space, as well as fencing and an indoor living space designed with predator protection in mind. This includes predator netting if necessary (chicken wire will not keep a predator out!), fencing that cannot be dug under, climbed, or jumped over, predator-secure latches, and vigilance! Larger residents in the same pasture may help discourage predators from hanging around.

Other Wildlife

While there may be specific considerations based on your area, aside from potential predators and bighorn sheep (discussed above), sheep can typically share outdoor living spaces with wildlife without issue. Indoor spaces, however, could be a different story. Wild birds and rodents may take up residence inside indoor living spaces, which depending on the species and population size may cause certain issues, including disease spread. Rats can be especially destructive if they have access to electrical wires or any insulation, and could even cause injury to vulnerable residents, so it’s important to take measures to deter them as much as possible and to protect areas where they could cause serious issues. For more information on compassionate wildlife strategies, check out our resource here!

SOURCES:

Toxoplasmosis In Sheep | WikiVet

Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae | Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory

Running With The Herd | Nature (Non-Compassionate Source)

Sheep Predators | Sheep 101 (Non-Compassionate Source)

Concerns With Keeping Different Kinds Of Livestock Together | Knoji (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on September 18, 2020

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