Knowing sheep behaviour makes handling easier

Knowing sheep behaviour makes handling easier

This is part of an OMAFRA fact sheet on sheep handling facilities.

Producers who understand sheep behaviour can use this knowledge to their advantage in all aspects of sheep production and management. Whether setting up and using handling and shearing facilities, moving the flock to a new pasture or catching an individual sheep, taking their behaviour into account ensures the job is completed in an efficient, low-stress manner.

When moving or handling sheep, keep the following aspects of their behaviour in mind:

  • Sheep do not like to be enclosed in a tight environment and will move into larger areas when possible.
  • Sheep move toward other sheep willingly.
  • Sheep move away from workers and dogs.
  • Sheep have relatively good long-term memories, especially with respect to unpleasant experiences.
  • If given a choice, sheep prefer to move over flat areas rather than up an incline, and up an incline rather than down an incline.
  • Sheep prefer to move from a darkened area towards a lighter area, but they avoid contrasts in lighting if the change is too dramatic.
  • Sheep flow better through facilities if the same paths and flow directions are used every time.
  • Stationary sheep are motivated to move by the sight of other sheep running away.
  • Sheep will balk or stop moving forward when they see other sheep moving in the opposite direction.
  • Sheep will move faster through a long, narrow pen or area than through a square pen.
  • Sheep move better through the handling chute (race) if they cannot see the operator.
  • Sheep will more willingly move toward an open area than toward what they perceive as a dead end.
  • Very young lambs that become separated from their dams will want to return to the area where they first became separated.
  • Like all livestock, sheep react negatively to loud noises, yelling and barking.
  • Young sheep move through facilities more easily when their first move through is with well-trained older sheep.

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