If you have sheep or have ever spent time around these animals, you probably know that they don’t really like being in water. In fact, they will usually even avoid crossing little streams if they can . But can sheep swim if they have to?
In this article, we’ll go over whether sheep can swim. We’ll also discuss how sheep interact with water and why they behave the way they do.
Yes, Sheep Can Swim
While sheep certainly do not enjoy swimming and they’re not particularly good at it, they can indeed swim if they fall into water. Sheep will swim if they have to in order to survive. There are also some situations in which a sheep would choose to swim. The motivation usually involves something primal (hunger, fear, or the desire to breed).
Let’s take a look at some of these situations in which sheep might decide to swim below:
- To find a better source of food (for example, to reach a better pasture)
- If they are driven into the water by a sheepdog.
- If a shepherd directs them to go in the water and swim.
- To find mates (for example, if a small body of water is separating a male sheep from a female)
- To get away from something that has made them fearful (for example, a predator)
Sheep swim in the way that most other ruminants do. This is with a swimming motion that looks a bit like a horse trotting. Humans are familiar with this, as it’s the same kind of motion that we tend to use when we are first learning to swim.
One of the reasons why it is difficult for a sheep to swim is the fact that wool becomes very heavy when wet. This can easily make it dangerous for a sheep to swim if they are trying to cross a wide span of water or they happen to be an elderly or weak animal. The weight of the sheep’s wool can also make it difficult for the animal to get out of the water if they need to pull themselves up any kind of incline.
Circumstances in Which Drowning is a Danger
As mentioned, sheep aren’t particularly good swimmers and there are many circumstances in which drowning could be a danger. Examples of these include:
- The water makes the sheep’s wool coat so heavy that it has difficulty continuing to swim and becomes submerged, or it stops them from being able to haul itself out of the water.
- The sheep is pregnant.
- The body of water that the sheep is trying to traverse is too large.
- There is a fast current and the animal is caught up in it. The weight of wet wool would make this even more likely.
- The wool is long and gets caught on objects in the water, making it impossible for the sheep to continue swimming and escape.
- The sheep becomes exhausted and cannot continue swimming. The weight of wet wool can make this happen quite quickly.
It’s useful to know that sheep don’t have depth perception. This means that they cannot tell how deep water is. However, they can see if there is any movement in water, and they will especially avoid going into water that is moving. That is because of the fact they can be so quickly swept away by currents in the water.
The Importance of Drinking Water in Sheep Health
Of course, like any other living species, sheep must have access to the correct amount of drinking water. How much water sheep need can depend on a variety of different factors.
- How much exercise the sheep is getting
- The animal’s age
- The thickness of the animal’s wool
- The temperature outside
- How humid it is outside
- How dry the sheep’s feed is
- Whether the sheep is nursing a lamb
- Whether you’re milking the sheep
- The amount of wind outside
Signs that a Sheep Might be Dehydrated
Sheep can become dehydrated more easily than you might expect. It’s very important for shepherds and sheep farmers to keep a careful watch over their animals and ensure they have enough water at all times. This is especially true if the weather is hot, windy, dry, or very cold, and/or if the sheep’s wool is very thick and heavy. Examples of signs that a sheep might be dehydrated include:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of skin elasticity: If the sheep’s skin doesn’t immediately bounce back when you pinch it and an indentation remains, this can mean there is a lack of skin elasticity
- Stickiness on the gums and in the mouth
- A dry nose or mouth
- The sheep seems tired or lethargic
Always keep track of a sheep’s appetite. This is important because changes in appetite often point to something to do with health. When a sheep is healthy and properly hydrated, it will eat normally and chew cud the way it usually does. A sheep should spend several hours every day chewing cud. A sheep with normal health will always be eager to eat. If you notice a sheep lying down that doesn’t want to get up, it is probably sick. A sheep that grinds its teeth is probably in pain.
Sheep are Herd Animals
One of the most important facts to keep in mind when trying to understand sheep is that they are herd animals. This means that they are highly social and always need to be around other sheep.
Many animal behaviorists say that in order for sheep to show their normal flocking tendencies, there needs to be a group of at least five sheep. Sheep that are kept away from other sheep will become extremely anxious and it will adversely affect their health.
This is why if you need to get sheep across some shallow water (even if they won’t be swimming), it’s likely that if you can get some of them across, the rest will follow.
Yes, Sheep Can Swim (but remember the dangers)
As we have seen here, sheep are able to swim but they are not good at it. Being in the water can be dangerous for them, especially if they are in moving water, they are trying to traverse a large space of water, they are older or sick animals, or they have long wool that could get caught in an object in the water.