Sheep are one of the most sought after animals by farmers. This is as they can make them a lot of money from wool, milk and of course lamb. This post will take you through how sheep would live if they weren’t being farmed, as well as what happens when they are.
Sheep are very social animals. They love to be in their flock and many become distressed if they’re separated from it for whatever reason. They show their emotion of being anxious when this happens by hanging their head, much like a human would.
In the natural world, they would live between 15 – 20 years, depending on whether they’re a ewe or ram and tend to give birth to one lamb per ‘season’. When a ewe has given birth, they’re able to identify each other by a bleat – meaning they’ll be able to know if their offspring or mother is theirs when lost.
Sheep are also able to recognise faces and my goodness, do they love to play! If you type in sheep playing on YouTube, a hell of a lot of videos come up and they’re so so cute. This one is my favourite: Sheep who think they’re dogs.
Did you know sheep not farmed would shed their own wool during the summer? This is so they don’t overheat. Due to farming wool being a necessity, many sheep have now been selectively bred so they don’t shed. This means the farmer can get more sales from wool throughout the year.
In the UK 28,647 tonnes of wool is produced each year. Sheep will tend to first be sheared when they’re around 7 months old and this wool tends to be of a higher price. This is due to it being softer than the wool of adult sheep.
In a day, a shearer can shear up to 250 sheep. That’s one every 2 minutes. Shearers tend to be paid per animal rather than per hour. This means that the comfort of the sheep is compromised and many will suffer nicks.
Before being sheared, sheep won’t be able to drink water or eat food for 8 hours. This is supposed to help with the stress, but honestly it likely just means they don’t kick out as much, as they haven’t got the energy to do so.
Selective breeding of sheep has altered the way they naturally breed. A sheep would usually only give birth to one lamb, but they’ve been modified to now produce twins or triplets each time. They’ve also been bred to give birth twice a year, which isn’t natural at all. We all know lambing season tends to be in the spring.
Due to sheep not naturally being expected to give birth to 3 lambs, this means many may be stillborn.
Ewes only have 2 teats. This means that if they do give birth to triplets, one of them will be rejected by their mother. The orphaned lamb will then be cross fostered by farmers to make sure the lamb survives. This is very hard to do, as the ewe needs to believe it’s their own offspring to be able to feed them.
Sheep are pregnant for around 5 months before giving birth, so this means they’ll be impregnated again either forced or artificially within a month of giving birth – so they’re able to produce more lambs each year.
Breeding ewes tend to be killed when they’re around 6 years old and their meat will then be sold as mutton.
After being born, lambs will have their tails docked and be castrated (if not being used for breeding) with no anaesthetic. Owch.
Around 15% of lambs born will die from starvation, infectious diseases or predators. Many of them can get preyed on, as farmers tend to neglect their sheep flocks. This can also cause many of them to die of exposure to extreme weather conditions.
One thing that is going for lambs is that 2 thirds of them are able to graze on upland areas. Those that are housed indoors have seen an increase of the infectious diseases and this accounts for 60% of lamb deaths.
One in 4 newborn lambs actually die within the first few weeks of life. This is due to exposure to either the weather, predators or starvation.
Raised for lamb.
When you eat lamb, this is literally a lamb. The meat will be from a lamb that was slaughtered at just 10 weeks old.
To get them to slaughter weight as quickly as possible, many of them are intensively fattened, so they’re able to grow at a rate of around 400g a day. This is done through a concentrated diet after they’ve been weaned from their mothers at around 4 – 6 weeks old.
This does mean that they’re then separated from their mother and flock, going to indoor housing where they’re more prone to catching diseases. Not to mention, the cramped living conditions which can leave them feeling stressed and anxious before they’re sent to slaughter.
In the UK 12.5 million sheep are killed each year. Similar to cows, they will be moved into a pen in groups. They’ll then be stunned by either electricity or a captive-bolt pistol.
After they’ve been stunned, they’ll be shackled, hoisted and bled – this will be via a slit in their throats.
It’s important to note if the meat is to be killed via a ritual killing for religious reasons, this will be simply via their throats being slit. This can be different, depending on which religion it’s for but they tend to not believe in the animal being stunned before being bled.
Government funding for lamb farmers.
For farmers, lamb is a great way to make money. This means the sheep are commodities and often exploited for their financial gain.
Although they get money from the sales of the meat and wool, they also receive subsidies from the government. Yes that’s correct, from the taxes we all pay. They’re paid for the stewardess of the land and this can equal up to £262 million each year. Imagine where this money could be better funded if lamb wasn’t as produced for human consumption or wool wasn’t sheared from their backs for humans to wear.
Swap: Lamb mince vs. Meat free mince
Lamb Mince 20% fat per 200g
Saturated fat: 10.2g
The Meatless Farm Meat Free Mince per 100g
Saturated fat: 3.4g
I hope you’re enjoying this week’s posts and be sure to check out the animals I’ve written about so far this week. As always, be sure to leave any questions you have below. I’m always happy to help answer them for you.
Be sure to check out my socials too, as I’ll be sharing illustrations, inspiration and everything in-between on there too!
Love, always – B
Etsy shop: beccabynature