Why Do Shepherds Put Oil On Sheep?

Shepherds have been putting oil on sheep since before biblical times. In fact, the 23rd Psalm is actually an extended metaphor comparing the sheep-keeping techniques of the times to the shepherding actions of Christ. The shepherd cares for all of the needs of the sheep. He takes the sheep to green pastures and quiet waters. He guides the sheep along safe paths and leads them through darkness and danger, guiding and defending them with His rod and staff. He feeds, trims their hooves, and cares for the sheep even when life threatening conditions such as freezing cold and drought (enemies) are present. He anoints the sheeps’ heads with oil.

But why do shepherds put oil on sheep? Read on to learn more.

Reasons To Anoint Sheep With Oil

reasons to anoint sheep with oil

There are actually very good reasons to anoint sheep with oil in many seasons of the year. Here are three top reasons to put oil on your sheep:

1. Fighting Rams

Autumn is breeding time for sheep, and the rams of flocks run on pasture may fight for the favor of the ewes by butting one another, head-on, with great force. This can cause serious injury or even death.

For this reason, old-time shepherds would often grease the rams’ horns and heads heavily in hopes they would slip on impact.

In olden times, heavy cooking grease was used. In more modern times, axle grease was sometimes used. All-in-all, the best way to prevent rutting rams from injuring one another is to keep them apart.

2. Nose Flies

In the summertime, flies bother sheep. The worst are nose flies which buzz around a sheep’s head trying to lay eggs in the sheep’s nose. The hovering flies can cause sheep to panic and run wildly. This sort of activity can ruin their meat and milk, and may result in injury or death.

If the fly is successful, in a few days, larvae will hatch and burrow into the soft flesh of the sheep’s nasal passages. This causes irritation, inflammation and infection.

The pain will cause the sheep to rub its head on the ground, thrash through underbrush and even bang its head on tree trunks attempting to get rid of the intruders.

In severe cases, a sheep may kill itself trying to get away from the pain. If the sheep manages to survive, the infection caused by the larvae can cause it to go blind. Because of the seriousness of the problems caused by nose flies, shepherds must be extremely attentive.

In biblical times, they would watch for the first indication of nose flies and then apply a natural repellent made of olive oil and strongly scented, medicinal essential oils.

3. Scab Disease

Another condition that is very troublesome in the summertime is a contagious disease known as scab. This is actually a parasitic condition caused by a mite called Psoroptes ovis that is spread from sheep to sheep through friendly head-butting and rubbing.

Applying a thick coat of medicinal oil to the sheeps’ heads was believed to kill the parasites and prevent their spread.

Today this very serious infestation is treated with a full body (plunge) dip of either oganophosphate Diazinon or an injection of ivermectin, doramectin or moxidectin.

TIP: This is a good value pack of Ivermectin Sheep Drench 8 oz.

Does Oil Work On Sheep Pests & Parasites?

does oil work on sheep pests

Oil concoctions can have some effectiveness as a repellent for flying insects, but if your sheep has scab, you should call your vet and get professional help.

If you want to try oils as a fly repellent, a modern day equivalent of the types of oils used by biblical shepherds can be made by combining equal amounts of linseed oil, sulfur and tar.

If you don’t have access to tar or prefer not to use such messy ingredients, you may wish to give this oil based fly repellent/skin conditioning mixture a try.

In a two quart spray bottle, combine:

A third of a teaspoon each of these essential oils:

  • Lemongrass
  • Citronella
  • Tea Tree
  • Cedar

Then add:

  • Two tablespoons of any cooking oil
  • Two tablespoons of any dish soap
  • Two cups of apple cider vinegar
  • Two cups of lukewarm water

Shake the mixture gently to combine the ingredients. Spray your sheep (or other livestock) all over a couple of times a day during the fly season. You may wish to soak a cloth in the mixture to apply it more thoroughly to the face, ears and head.

Natural Fly Spray For Livestock

26 thoughts on “Why Do Shepherds Put Oil On Sheep?”

  1. Thank you, it’s a good insight on how the shepherd take care of sheep by anointing oil on their heads, similarly how the Lord Jesus being our Good shepherd anoints us through the Holy Spirit ie., protects us from evil and wicked ways, so that we don’t end up in troubles.

  2. This is very powerful.Sometimes we read the scriptures without understanding why some words mean and for years we will overlook it,Now I understand why the Bible says thoug anointed my head with oil

  3. Has anyone ever heard of shepherds putting hogs oil on the ground, around snake holes to help prevent sheep from getting bit by snakes while grazing?

    • Chuck, that is a biblical reference based in the Psalms. It refers to shepherds’ habit of pouring oil down snake holes before turning sheep out to pasture, supposedly to make the holes too slippery for the snakes to get out and bite the sheep. The shepherds were “preparing the table” for the flock. Not so sure that would actually work, though. Snakes are pretty nimble!

  4. I did not know about the shepherd preparing safety in a pasture by looking for and pouring thick oil in holes so that snakes would not come up and bite the sheep’s nose as they graze. Just as our shepherd does a lot of preparation for his sheep; God does a lot of preparation for us in that He knows the plans he has for each of us to prosper and not be harmed. He leads and guides us in the right path especially when we would stick our nose in the serpents hole or the devil’s business by anointing our heads with the oil of the Holy Spirit.

  5. Insightful. Have you heard of Cripples walking, blind seeing, leprosy drying up in Kenya ? Jesusislordradio.org

  6. I have the habit of analyzing what I read in the Holy Scriptures, in order to get the spiritual meaning. There is however alot to read and a analyze. I hadn’t analyzed psalm 23. Thanks for the spiritual meaning. The article is both instructive and very interesting.

  7. There is a beautifully written book called “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller that explains each verse. Spot on with this explanation of why a shepherd applies oil.

  8. I’ve heard old shepherds say that they oil sheep and goats when they introduce new animals to the heard. It was explained to me that by oiling all of the animals it confused them about who was original herd and who was new to the herd. And by the time the oil wore off every animal just accepted each other. There by new sheep adopted into the herd.
    Anyone else ever here this? Or was I being fed a line like old farmers sometimes do?

  9. What is the story about a Shepherd breaking a sheep’s leg to keep him from wondering away or being rebellious. This sounds too harsh, even tho the Shepherd would care for him until he recovered. Myth or truth?

  10. Great article! Thoroughly enjoyed this one, now I am beginning to see people more like sheep and why they are in need for anointing!


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