Although many people think of sheep as being stupid, the fact is, they are pretty smart. Consider the behavior of wild sheep, such as Bighorns. They are known to be crafty, elusive and difficult to hunt. Recent studies have shown that sheep are able to recognize peoples’ faces and identify multiple individual members of their flocks.
All this lays a basis for the idea that sheep may have good reasons for their behaviors, one of which is preferring still water to running water. In this article, we explore this phenomenon and answer the question – will sheep drink from running water. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- Most Sheep Farmers Don’t Need To Worry About Running Water
- Which Is Better: Still Or Running Water?
- How Much Drinking Water Do Sheep Need?
- What’s The Best Sheep Watering System?
- Is A Stream Ever A Safe Water Source For Sheep?
- How Can Ponds And Stock Tanks Be Made Safer?
- Frequently Asked Questions
Most Sheep Farmers Don’t Need To Worry About Running Water
In developed nations and in commercial sheep farming, the question of still vs. running water never comes up. Sheep in these settings are given still water in a trough and may never see running water in their entire lifetimes.
This is not the case in less developed nations where sheep are managed in the open by shepherds and herd dogs. In these situations, the sheep are moved from place to place to take advantage of good grazing and water, so they must sometimes drink from rivers and streams instead of still ponds, lakes or troughs.
Which Is Better: Still Or Running Water?
While it might seem that running water would be preferred because it is better aerated and resists contamination and stagnation better than still water, sheep are a bit resistant to approaching running water.
Part of the reason is that falling into running water can be a big risk for an animal wearing a heavy wool coat. Pregnant ewes, older animals and those that are in poor health are at greater risk of being swept up and drowned in running water.
How Much Drinking Water Do Sheep Need?
Clean water is absolutely essential for sheep and all other forms of life. Every sheep needs between one-and-a-half and three gallons of clean, fresh water daily. Pregnant and nursing ewes may need as much as five gallons of water a day.
Staying well hydrated keeps sheeps’ bodily functions working correctly. Plenty of water flushes toxins from the system, lubricates joints, eyes and nasal passages and helps sheep regulate their body temperature. This is especially important for sheep in full fleece.
If your sheep are drinking less than you believe they should, consider the water content of their feed and pasture. They may be getting enough hydration from these sources during rainy or humid weather. This may change during drier times.
What’s The Best Sheep Watering System?
The best way to keep still water clean and fresh for your sheep is to provide water in troughs that can be emptied and cleaned on a regular basis.
If you are unable to do this and must have your sheep drink from a pond or stock tank, there are a few steps you can take to keep the water well-aerated, fresh and clean.
Automatic sheep waterers ensure that your sheep get enough clean water every day, but you must still remember to clean them regularly and remove any fallen straw, hay, droppings and bits of feed that may contaminate the water.
It is possible to get trough heaters to keep water free of ice in winter, and you should always remember to situation water tanks and troughs in a shady location in the summertime.
Is A Stream Ever A Safe Water Source For Sheep?
If you have a stream on your property, you may think that this is the perfect solution to your sheep watering needs, but sheep tend to be wary of running water.
Additionally, these days natural water sources are very likely to be contaminated. You never know what might be upstream.
Conversely, your sheep trampling around on the stream bank may cause problems for others downstream from you. Having livestock milling around in natural waterways can cause numerous environmental problems.
How Can Ponds And Stock Tanks Be Made Safer?
It’s important to refresh and renew the water in your stock tank or pond regularly so that it does not become dirty and stagnant. The buildup of fungus and bacteria in still water can be very dangerous for livestock and can cause illness and death and result in very high veterinary bills.
Stagnant water also creates an environment that allows pest insects to thrive, and if your water source becomes a mud hole, you’ll soon be busy pulling mired sheep out of the mud.
- Cultivate water plants to provide natural filtration and oxygenate the water.
- Stock your pond with fish to provide fertilizer for the plants and eat pest bugs, such as mosquito larvae.
- Avoid using chemicals near your pond.
- Make sure your pond is situated in a way that prevents the introduction of chemicals (e.g. fertilizer and pesticide) through runoff. Sheep are very likely to refuse contaminated water, but if they are very thirsty, they may drink it with catastrophic results.
- Water that is completely still will freeze quickly and more completely than water that has a bit of movement. A pump added to your stock tank or pond can keep the water moving just a bit so that it doesn’t freeze during winter, depriving your sheep of proper hydration. If possible, add a pump and filtration system, and/or create a water feature that allows the water to run in a limited way that will not put your sheep off.
- Keep the footing firm and secure around your water source. Put down a couple of layers of good gravel around the verge of your pond to prevent sheep from slipping into the water. Secure footing will help sheep feel more secure when seeking a drink.
- If you have not yet dug your watering tank or pond, take care not to make it too deep. If sheep are able to stand at all points in the pond, they are far less likely to drown if they fall in.
Providing secure footing and water of a safe depth, along with proper filtration and aeration will encourage your sheep to drink regularly without fear of drowning – although sheep are swimmers.
Sheep Slipping Into Water While Trying To Drink
Frequently Asked Questions
Sheep who are not give free access to good, clean water will develop a number of maladies and complications. Lack of water can cause digestive problems and metabolic problems. Additionally, a dairy sheep will produce measurably less milk.
For a short trip (less than a couple of hours) water may not be absolutely necessary. Sheep (and other animals) being shipped a long distance should always have water available to them. Dehydration can be deadly, especially for young animals and/or in very hot climates.
Many illnesses are spread by contaminated water. One of the most dangerous for sheep is Johne’s disease. This fatal gastrointestinal illness is also called paratuberculosis because it is spread by a subspecies of the bacterium known as Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP). Once this disease is established, it can spread from one animal to another and will wreak havoc on your herd.
The amount an individual sheep needs varies a bit depending upon the gender and condition of the animal. For example, a ram or a pregnant ewe can do well with about a gallon and a half of water daily, but a ewe with a lamb at her side or one that is used for milk production probably needs twice that amount.
Add fresh water daily by placing your hose end in the bottom of the trough and allowing the water to run over the top for about five minutes. This will displace old water with new, clean water. About once a week (or whenever the water appears dirty) empty the trough, scrub it with bleach, rinse it thoroughly and refill it. If you have a very large trough, you may wish to add a couple of ounces of household bleach per fifty gallons of water to discourage the growth of algae.