Everything You Need to Know About These Woolly Lambs
Spring, is one of my favorite times of the year. The days get longer, the trees start to bud, and all of a sudden the fields start to fill up with new born baby sheep. Blue sky on green fields full of baby sheep, it brings an encouraging warmth and familiarity to the coming season. This visual reminder of ‘new birth’ brings with it a symbolism, of the awakening of new year. The baby sheep are a bit part of that.
They are such cute and curious little animals. Never straying far from their mother. They have this charming appeal, the glint of innocence in their eye and a hopeful, youthful spring in their step. But did you know that, despite their often clumsy manor, they are intelligent and often quite emotionally complex animals?
Here are some baby sheep facts that you might not know, as well as some answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions!
8 Fun Baby Sheep Facts
Baby Sheep Are Called Lambs
Baby sheep, both male and female are known as ‘lambs‘. They are born in a ‘litter‘ either alone or with siblings. Females are called ‘ewes‘, while males are called ‘rams‘ and while this is true at all ages, they tend to just be called lambs while they are very young. Males that are not planned on being used as breeders are often castrated. When this happens they are no longer known as ‘rams‘ but as ‘wethers‘.
A group of sheep collectively is known as a ‘mob‘, a ‘herd‘ or a ‘flock‘. There is no separate collective noun for lambs, so a group of lambs is also just known as a ‘flock‘ as this is the most common collective term.
Lambs Have Rectangular Pupils & Great Peripheral Vison
If you have ever approached a lamb only to see them move away, thinking ‘they must have eyes it the back of their head’, well there is a reason for this. Baby sheep, similarly to goats, are born with rectangular pupils. This is incredibly advantageous to this species which can be very vulnerable to predation. These rectangular pupils allow young lambs to develop exceptional peripheral vision. Their field of view is estimated to be around 270 to 320 degrees. For comparison, the average human field of view is around 155 degrees.
The rectangular elongation of the pupil is along the horizontal, which increases the light coming in from the sides, but reduces the light coming in vertically from above and below. This gives them the advantage of being able to identify any movement at the fringes of their peripheral vision.
A Baby Sheep Is Born Around 6 Months After Conception
In terms of sheep reproduction and pregancy, baby lambs are usually born around 6 months following mating. The average gestation period, is 152 days, but those with twins tend to give birth toward the start of the season (March) and those with single lambs tend to give birth toward the end of the season (May). While this also depends on the timing of conception, as a general rule, single pregnancies are longer than those of multiple lambs.
Once born, a lamb will feed from their mothers milk a few times per day, often for periods up to half an hour. By 4-6 weeks, they will be subsidising their diet with solid food, and feeding from their mothers around twice per day. They will be fully weaned by around 12-16 weeks.
Baby Sheep Can Develop Complex Emotions
Sheep are quite intelligent creatures and have more brainpower than people are willing to give them credit for. For example, sheep in Yorkshire, England found a way to get over cattle grids by rolling on their backs. Clever sheep!
However, they are also emotionally complex animals, much more so than people may think. Many studies have revealed that sheep can develop a wide range of emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, happiness and boredom. Their responses to these emotions can also be quite complex. For instance, studies show that sheep can become optimistic or pessimistic depending on their emotional experience in the world.
Baby Sheep Are Sometimes Rejected
Sometimes, and for a variety of reasons, a baby lamb may be rejected by its mother ewe. Some reasons for this include:
Health Problems – A mother ewe has strong instincts, and if she can tell that one of her lambs is very sick and going to die, she may abandon this lamb. Saving milk and resources for her young that will survive, rather than give time and resource to the mortally ill.
Prefers One Twin Over Another – In some cases, for no apparent reason, the ewe will just take a preference for one over the other, neglecting one of her lambs. This is more common in litters that have triplets or more. It does happen with single litters too though, where some ewes just have no paternal instinct at all and have no interest in their offspring.
Where A Lamb Has Been Removed From Its Mother – Where a lamb has been handled by a human, for instance to warm it under a lamp for a few hours, she may not take the lamb back. Sheep have an incredible sensitive sense of smell and this is used as one factor in identifying their young.
Baby Sheep Have A Smooth, Slender Coat.
Lambs have a much smoother, softer coat than adult sheep. The fibers in their coat are young and as such, lamb wool is a much sought after resource. It can fetch a much greater price than adult sheep. Some have better coats than others.
Different breeds of sheep are bred specifically for the type of wool and milk they produce. Merino sheep for example have exceptional wool and are often bred for this. Other British sheep breeds that are known for their quality wool coats include the English Leicester sheep, which has a very dense but shiny wool, and the Shropshire sheep breed.
Spinning wool into yarn began about 5,000 years ago. One pound of wool can make 10 miles of yarn. One years growth of fleece, makes around 8 pounds of wool.
Baby Sheep Develop A Great Sense Of Smell
Domestic Sheep also have an excellent sense of smell and like all species of their genus, have scent glands just in front of the eyes and interdigitally on the feet. The purpose of these glands is uncertain, however, those on the face may be used in breeding behaviours.
Their sense of smell is great for identifying predators and also for finding sources of water. It helps adult rams locate ewes in heat and can also help ewes identify their baby lambs within the flock.
It’s Not Unusual For Lambs To Cry At Night
Lambs may cry at night if they are scared or unsure where their mother is. A mother may also cry or ‘baaah’ loudly so that they and their offspring can keep track of where each other are. They don’t need to do this so much through the day, by at night when vision is reduced, they can need this reassurance. Particularly while lambs are young.
They may cry loudly if they feel or sense the presence of something unfamiliar, like a predator, to make sure that they are all close by and safe, while also alerting the flock.
Baby Sheep FAQs
Baby Sheep Lifecycle
A flock of ewes is generally mated by a single ram, who has either been chosen by a farmer or has established dominance through physical contest with other rams
A baby sheep, or lamb, is the most adorable little creature you will ever see. They are usually born in late winter or early spring, and weigh around 5-10 pounds. Their wool is soft and smooth, and they love to play.
Baby sheep are raised by their mothers for the first few months of their lives. They feed on their mother’s milk, which is high in nutrients and helps them grow big and strong. Baby sheep learn important survival skills from their mothers, like how to find food and stay safe.
When they are about 3 months old, baby sheep are weaned from their mother’s milk and start to rely on solid food. This includes hay, grass, grain, and other plants.
A lamb usually hits adulthood at around one year, but become independent at about 5 to 6 months and are often considered fully grown at about 6 months.
How Many Sheep Are Born In A Litter?
It is common for lambs to be born individually or as twins, while triplets are less common and litters larger than triplets are much rarer. Lambs born in a litter alone, tend to be larger than lambs born as twins. However, the gestation period for twins tends to be shorter that that for a single lamb.
In some sheep breeds it is more common to birth more than two sheep in a litter, but for most breeds, one to two is much more common. The Finnsheep, Romanov and Barbados Black Belly are a few such examples.
What Do Baby Sheep Look Like?
Baby sheep have a soft, smooth and delicate coat, that is usually lighter than the coat of an adult. The quality of a lambs wool often fetches a higher price than adult sheep wool, because it makes for higher quality bedding and clothing.
Lambs tend to be more slender, and do not develop horns until well into adolescence. They have milk teeth that grow in over the first few weeks, and permanent teeth don’t tend to grow in until after their first year.
Do Baby Sheep Have Teeth?
Baby sheep have milk teeth that erupt at about 3 weeks of age. These milk teeth break through in stages, and as they mature, they fall out and are replaced in stages too. At around one year old, their temporary incisor teeth will start to be replaced by permanent incisors. The first two – central incisors, grow in between 12 – 19 months. They will have a full set of permanent teeth by the time they reach 24 – 48 months.
What Do Baby Sheep Eat?
Lambs, for the first few weeks of their life survive from only their mothers milk. Some can be introduced to hay in their diet as early as two weeks, but it is generally at four to six weeks when they will start to significantly subsidise their diet with the same solid food as adult sheep. They will continue to consume their mothers milk until around 5 to 6 months when fully weaned.
Sheep are exclusively herbivorous mammals. Like all ruminants, sheep have a complex digestive system composed of four chambers, allowing them to break down cellulose from stems, leaves and seed hulls into simpler carbohydrates.
How Quick Do Baby Sheep Grow?
At birth, a lamb will weigh roughly 5 to 10 lbs (2.2-4.5 kg) but this does vary across the different sheep breeds, with some larger breeds weighing up to 12 lbs (5.4 kg). Single births will tend to be larger than those born as twins or more.
A baby lamb will average around 27 cm long and 35 cm tall, with variations for multiple lamb births, and across the sexes. They will also grow by about 0.24 cm and 0.18 kg per day until weaned.
In the first few months, baby sheep grow quickly, and will double their birth weight by six weeks old.
Where Do Baby Sheep Live?
Baby sheep live in pastures with their mothers and their siblings. Lambs will stick close to their family, even within a larger flock they will stay close to home. If they roam too far, or don’t keep up with their parents, they may become vulnerable on the fringes of the flock.
Natural Predators Of Baby Sheep
Baby sheep have many natural predators, including most canids, including coyotes and foxes,. Hawks, and eagles may also swoop down on young lambs, but are less of a threat to adult sheep. They are also prey for larger animals such as wolves and mountain lions. As sheep are kept as livestock around the world, predators do vary depending on location, but they are a prey species and threats are never too far away.