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Can a Sheep Survive a Broken Leg? Tales of Three-Legged Sheep

Sheep have a bad rep as being dumb, but they’re really some amazing animals who enrich any homestead or farm. That being said, they can get into trouble from time to time. And sometimes, that injury isn’t minor – it’s a broken leg that may need a cast, a splint, or even amputation. So can a sheep survive a broken leg?

Sheep can generally survive a broken leg if it’s properly set and given time to heal. Sheep who experience a leg amputation can also do well after healing and with time to adjust. Sheep can do well with only three legs, although their gait will be noticeably different once they start to run.

In some cases, a broken leg isn’t a huge deal – it just requires a splint or a cast. In other cases, the broken leg is so shattered that it will require amputation. But don’t worry – there are stories of sheep surviving and thriving with only three legs. So let’s read about them together.

image of sheep laying down in a field

Can a sheep survive a broken leg?

Just like most animals, sheep are not immune from getting themselves into awkward situations that can lead them to trouble. From getting stuck in fences to jumping too high, it can be surprising to know that they can injure their leg in various ways. Albeit not a common occurrence, the possibility is there and it can certainly happen at any given time.

In short, yes – sheep can survive a broken leg. In saying that, the severity of the injury will indicate whether it’s a poor or good prognosis for survival. Their survival will also depend on several given factors, such as the sheep’s age and whether or not they’re pregnant, and certain details like these can hinder their recovery process following a broken limb.

A common observation often made is that sheep don’t show signs of distress when injured. As sheep are prey animals, it’s within their natural instinct not to show outward signs of injury to avoid looking weak in front of its predator. With this exact reason, you shouldn’t assume your sheep is fine judging by its stoic look.

Survival of the sheep will also depend on whether the cost of healing the broken leg will outweigh the option of humanely euthanizing the sheep. In the slight chance that putting them down might be better for them, it’s always best to exhaust all other options before going through with it, though.

Can a broken leg heal on its own?

Leaving a sheep to heal a broken leg on its own is not the best idea.

For a closed fracture – where the broken bone has not penetrated the skin – try to determine exactly where the break is. This will tell you which sections should be held together with a splint – a device to immobilize the broken parts. Using a splint for this type of fracture provides a better chance for recovery, so it’s best to apply one as soon as the incident occurs.

If you’re unsure about the quality of your splint, call the vet to assess the injury and the splint.

Sometimes, broken bones can pierce the skin, also known as a compound fracture. When this happens, your sheep will require instant attention. Exposed wounds can lead to other problems, such as infection.

Before the bones can be fixed into place, the wound must be treated first by cleaning and stitching it up. Based on my research, I found that if the opening is greater than 1 inch, it’s best not to attempt the patch up yourself. Go ahead and call the vet.

Pros and cons of amputation with sheep

As effective as splints may be, they may not be the solution and the vet may suggest amputation. In addition to high costs, amputation also has its risks, as sheep tend to not tolerate anesthetics well (source). If the injured lamb is pregnant, anesthesia could cause a spontaneous abortion.

While the risks are high, there is always a chance of survival that results in feel-good stories with happy endings, such as this seven-year-old ewe named Cardi and five-year-old sheep named Peggy from South Australia. Two sheep with sad stories who got their happy endings!

The next steps after an injury to your sheep

Healing an injured sheep can be costly, as the vet bills alone can put a dent in your wallet. Before settling on an option, you may want to give your sheep’s worth further thought. For instance, a small producer with only a few sheep may want to invest in its recovery, whereas a larger producer may not think it’s worth it from a production point of view.

According to veterinarians, sheep tend to heal well and leg injuries are treatable by casting, splinting, or immobilizing. The question now is whether a sheep can thrive with just three legs.

Can a sheep survive on three legs?

Contrary to the forces of balance, yes – they can! There have been many positive stories about animals going about their normal lives with only three feet. Have you read about the three-legged Sumatran tiger in Indonesia or Layka, the three-legged Belgian Malinois war dog?

Sheep are also able to thrive with three legs, too.

As proven, many animals are capable of balancing without a fourth leg. This means that the use of a prosthetic to replace a limb is rarely recommended by veterinarians and it may be better to let the beauty of nature takes its course. Over time, they will get used to the balancing act and will feel like their normal selves, capable of even running and jumping.

When they have to lose a limb, it can be a hard transition. You may also have to reassign your sheep’s job or purpose, if having four legs was a requirement for their particular use. For instance, they might be disadvantageous towards predator attacks, so it might work out better to have them as a cute, furry companion.

How to treat a broken sheep leg so it heals

Your sheep may be alright now, but recovery takes time and is an important step to follow. Below are ways to help them heal.

  • Make sure the cast or wrap is always intact. Ensuring the splint or cast is on for the duration of the recovery will result in the broken halves lining up. Whether you’re using padded cotton or natural wool (an effective material suggested by Joybilee Farm) to act as a buffer between the skin and splint, change it when necessary.
  • Keep things dry to avoid infection. This includes the sheep’s bedding and the bandaging around the broken leg. Clean their bedding daily for the leg to stay dry and replace the bandages immediately if it gets wet.
  • Give them time to recover. After an amputation, your sheep may need to be kept away from the rest of the herd to recover fully. Keep them close, so you can keep an eye and check up on them often and make sure they also rest the limb from time to time before they can start running again.

Tales of 3-legged sheep

In my research, I looked high and low for tales of 3-legged sheep. I referenced the two I found earlier, but here is a quick recap for some daily sunshine.

  • Cardi tried to jump a fence, misjudged, and shattered her leg as a 7-year-old lamb. Even worse, she was in lamb. But in her case, the choice was amputate or euthanize. So she lost her left front leg, but she and the lambs survived. She’s lived a full life at the Farm Animal and Bird Sanctuary Trust in Tardebigge, with the last news update I’ve found dating back to 2014.
  • Peggy’s story was shared back in 2007. At the time, she was a 5-year-old sheep. her owner wasn’t sure how she’d lost her limb, though it was theorized it was due to getting tangled or a predator. Peggy has had several sets of lambs just fine and lives an active life on the farm.

So there are stories out there – and they do have happy endings. Sheep really are an amazing, resilient animal.

Final thoughts on sheep, sheep with leg injuries, and 3-legged sheep

Having an animal with an injured or broken limb isn’t easy. I imagine there’s been at least a sheep or two somewhere that’s put into a cone of shame in order to help them heal without licking the injury too much. In any case, time, patience, and love are going to be the main tools in your care kit that you’re going to need to nurse these animals back to good health.

But hey – they’re part of your homestead. So they’re worth it. Happy homesteading!

Resources

It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to also learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂

  • “How to Fix a Sheep’s Leg.” Animals.mom.com, https://animals.mom.com/how-to-fix-a-sheeps-leg-7637285.html
  • “Topic: sheep broken leg.” The Accidental Smallholder, https://www.accidentalsmallholder.net/forum/index.php?topic=54164.0
  • “Happy ending to the tale of a three-legged sheep.” Bromsgrove Advertiser, https://www.bromsgroveadvertiser.co.uk/news/11200429.happy-ending-to-the-tale-of-a-three-legged-sheep/
  • “Three legs proves no barrier for Peggy the sheep.” ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2007-03-02/three-legs-proves-no-barrier-for-peggy-the-sheep/6255738
  • “pet sheep with broken leg.” Homesteading Today, https://www.homesteadingtoday.com/threads/pet-sheep-with-broken-leg-help.270985/
  • “What are the best ways to treat a sheep with a broken leg?” Quora, https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-best-ways-to-treat-a-sheep-with-a-broken-leg
  • “Lost limb? No problem. How animals thrive with three legs.” National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/amputee-three-legs-animals-news
  • “Meet Layka, a Three-Legged War Hero.” National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/behind-the-cover-martin-schoeller-and-the-three-legged-dog
  • “3 Natural Ways to Help a Lamb With a Broken Leg.” Joybilee Farm, https://joybileefarm.com/lamb-with-a-broken-leg/
  • “Injured Sheep.” lifestyleblock.co.nz, https://www.lifestyleblock.co.nz/forum/your-place/4462-injured-sheep

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