While watching sheep getting sheared at baby animal days, my kids asked me if sheep get cold after shearing. I thought it was a good question, given how some of the sheep appeared to shiver. So I did some research and found some interesting facts.
Sheep can get cold after being sheared, depending on their location, environment, and the timing of shearing. Generally, sheep owners anticipate these needs and adjust the environment, feed, and conditions so that their sheep stay warm and safe while regrowing a new coat of wool.
Want to know more about why sheep get cold after shearing – and what sheep owners are doing to keep their flocks safe from exposure? Keep reading – and I’ll show you what my research showed.
Sheep May Get Cold After Shearing
Sheep grow thick wool coats that do not shed. However, for thousands of years, these sheep have coexisted with humans who sheared them. It was a win-win situation: people get wool for making clothes (or whatever else) and the sheep got a free haircut that helped them stay cool and safe in warmer months when they would be at risk of becoming overheated (or even dying from being overheated with that too-thick wool coat).
However, depending on when, where, and how a sheep is shorn, they still may get cold after shearing. It’s a normal, unavoidable part of shearing. However, responsible sheep owners do take certain measures to minimize the problems associated with a sheep becoming too cold. We’ll talk about those factors in a moment – in the next section of this article.
But first, a quick comparison to understand why sheep get cold after being shorn. While we humans don’t have thick wool coats growing on us, we do have hair. Think about it – if you suddenly buzzed all of your hair off down to 3 milimeters (1/8 inches) like a shorn sheep, you’d probably shiver, too, right? And you’d probably shiver any time you got cold while you waited for enough hair to grow back enough. It’s the same for sheep.
In a 2002 study based in the Mediterranean, researchers found that sheep do get cold – and compensate by raising their internal temperatures to stay warm enough. This translates into an increased metabolic rate, meaning those sheep eat more food. This translates into an increased metabolic rate, meaning those sheep eat more food until their wool grows back enough to keep them warm enough.
Prior to shearing, core body temperature averaged 38.5 °C in the morning and 39.1 °C in the evening. Shearing caused an elevation of over 1 °C in the core body temperature of sheep for all breeds, which can be attributed to an over-reaction to the mild cold stress resulting from the loss of the fleece. The elevation in core body temperature was observed both in the morning and in the evening and lasted many weeks.
Return of core body temperature to the pre-shearing level was slower in the morning than in the evening… the elevated metabolic rate (and feed intake) associated with the observed 1 °C rise in core body temperature induced by shearing would require an additional annual expenditure of 8 million € (Euros) in animal feed.Piccione et al, 2002
In other words, it takes a few weeks for the sheep’s normal temperature to normalize. And during that time, they’re extra hungry. And their owners are responsible for supplying the right type of extra feed so that they are safe and warm.
Factors that Determine if Sheep Are Cold after Shearing
There are several important factors that can affect how cold a sheep gets after shearing that needs to be mentioned. They are:
- Timing of shearing (time of year).
- Acclimatization of sheep prior to shearing.
- The temperature outside at the time of shearing.
- Changes in temperature or season for the next few weeks after shearing.
- Environmental factors like precipitation, wind, and freak weather patterns.
- Shelter availability.
- Extra options, like the sheep having a cover put on them to keep them warm. This cover is a special blanket that may or may not be secured on them.
- Availability of feed and feed type.
Each of these factors has to be addressed in order for a sheep to stay warm if it’s to stay safe – and alive – after being shorn each year. We’ll discuss how sheep owners do just that in a further section of this article.
Can Sheep Die from Being Too Cold after Shearing?
Any mammal (including us humans) can die from being too cold, yes. So sheep could definitely die from being too cold. This is especially true after they’ve been sheared – because now they don’t have their fancy wool coat to keep them warm.
However, responsible sheep owners do take every precaution possible to prevent their sheep from getting too cold and dying all year – not just after shearing season.
Even so, there is still a mortality rate associated with shearing sheep. And it’s worse if bad weather (some combination of cold, windy, rainy, and wet) pops up after the sheep are shorn. A 1968 study out of Australia reported that:
Total deaths per annum averaged about 0.7% of sheep and lambs shorn and three-quarters [of those] were in the first 14 days after shearing…. Most of the losses over 2% were in cold wind with rain. When a high mortality occurred in weather other than this, the sheep were usually in poor condition. Deaths after shearing were not related to the period of yarding without feed, which was usually 1-2 days.Hutchinson 1968
That study shone an important light on conditions around shearing. Since then, the literature seems to indicate that shepherds and sheep owners put a renewed effort into caring for newly shorn sheep – so they don’t get sick and die.
So next let’s talk about how sheep owners, farmers, and shepherds help keep their flocks safe from cold – especially after those sheep have had their wool coats shorn off of them.
How to Minimize Cold and Exposure Related Issues in Shorn Sheep
Okay, so what can be done to minimize cold and exposure-related issues in shorn sheep?
The first is to realize that not shearing sheep isn’t a viable, long-term option if you’re keeping sheep. Sure, it may prevent cold-related issues – but it will cause heat and overheating related issues in the summer months. This will get worse as each year progresses, simply because the poor sheep can’t shed their wool.
The next thing people can do to minimize cold-related complications for their flock is to adjust when they shear their sheep.
Based on my research, most sheep are sheared in the late winter or early spring after having been acclimatized to the current weather. In other words, the sheep are given plenty of outside time to adjust to the cooler weather with their wool coats. That way, once they’re sheared they’ll be used to the cooler weather and be far less likely to get too cold.
Some sheep are shorn in warmer summer months. Based on what I’ve read, this can be an issue if a freak cold front comes through – because the sheep are used to the warmer weather. However, in a steady environment, this is generally considered a safe practice.
In either case, it’s a risk simply because we can’t foretell the future weather with 100% accuracy. As such, sheep owners and shearers make their best-educated guess as far as setting shearing timing each year.
Then, sheep owners and farmers make sure that their sheep have a shelter that can protect them from wet, cold, and windy weather once they’re shorn.
This may include putting a cover on them. Most covers I’ve seen at fairs and farmers’ markets can be secured in place over the sheep. That way, the sheep aren’t at risk of strangulation should the cover get caught on something.
Finally, sheep do need supplementary feed once shorn so they can regrow their wool. The supplementary feed for cold sheep can be up to 40% more than what they usually consume and is usually hay or a balanced feed rich with sheep-friendly carbs and cellulose.
It’s a lot of work to take care of sheep properly, but a healthy animal and all that wool are worth it in the end, right?
What temperature is too cold for sheep? Weather considered too cold for a sheep may be at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on accompanying weather factors (like sun or snow). Generally, though, sheep will seek shelter when they are too cold.
Can sheep die if not sheared? A sheep that is left unshorn could become overheated and die. This is far more likely during summer months, especially if a sheep doesn’t have adequate shelter and water to counteract symptoms of heat-related issues.
Does sheep fur grow back? Yes, the sheep’s wool does grow back naturally over time. Sheep are generally sheared every year or so – with the wool growing back each time.
- Campbell, Braden, and Braden Campbell. “Do Sheep and Goats Get Cold?” OSU Sheep Team, 29 Jan. 2018, u.osu.edu/sheep/2018/01/30/do-sheep-and-goats-get-cold/.
- Cottle, D.J., and D. Pacheco. “Prediction of Fleece Insulation after Shearing and Its Impact on Maintenance Energy Requirements of Romney Sheep.” Small Ruminant Research, Elsevier, 16 Oct. 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921448817302766.
- Hutchinson, JCD. “Deaths of Sheep after Shearing.” CSIRO PUBLISHING, CSIRO PUBLISHING, 1 Jan. 1968, www.publish.csiro.au/an/EA9680393.
- “Hypothermia in Sheep.” Agriculture and Food, www.agric.wa.gov.au/animal-welfare/hypothermia-sheep.
- Piccione, Giuseppe, et al. “Effect of Shearing on the Core Body Temperature of Three Breeds of Mediterranean Sheep.” Small Ruminant Research, Elsevier, 19 Oct. 2002, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S092144880200192X.