Sheep pigging out

Can sheep be pigs?  Absolutely!  They sure can eat a lot, and they sure do after shearing.

As promised, I am going to show you how sheep eat after they get sheared.  Well, they eat the same way they did before, only in much larger quantities! 

When you strip the coat off a sheep, it honestly is a shock to their body…and they must eat a lot more to produce the energy to keep warm, and to start growing that wool coat all over again.  All wool-bearing animals produce lanolin, which is really wool grease, if you will.  The stuff that is used by humans comes from domestic sheep.  As lanolin is produced by their skin, it is wicked out toward the ends of the wool fiber and “seals” the wool, helping keep the animal warm and dry.  This is also why the inside of a fresh-sheared fleece is pure white and the outside is actually quite dirty—the lanolin also wicks the dirt out to the ends as it grows!   It’s very cool!  Other animals don’t do this—they just get dirty to their skin, or wet, or whatever, but we won’t hold this against them.  They can’t help it, poor common things!

This all means that by taking that protective and warm layer from them in the cold time of the year, you are exposing them, in a very literal sense, to the elements until they produce enough lanolin to “seal” their short wool again.  This takes about 7-10 days.  During that time, they must have access to a building at night, and/or if the weather gets really cold, or cold and wet, or really wet.  This is why we always hope for good weather the week after shearing–cold and wet is bad, bad, bad for naked, “ungreased:” sheep!!   “Ungreased” in not a technical term, folks, it’s one I just invented, right there.  Isn’t it cool?

A ewe’s feed requirement will increase by 25-30% just from shearing her.  This is not a small thing!  Additionally, this time period is also the last 3-4 weeks of her gestational cycle, which is when about 70% of the fetal lamb growth is taking place, so her feed requirements are already increasing dramatically because of that.  To put it bluntly, everything the ewe crams in her mouth at this point had better be good nutrition–she needs every bit of it to grow lambs, wool and keep her own body going.  So, what am I getting at here?  Sheep eat a LOT after shearing, and they eat just about every waking moment!  Maybe they eat at night too–I don’t go check.  I would not be surprised if they did, though.  We’ll let that remain a secret for now…..  When they’re not eating, they are chewing their cuds, which is another way they get more nutrition from what they’ve already gobbled up beforehand.

I could go on and on with this–now think about the ewe pregnant with a single lamb versus one pregnant with triplets…what do you think happens then?  Yeah, that’s right!  We won’t go there, but let me just point out here that one reason I have come to respect and admire the lowly sheep is because they are about the most productive animal I can think of.  They are amazing!  And, feed them we shall!!

Okay, so we’ve established that sheep eat gobs more than the days leading up to their shearing, and while they do not sound or act like pigs, they sure eat everything they can get their mouths around, like a pig does.

So, let’s get on with the show before you drop off from boredom….and if you’ve already done that, well, have a nice nap.  Catch you later!

Every morning, the sheep get a breakfast treat of this stuff.  These are 3/8-inch pellets made of half second-cutting alfalfa and half grain.  This is not Froot Loops, folks, though the sheep go for it like it is, as you will see.


It goes in the troughs like this….or on the grass somewhere, depending on how many sheep we’re feeding at the moment.



The sheep are locked out while the troughs are being filled….they are wild for this stuff and must not be in the pen while you are dealing with it, or…well it is not fun, let’s just say!  They don’t like being locked away from this delicious sheep delight, and complain loudly!


Interestingly, Tess likes this stuff too.  I would say that’s pretty funny, but….she also eats hay with the sheep, so I think she sometimes exhibits an underlying identity issue, and that’s not funny.  I hope she’ll be okay.


When all is ready, we open the gate!  Look out! And, hang onto your hat!!!

After everyone has found a spot, they are totally intent on simply scarfing for a bit……


There are still those that just are SURE that they are somehow missing out, and must run about being sure no one has better groceries than they do!


After they’ve eaten up every single crumb (and they WILL!) of those pellets, they get hay too, which they also consume at an alarming speed.  Then they head for water, as you can imagine!!  We feed hay in the evenings as well…..we’re growing all those lambs, you remember, that you will get to meet here on my blog in mere weeks!  Yay!

The sheep learn the sound of  any engine that carries eats, and in this case it’s our pickup named Lurch…which is named that for a good reason.  We can’t ever get rid of it…I guess it’s part of our family….sigh.  Here are the sheep coming for hay when they hear Lurch, and also when they hear their humans giving the “Sheeeeep!!  Sheeeep!” yell!  Ha!

It’s really fun to watch sheep eat hay.  I think it’s so funny!

And another short little fun one.  The black sheep is getting the good stuff off the trailer—lots of good leaves fall off on there and it’s pure manna from Heaven!

So, there you have it, folks!  They eat just  like that, every day of every week until the lambs come….and then, they eat some more!! 

Targhee sheep eating hay on Montana ranch

Nothing quite so pleasing than to watch livestock appreciating what you’ve just done for them, wouldn’t you say? 

Targhee sheep eating hay on Montana ranch

Would you not say she’s saying, “Thank you!” with all of her heart?!  Or at least ALL of her mouth!!

Targhee sheep eating hay on Montana ranch

See you later, sheep!

Sheep eating hay by Turret Buttes Montana

So much lamb cuteness will be arriving next.. will you be able to handle it all?  Well, I’ve never met anyone that has overdosed on lamb-cuteness…even if that same cuteness becomes synonymous with “work”, which is actually does a few days into lambing.  But, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  For, now, we’re excited to meet our new crop of lambs!

As always, comment below and don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss any posts!



  1. Anonymous

    Very interesting blog Barb. Learned a lot. You all certainly have your hands full !

  2. mavis

    like to see the ag life/work that goes on, esp close to this area. You make it interesting all around.

  3. Margaret

    I love watching sheep eat! They have the funniest little mouths! And I love listening to them crunch on corn kernels! Great post, I didn’t know about the details of lanolin! Thanks

  4. Karen

    I don’t know very much about sheep and really learned a lot by reading this!! Loved it! Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

    1. The Jolly Rancher (Post author)

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Karen! I am not an expert, by any means, but I have learned that sheep will teach you a lot if you’re willing to learn from them!

  5. Audrey

    Are there special nutrients a ewe needs
    before she lambs?

    1. The Jolly Rancher (Post author)

      Hi, Audrey. I suppose one could get super-technical here, and I’m sure the answer is “yes”. We just try to make sure they have enough high-quality feed to sufficiently grow their lambs, and they have access to free-choice mineral and lick tubs. Depending on the age of our ewes, and the quality of that year’s hay, we will adjust our supplemental feed accordingly. I hope that answers your question! Thanks for reading!

  6. Anonymous

    Awesome story, I didn’t realize all I did not know about the sheep. Maybe you did say earlier, but is the shearing near the lambing by design or coincidental? J

    1. The Jolly Rancher (Post author)

      It’s intentional…and yes, that was in the shearing post. But, to recap—it’s just much easier to house and work with the ewes with less wool, it’s cleaner when lambing, and it’s easier for the lambs to find the udder without long wool hanging about everywhere. If in long wool, a lamb can easily get to sucking on a chunk of wool instead of the real thing, and that leads to disaster.


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