Sheep Behaviour, Needs, Housing and Care

  • D R Arney Institute of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences, Estonian University of Life Sciences


Sheep (Ovis aries) are an attractive animal for scientific procedures; for medical, veterinary and fundamental  biological research. They are docile, rarely show aggression, have a (relatively) short flight distance and are  gregarious. In the UK, of 3 million animal scientific procedures in 2006, over 36,000 involved sheep. Small  as a proportion perhaps, but exceeded only by the number involving rats and mice, among mammals, and  chickens and fish (all species). And the numbers of sheep used in experimental procedures are increasing  (up 24% on the previous year). They live longer than mice and rats (up to 15 years potentially) so can be  used for longer term studies. They are smaller and more manageable than cows, yet have an analagous  digestive system. They are commonly used for testing for veterinary vaccines. They have a similar neural  axial structure to humans, so have been used for analagous studies, such as drug testing for treatment of  Huntington’s disease. They have traditionally been used in foetal physiological experiments, and in altering  their genetic component to produce compounds that may be harvested in their milk, such as insulin or  clotting agents for haemohpilia. Their use in fundamental genetic research has been well publicised. Other  advantages are that they are highly domesticated, and we have a substantial knowledge bank of work on  their behaviour. Nevertheless there remain specific welfare issues relating to the use of the sheep as an  experimental animal. This presentation considers the particular behaviour of the domestic sheep and relates  this to their housing, welfare, handling, and general care.