How you can save a sheep’s life

...it's important to raise the BAA!

Sheep don't sleep or even lie comfortably on their backs, so if you happen to see one in this position you can be sure it's close to death. If you know what to do, however, you might save its life. WATCH THE VIDEO!

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When you're training a sheepdog you can sometimes be surprised by a sheep's agility, but they aren't designed to lie on their backs, and they're not good at righting themselves.

A sheep with a heavy, possibly wet, fleece, or that is heavily pregnant or fat (resulting in a broad, flat back) is most at risk of becoming stuck if it rolls over.

It may have been resting, or it may have tried to scratch an itch, but it certainly won't have got itself into that position on purpose.

A sheep stuck on its back is vulnerable for a variety of reasons: not only is it easy prey for crows or badgers, but its own biology is against it.

In order to digest grass, sheep (and cows) have a four-chambered stomach. The largest chamber is the rumen, where the fibrous food ferments. Fermentation produces gas, and when the sheep is the wrong way up the gas can't escape.

The gas builds up, and causes pressure on the sheep's lungs until it simply can't breathe anymore. A horrible way to die.

The scenario of a combination of suffocation and predator attack is pretty grim, but it's easy to avoid. Keep aware for an upturned sheep when you're out and about, and act quickly if you see one. DO leave your dog at a distance from the sheep if you possibly can, and DON'T worry about taking hold of a good handful of fleece to get the sheep turned over. Whatever evolutionary advantages sheep might have, they don't have convenient handles!

Watch the video above, to find out how easy it is to rescue a sheep which is stranded on its back, then share this page so that others will see how to do it too.

23 Replies to “How you can save a sheep’s life”

  1. My friend and I just upturned a desperate large Ewe in the Hills of mid Wales. Very lucky as it was 500 metres up a hill, in quite remote wilderness. By the slightest of chances we noticed two hooves twitching above the grass. She was on her back by, caught in Tussock grass and trapped due to the hill slope. She must have been there for a while. The chances of anyone stumbling across her were almost non existent as we were 5 km’s from anyone. It felt great to see her run off. Lucky Ewe/you i thought. Strangely, my friends partner lost her favourite sheep that day. RIP Billy. x

    1. Thanks for the feedback Carl. It’s really good to know that the video has helped people to help distressed sheep. Sorry to hear your friend lost a sheep on the same day though…

  2. Thanks for an interesting instructional video and some useful information. On a recent holiday in Cumbria I was walking through a field of sheep when I noticed one on its back with a couple of very worried looking youngsters by its side. Although I knew very little about sheep I did realise that it shouldn’t be like that so with a quick Google and armed with your information I went across and managed to roll it over, whereby it scrambled to its feet, shook itself and trotted off happily with its two youngsters. Left alone the outcome would probably have been very different so thanks again for the information.

  3. Hello, my wife and I were walking on an airfield where there are sheep grazing, when my wife noticed one of the sheep on her back with legs in the air. We went on the internet and found your website and video. With a little trepidation we rolled her onto her front, but she wobbled and rolled over again. This happened three times. For the next attempt we rolled her and then rested our hands on her back, so that she stopped moving and rested for a few seconds. Then she was up, wobbled a little and stayed upright. We are not sure whether it was just luck that she stayed up, had regained her strength after the previous efforts or felt more relaxed having felt the pressure of our hands on her back for a little. There was another sheep on the field on her side but she seemed very weak and would not make any effort to get up, even with help. We called the shepherd who hopefully was able to help her. We would like to thank you for your very instructive video.

  4. Hi Andy,
    I spotted a heavily pregnant ewe laying this way when driving past a paddock today and was concerned as I’d not seen this before. Went to a neighboring property to find the farmer but he refused to assist.
    After a quick google search I found your video and jumped the fence to roll her over. Just as you said, she went running back to her he heard.
    So thanks all the way from Australia

  5. Thank you for this tutorial video. I had just stumbled upon your video and have just uprighted a sheep as well. The lambs seemed a lot happier after the ewe was righted!

  6. Thank you for your video and post! Until today, I knew nothing about sheep, except our neighbor, who lives elsewhere, has them next to our place. I check on them daily as I feed my horses. Today, I noticed one of the pregnant ewes on her back kicking her feet. I thought, that’s odd, I have never seen them do that! About 15 minutes later, she was still there, still kicking her feet. I love animals and watch their interactions with others and that just didn’t seem right and reminded me of a cast horse in a stall. I jumped on the internet and found your video. I took off over to her pen and my husband jumped in with me. We pushed her over and she stood up. She was a tiny bit wobbly and clearly her eyes were dazed. We brushed her back off and watched her until she was stable on her feet. Thank you so much for your post. She looks like she may have twins and has that flat back like you described. I will be keeping an eye out for her over the next few days, until she delivers her load!

    1. What a great result! Thanks for letting us know how you successfully saved a sheep’s life, Sharon. It makes creating the post all the more worthwhile. Of course, until she produces her lambs that ewe will still be vulnerable to the same problem, but all being well, please let us know how she gets on with her lambs.

  7. A couple of years ago I watched several other sheep in the field go over to one on heback & all got together & nudged her until she was in a position to stand up. Also, once up they are still in danger for a short time as If they have been down for any length of time they need time to adjust before they can trot off.

  8. Rigwelted, is that the technical term for the position? Not that we get a lot of it in the centre of Sheffield !!

    1. I’d never heard of the term “Rigwelted” but Google has plenty of results for it, so yes, thank you for that Bob.
      In this part of the UK it’s referred to as “Cast”, but it’s great that different areas still have their own words for these things!

  9. Brilliant, helping the sheep is also helping the farmer ‍ too, but please if your with a dog keep it on the lead when around livestock and still scoop the poop thank you .

      1. Basically ALL sheep are topheavy. In most cases their thin legs can’t make the counterweight to help them back on their feet, especially if they are lying feet up in a groove. So your help is definitely life-saving.

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