Sheep Welfare

Welfare issues for sheep

The main welfare issues affecting sheep are from lameness, transport and illness caused by disease. The health problems of sheep are largely treatable or avoidable with good grazing, breeding and stockmanship.

Ewes and lambing

Many ewes die during winter and spring because of poor body reserves to cope with winter and inadequate grazing. Many lambs are aborted or stillborn or die through disease, exposure and starvation. Multiple births are common in many modern sheep breeds and often result in problems for the ewe during delivery and produce more vulnerable lambs. In the UK, as many as 15% of lambs do not survive.


Live sheep and lambs are frequently transported on long journeys around the world. For example, each year, around 1.5 million sheep and lambs as young as four weeks old, are sent to Italy for slaughter from Hungary, Romania, Poland and Spain. On EU journeys legislation is frequently ignored with animals not given the rest, food and water required. Sheep are regularly transported in overcrowded trucks with insufficient headroom. In hot weather overcrowding can contribute to poor ventilation and sheep are often unable to access or use drinking devices.

You can help by choosing higher welfare alternatives.

Higher welfare alternatives for sheep

Most sheep are farmed in extensive systems, outdoors on pasture. However several million sheep are housed permanently indoors and some lambs are fattened indoors. When buying lamb, unless the label says ‘grass fed’ or ‘access to pasture’ sheep may have had no outdoor access. Organically farmed sheep graze on pasture throughout the grazing season.

Good stockmanship with good grazing regimes and strong breeds help ensure ewes remain healthy and improves lamb survival. Smaller numbers of sheep cared for by more shepherds allows proper supervision of the animals’ health and welfare. Provided that they are given sufficient care, ‘easy care’ breeds which are better able to look after themselves, can have many welfare advantages. They have fewer problems with lambing and are more resistant to fly strike so they don’t need to be tail docked. However, it is essential that sheep are given adequate supervision to ensure any welfare issues are quickly noticed and addressed.