There's always a cause…
Dairy sheep falling on their backs is a common occurrence, and such incidents might be more frequent when they are pregnant or have their back full of fleece. Too much wool makes their coat heavy, and they become easy to roll or tip over. Additionally, your sheep may inadvertently tip itself due to its bulk fleece or relatively short legs.
When in this awkward position, the sheep may find it difficult to get up - and unfortunately, no other sheep can help out! If left on their back, the sheep become vulnerable to attacks from birds. In worst-case scenarios, the fall might mean slow but painful death.
Why do sheep fall on their backs?
A sheep that's on its back and is having a hard time getting up is called a cast sheep. Note that sheep don't naturally lie on their backs; they prefer to lie on their side, making it easier to get up.
As mentioned earlier, one reason why sheep fall on their backs is because of a full fleece. The full fleece tends to be heavy, so much that it causes sheep to fall and tip over on their backs. Especially when the wool is wet and soaked, it becomes heavier. This mostly happens to sheep with a full fleece during rainy seasons.
Pregnant sheep also tend to fall on their backs since they are heavy, which puts their center of gravity slightly off. During lambing seasons, many pregnant sheep fall prey to this inconvenience. Another factor that can lead to a sheep falling on its back is diseases or weakness like lameness or convulsions that may make the sheep fall and tip over on its back.
Do not worry though – there's a solution! When your sheep falls on its back, here are 4 actions that you should take:
1. Roll it Back to an Upright Position
Sheep routinely laze on the ground or grass when tired, but quickly regain their footing unless injured, sick, or heavy with fleece. If a sheep stays upside down for prolonged periods, it may take several attempts to stay upright.
You can try the all-so simple method of rolling it back to an upright position. You can also try a different method where you grab the sheep's fleece but not too tight and gently help it turn upside.
A simple roll will save the life of your beloved sheep. But it does not stop there! To remove the fleece, you need to shear the sheepskin. Shearing will not harm the sheep as it focuses on the top layer of the skin, which is dead. Instead, it will make your sheep lighter and help it walk lightly and uprightly, without tossing or rolling back.
You can check out our recommended affordable sheep shearing machines here.
2. Check to confirm if the Sheep will Remain Stable
Not all falls are caused by pregnancy or heavy fleece - there might be other complicated causes! After you have rolled the sheep to its upright position, wait a minute and check to see that it remains stable.
Hold the sheep upwards for a while so that blood may circulate in the feet properly. Do this by holding the front legs up for a short period, then move on to the hind legs.
If the sheep suffers from underlying health conditions or has been badly injured, chances are, it may fall over as soon as it tries to gain stability. If so, go for action (3) or (4) below;
3. It is Time to Visit Your Vet
If you notice that your sheep cannot stand upright even after several attempts to help it get up, you better schedule a vet visit. Sheep can be vulnerable to attacks by the Parelaphostrongylus parasite (Brainworm). The parasite invades the sheep's spinal cord and could cause partial or complete paralysis.
The symptoms of the resulting illness depend on the extent of the parasitic attack. Therefore, if you suspect your sheep are suffering from this illness, call your vet and let them carry out a diagnosis on the sheep. Otherwise, your animal might succumb to death from the parasitic attack or if it frequently falls on its back.
4. Word of Caution - Find the Owner of the Sheep
If the sheep is not yours, be sure to look for the farmer or shepherd in charge of the stock. Plus, inform them of the sheep's behavior. Farmers' Union advises the public not to approach livestock themselves for it might stress the animals. So, the best solution here is to find the farmer who best understands their animals.
Why Can't Sheep Get Up if They Fall Over?
There are a few reasons why a sheep can be physically unable to get back upright. As mentioned earlier, the most common cases are late pregnancy, too much fleece, physical injury, or being overly fat. Usually, the main issue in these cases is that the sheep cannot get a proper balance to position the legs underneath the body, thus failure to stand.
Unless the sheep can find a place to put its feet and push up against a surface so it can get itself in an upright position, it will be stuck in that position until someone comes to its rescue.
Notably, if the sheep completely fails to stand, the most common problem it might encounter is bloat. A sheep is a ruminant that needs to be in the appropriate position for digestion to occur effectively. Sadly, bloat in a sheep is likely to cause death. Usually, bloat occurs so quickly that it could be too late to save the sheep, even after it has stood upright.
How Do I Know the Sheep Needs Help?
Sheep do not walk or graze by themselves - being in a flock means safety for them. So, one sign that the sheep is not okay is if you notice that it is all by itself. After rolling it back to an upright position, wait to see if it will run to join the flock – that's a sign of success! If she doesn't, the difficulty might be more than just falling on its back.
If a sheep falls on its back, know that it is not resting or sunbathing. Also, please don't rush to conclusions that it's dead; otherwise, without your help, it might be dead soon.If you feel that the animal is under stress, leave it be for a few minutes to calm down before you help it out.
Remember this article the next time you find a sheep on its back because one simple turn can save a sheep's life.