It turns out that most domestic animals don’t get to live out a truly full life.
Between being slaughtered for meat or put down to purify bloodlines, it seems that most animals only live for a handful of years at most.
But how about sheep? Nominally, most sheep just get to stand around eating grass before being shorn for wool. So how long do sheep really live?
Many domestic sheep are slaughtered before they reach one year of age if raised for meat, while wool sheep will live many more years typically, although they’re typically culled when their wool production starts to degrade or slow down around 8 years of age. In ideal conditions, most sheep can live between 10 and 12 years.
It turns out that, like many animals, sheep can be surprisingly long-lived if given a good diet, plenty of medical care and they are, of course, actually left alive.
Depending on your objectives and why you are keeping sheep, it is possible that your sheep might make it that long.
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything else you need to know about the lifespan of wild and domestic sheep…
How Long Do Domestic Sheep Live?
A domestic sheep’s lifespan will depend on several factors… Typically, for sheep that are raised for meat, they will be slaughtered while still lambs meaning they are less than one year old.
Sheep that are kept for wool production live much longer, but are often culled when they are no longer high producing, typically around 8 years of age or even less.
How Long Will a Domestic Sheep Live if Not Culled?
But, let us say that any given sheep is not going to be slaughtered or eliminated for whatever reason.
Given a good diet, plenty of care, and blessed with good overall health your typical domestic sheep will usually live between 10 and 12 years.
It is possible that they can live a lot longer depending on the breed, genetics, and various other factors though this is less common.
How Long Can a Wool-Producing Sheep Live?
As mentioned above, sheep that are kept for wool production will typically be kept alive only so long as their wool production remains constant and of adequate quality, usually around 8 years of age.
However, assuming they are not removed from the flock, domestic breeds known for wool production can live as long as any other domestic shoot can, typically between 10 and 12 years.
How Long Do Wild Sheep Live?
Wild sheep, as a rule, don’t live as long as domestic sheep since the stresses and risks they face in the wild are significantly greater than those faced by domestic sheep.
Disease, inadequate nutrition, predation, accidents, and the overall exertion associated with surviving in the wilderness means that most wild sheep typically live between 6 and 8 years.
Why Do Wild Sheep Have Shorter Lifespans?
As mentioned, because living in the wild is extremely difficult and takes a toll on the body.
Although many of their lives are cut short by disease, accident and predation, in the right environment it is possible that while sheep could live about as long as domestic sheep.
There isn’t anything that is inherently inferior about wild sheep genetically concerning lifespan, it’s simply that they face many more lifespan-shortening events…
What are Some Factors that Influence a Sheep’s Lifespan?
Concerning domestic sheep, most of the factors that influence the lifespan of all other domestic animals apply here.
On a most basic level, the genetics of an individual sheep will play a part in determining whether it has a long life or a short one.
But, more practically, we can influence a sheep’s lifespan by:
- optimizing nutrition,
- providing ongoing medical care,
- reducing stress,
- providing enrichment opportunities in the form of a sizable flock and a safe, calm environment,
- and generally taking good care of them.
Also, you should remain extraordinarily diligent about treating sheep for parasites which can, even absent serious outward systems, reduce a sheep’s lifespan significantly.
Happy Sheep Live Longer
In my own experience, it is difficult to overstate just how much healthier and longer a sheep can live if it is happy.
Sheep that are constantly harassed, hassled, and kept stressed out will start to get sick and die much sooner as they age compared to ones that live a happy, carefree life.
Stay on top of predators, keep barking dogs and other threats away from them, and always treat them kindly and I promise you’ll notice an improvement in quality of life for your sheep.
What Sheep Breeds Live the Longest?
Several sheep breeds are known for long lifespans…
In the wild, bighorn sheep seem to be especially hardy, and assuming they do not fall to their deaths from the towering cliffs they typically live on they might live the expected 10 or 12 years in the wild.
Among domestic sheep, Merinos are one of the longest-lived consistently, with many living beyond 15 years old and several world record-setting sheep of this breed topping 20 years. Pretty amazing!
Some other domestic sheep breeds known for above-average lifespans include the Scottish Blackface and the Icelandic, both often living to around 14 years old or a little older.
Do Rams or Ewes Live Longer?
As a rule, and all things being equal, ewes live longer. The stresses and energy expenditure that rams undergo often means they don’t live as long, and that’s not even including the wear and tear on their bodies that they subject themselves to fighting with each other over dominance and females!
That, and it’s typically the rams that will do their best to run off predators and so usually end up getting the “hard goodbye” more often than not!
Do Bigger or Smaller Sheep Tend to Live Longer?
Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be much correlation between the size or mass of a sheep and its lifespan. Breed and overall care are much more reliable indicators.
Some sheep that have lived an extremely long time have been small by breed standards, while others have been quite large.
How Long Can Pet Sheep Live?
For any sheep that are kept as pets, meaning they are not going to be slaughtered for meat or continually sheared for wool, have an expectation of getting the highest and best possible care and life overall, and so should be expected to live the longest.
Plan on any pet sheep living near the maximum age for its breed, so around 10 or 12 years at the minimum on average.
How Old Was the Oldest Sheep Ever?
There are quite a few impressively old sheep recorded.
One that is officially the world’s oldest living sheep, as recognized by the Guinness World Records, was 28 years and 51 weeks old, a ewe from Wales that gave birth to 40 lambs over the course of her life. Pretty incredible!
Another ancient sheep, although one not officially recognized by the Guinness world records though it has been documented, was a 26-year-old sheep named, hilariously, Methuselina, a sheep that sadly died when it plunged over a cliff in Scotland.
So, although definitely uncommon it is hardly out of the question that any of your sheep might reach their late teenage years or even pass 20 years old.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.