Horses can live with a lot of animals, but it typically depends on the breed and the horse’s temperament. Most horse breeds will get along will sheep, and there are many benefits to keeping these animals on the same pasture together.
This article will look into the relationship between horses and sheep. How can these animals live together, and what should you know about their interactions?
Here are the essentials to know about the horse-sheep interaction.
Will Horses Protect Sheep?
Horses aren’t necessarily designed to protect sheep, nor can you train them in that sense. It’s better to have guard dogs for that since you can train those to accomplish just that. If you don’t get a donkey, since these are highly territorial animals and will quickly alert everyone in case of intruders.
That being said, horses do have their role to play in the matter. They are naturally bigger and stronger than sheep, which can deter predators like foxes, wild dogs, or coyotes. It’s also worth mentioning that horses are herd animals and are used to look after each other.
They will immediately make noise and alert everyone when sensing danger. This means that the sheep will be safer with horses around than alone. But don’t count on that too much, especially if there are known predators around the area.
Will Horses Kill Sheep?
Yes, they will, and this happens more often than you could’ve suspected. Horses and stallions, especially, may kill sheep and lambs if they attempt to steal their food or enter their space.
Horses are intelligent animals and know that sheep are not of the same species.
A more curious aspect is that, sometimes, the killing may be involuntary. Sheep are considerably smaller than a horse, and a fluffy sheep has little similarities to what a horse may see as a living creature. The horse may see the sheep as a toy in many situations and bite and kick it for fun.
It’s also common for horses to grab sheep or lamb in their mouths and toss them around. This alone can lead to accidental deaths.
To prevent this, try to minimize the contact between horses and sheep. If you must keep them together, at least make sure they have enough space to roam around, minimizing their interaction.
Benefits of Grazing Horses with Sheep
Horses can coexist with sheep and other herbivores, giving several key factors. One of them is the clash of temperaments. Horses tend to be more dominant, and since they are the larger animals, they will impose their will. Sheep are shy and more obedient in nature, which drastically reduces the risk of aggressive interactions.
- Horses and sheep are also compatible due to their grazing differences. In this sense:
- Horses and sheep prefer different types of grass, with sheep consuming mostly what horses hate and avoid
- Horses prefer the shade during, while sheep aren’t bothered by the sun
- Horses will drink water more often than sheep, minimizing their contact
Some of the benefits of using cross-grazing include:
- Improving the health of the land – Having horses alone won’t remove all the pesky plants that plague your land. Having only sheep will prove insufficient since sheep are small animals who can’t eat as much as horses. Keeping both species together will provide you with one swift solution to both problems.
- Sheep are cheaper companions – Horses need animal companions to remain healthy, engaged, and socially active. Sheep fill that gap perfectly. They are herd animals who enjoy the company of other horses, humans, or any other animal that doesn’t pose a threat to them. If you can’t afford to get other horses or don’t need more, get some sheep. This will provide your horses with that much-needed company with minimal costs.
- Minimizing the risks of parasite infection – Many parasites are species-oriented. This means that sheep parasites won’t infest horses and vice-versa. Keeping sheep and horses together increases the likelihood of horses and sheep consuming parasite eggs that target the other species, therefore killing the parasites.
Problems With Keeping Horses and Sheep Together
We’ve already seen the pros of keeping horses and sheep together, now let’s look at the cons. We have several aspects to consider here:
- Fencing incompatibilities – If you keep your horses and sheep in the same pen, you must consider the fencing carefully. Horses are a lot larger than sheep. If you build your pen fencing with horses in mind, sheep and lambs might escape the area. And since sheep have a powerful herd instinct, literally all of them might follow if one goes out. Make sure that the fence is sturdy, compact, and safe enough to prevent sheep from escaping.
- Grazing problems – Like I’ve already mentioned, horses’ dietary preferences don’t overlap with the sheep’s. They prefer different things. The problem arises when you place the two species in an area where there are many sheep plants but not enough horse grass. This will cause the horse to consume toxic plants that sheep have no problem with. I suggest scanning the area first and only placing the two species in an primarily horse-compatible environment. The sheep will adapt with little difficulty.
- Horse aggression – If your horses have never seen sheep until the age of adulthood, chances are they will become afraid or aggressive towards sheep. To prevent this problem, allow the horses to become acquainted with the sheep when still foals. This would be ideal, but not everybody can follow it since many people buy adult horses. In this case, introduce the sheep gradually, with a separating fence to allow for controlled interactions. This will help the horses become more familiar with the sheep, sniff them, and understand that they pose no real danger.
What Other Animals Can Pasture With Horses?
Aside from sheep, horses can graze with several other animals, including:
- Cattle – Cattle and horses have different pasture preferences. Horses tend to graze closer to the ground, whereas cows can’t. Horses also prefer more virgin areas, not tainted by feces, while cows are less pretentious. It’s also a plus that horse and cow parasites are not cross-species; what affects one won’t affect the other.
- Donkeys – It was a general opinion in the past that donkeys could not coexist with horses, but that’s been proven wrong today. Donkeys need companions since they hate living alone. They are also different than horses since their fight-or-flight response steers more towards the fight, while horses are less brave. This means that having a pair of donkeys may also provide your horses with some protection along the way.
- Chicken – Chicken is probably the ideal companions for horses. They are small, can avoid the horses with ease, and the horses don’t see them as threats. What’s even more important is that chickens will eat everything that horses avoid, including feces. They love to dig everywhere in search of worms, seeds, and little insects.
Horses are intelligent and adaptable animals. They can tell the difference between dangerous and non-dangerous animals, albeit not always at first glance. If you plan on keeping horses together with other animals, consider the following:
- The fencing around the pen should keep all species inside
- See that the species cannot transmit diseases and parasites to each other
- The species shouldn’t be aggressive towards each other
- They should preferably have different dietary preferences