Mary Had a Little Lamb, Why Can’t I?

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We have all learned and recited the nursery rhyme about Mary and her lamb.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go…

It’s a sweet poem, and recently it got me wondering if a lamb would make a good pet. They look adorable, but not having spent any real time on a farm, I have limited knowledge about lambs and whether or not you could actually have a lamb as a pet.

Research on keeping a lamb for a pet was sparse, which leads me to think not many have considered the option. Before you plan on raising a lamb, you need to realize that they do not stay small and cute and are actually a huge responsibility. They grow to become quite large, strong and (much like a goat) they consume most anything eatable.

Looking At Types of Lambs

Evidently you have a choice of hair sheep or wool sheep if you’re looking for a lamb. The difference between them is the ratio of secondary (hair, kemp) to primary (wool) skin follicles. All sheep have both types of fibers, but hair sheep have more hair fibers and wool sheep have more wool fibers.

Lower-maintenance hair sheep have a mixture of hair and wool that sheds naturally in the spring. They do not require shearing, crutching or tail docking. Hair sheep adapt to a wide variety of climates and will grow a thicker, longer hair coat in cold weather. Higher maintenance wool sheep, or woolies have to be sheered and are typically less tolerant of the heat (which makes perfectly good sense).

My search more or less provided more positive results for the hair sheep as a pet. Any breed of sheep can be kept as a pet and a few miniature breeds are also available. All sources did agree pet sheep should be females (ewes) or neutered males (wethers) and, of course, should not have horns.

Buying a Pet Lamb

Research the breed options in depth.
Obviously miniature breeds will not get as large as the other breeds, but look to learn everything you can about the breed prior to considering it seriously as a pet.
(Awesome list of sheep breeds.)

Buy a lamb that is three years of age or less.
Bottle fed sheep are usually more friendly, but that requires a lot of work. You may be able to purchase one that is a bottle baby and not yet finished with bottle feeding. The best lamb pets are the ones raised on a bottle because they will trust people and not fear being near people. When you bottle feed a lamb, it bonds to you and thinks you are its mother.

But Really, a Pet?

lamb being held by a woman

Lambs are definitely not your average pet!

Sheep definitely make unique pets. Like dogs they can be very affectionate, but like any pet, not all are the same and each one has its own personality. Sheep respond well to bribes, such as a treat of oats or sheep treats and according to some, they can even be house trained – though I wouldn’t count on that.

If you live in an apartment, a lamb is not a good pet. Period. If you have a little land – even just a large enough back yard – a lamb might be a good fit for you. You’ll have to have hay and grain available if your grass supply gets low and you will have to learn a lot about the nutrition they need and how to feed them. For example, you will have to control the amount of grain they get because a sheep will sometimes overeat grain (to the point of becoming sick).

You will also have to make sure any plants you want to keep are not accessible to your pet sheep. You will have to have appropriate fencing and shelter and clear their area of any poisonous plants. They don’t require a huge space to roam, but they do require plenty of room for them to do their business and stretch their legs.

Getting Serious About A Pet Lamb

If you know your lamb is going to get larger, require special attention, will require appropriate space, may or may not be able to come inside regularly and may or may not need sheering once or twice a year and you’re still interested, start looking to see find your new pet locally. Create the proper space and get all of the essentials before you bring your new lamb home and then, like any pet, make sure your lamb is seen by a veterinarian who sees goats and sheep for vaccinations and regular check ups.

While a lamb surely isn’t an easy pet, and isn’t the right pet for most people – they can, indeed, make a good pet in the right conditions. Do your research and learn to care for your sheep including caring for their hair, their hooves, their diets and common ailments in sheep and how recognize symptoms of those ailments.

You might also want to spend some time with a lamb or two and some sheep, just to be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Sometimes volunteering or helping someone else who has sheep can give you the experience you desire without the commitment to caring for such a unique pet.

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about
Till Mary did appear.

Why does the lamb love Mary so?
The eager children cry;
Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,
The teacher did reply.

The poem is attributed to Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential 19th-century writer, reviewer, and editor who edited an extremely popular women’s magazine for nearly 50 years.

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About Author

Devoted pet owner and now, devoted pet editor, Judi worked in traditional offices, keeping the books and the day-to-day operations organized. Taking her dog to work every day for over a decade never seemed odd. Neither did having an office cat. She knows what it's like to train a new puppy and she's experienced the heartache of losing beloved companions. Retired, she currently lives with her spoiled dog and four chickens (who are, interestingly enough, also spoiled).

3 Comments

  1. Bridget Collins on

    So, that’s why a lot of owners use bottles to feed little lambs. I thought it was some sensitive thing that baby lambs go through; my bad.

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