Animals in Need


Sheep are intelligent animals who are good problem solvers. They are nearly as clever as pigs and are smarter than dogs.

Sheep have excellent hearing and a great sense of smell. They also feel many emotions ‒ like us, they prefer relaxed or happy faces to sad or angry ones.

Highly social, sheep like to be part of a group. The leader of the flock is usually an older female because she has experience loving and caring for younger sheep.

Sheep are a national icon in New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why. The more we learn about sheep, the more we appreciate them as smart, social and caring animals.

Lambs at risk

Lambs are as playful as human children. They love to leap, butt heads, run around with their friends and wag their tails like puppies.

Their tiny bodies are vulnerable to harsh weather, which is why it’s cruel that lambing season has been changed to winter to maximise profits. Every year hundreds of thousands of lambs are at risk of death if there is a cold snap.

The percentage of lambs that die varies from farm to farm, but one sheep-industry report gives a range of a 5 to 26% mortality rate, which corresponds to between one and five million of these baby animals dying from exposure, starvation and birthing difficulties in just one season. The same industry report says that seven in every ten of these deaths were preventable with better nutrition and other preventative measures.

Farmers try to ensure that each sheep gives birth to more than one lamb at a time, despite knowing that lambs have a lower chance of survival if they are one of a pair of twins or, especially, if they are one of triplets. This is yet another example of farmers putting profits ahead of animal welfare

Sheep farmed for dairy and meat

There are more than 30,000 sheep in New Zealand kept to produce milk and cheese. Sheep milk is a growing industry in New Zealand, and the wool of these sheep is also used.

Sadly, like cows, sheep farmed for milk have their babies taken away from them so their milk can be sold to humans. Like cows, sheep may suffer from painful udder infections and lameness.

Sheep are also farmed for their meat. Sheep, like all farmed animals, only live a small proportion of their natural lifespan. In September 2019, 22 million sheep were killed for meat, the majority being lambs, who were killed at less than a year old.

Shearing and shelter

Modern breeds of sheep grow heavy fleeces and are shorn regularly. Shearing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it reduces the risk of flystrike, a painful condition. On the other, because of how commercial shearers are encouraged to work (as quickly as possible), the sheep may be handled roughly and cut by the shearing handpieces. For sensitive and emotionally intelligent animals like sheep, shearing can be traumatic.

Sheep may be shorn in winter, which leaves them vulnerable to the cold, especially as it is rare for them to be provided with shelter in bad weather. By contrast, in hot weather, many sheep are left without access to shade.


How you can help sheep

Keeping warm without wool is easy. There are lots of other natural fabrics to choose from. You could try clothing made from bamboo, hemp or cotton fabric, which are highly durable, soft and sustainable.

Also, skip the wool when purchasing items for your home, like blankets, carpets or sofas. There are a lot of alternatives that are just as durable.

There are also lots of great alternatives to sheep meat, milk and cheese. Try our Plant-Based Challenge to learn more.

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As a charity, SAFE is reliant on the support of caring people like you to carry out our valuable work. Every gift goes towards providing education, undertaking research and campaigning for the benefit of all animals. SAFE is a registered charity in New Zealand (CC 40428). Contributions of $5 or more are tax-deductible.