David Brown
Livestock Field Specialist

Harsh weather conditions experienced in winter months could be stressful for sheep. The snow, strong winds and heavy rainfall may put ewes and young lambs at high risk of hypothermia. Shepherds need to reduce the stress caused by extreme low temperatures by providing adequate shelter, feed and monitor general health conditions of their flock. The end goal for the producers is to ensure sheep thrive through the cold winter months. Here are some management practices to consider during the winter months:


Sheep can tolerate extreme weather conditions due to their thick coats of wool and hair. However, the challenge comes when the cold temperatures are matched with snow fall and high winds or prolonged extreme weather. Producers should provide some kind of winter shelter for their sheep. Shelters do not have to be elaborate. A regular barn, three-sided shelter, tree line or wind breaker is recommended. Shelters should be built on elevated ground with good drainage and should have adequate ventilation to prevent moisture build-up which may cause respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.

Pregnant ewes should be housed in a well-ventilated barn and monitored regularly. Newborn lambs are very susceptible to hypothermia, cold stress, and frostbite. Lambs should be dried quickly after birth to prevent these conditions. Producers should purchase a rectal thermometer to monitor lamb’s temperature, particularly when they appear weak, have shallow breathing, and shiver or huddle together. Newborn lambs should be confined in barn that provides clean, dry bedding such as straw. The bedding should be able to absorb urine and be replaced often. Sawdust is not advisable in wool breeds as it get stuck in their fleece. If heating is provided, producers should be wary of hanging heat lamps over or near straw as they are common causes of fire hazards.

Winter feed and water

Sheep should have access to fresh clean water. Producers should check the drinking trough at least twice a day when temperatures drop below freezing point and break the layer of ice on top of the water trough. A safe de-icer or submersible water heater may be purchased if necessary. Cold water may result in energy loss, leading to high feed consumption to compensate for the loss.  Producers should treat any type of electrical device with caution to avoid electrocution.

Salt and minerals formulated for sheep should also be provided to the animal. Energy requirements for sheep increase during cold weather. A general rule of thumb is to add ¼ pound of feed for every 10 degrees below the lower critical temperature. Critical temperature is generally considered to be 25°F. Hay should be fed in feeders to minimize waste and prevent the spread of diseases.

Monitor flock health

Animals kept together are pre-disposed to diseases. Producers should monitor sheep for signs of ill-health and cull sick animals to prevent the spread of diseases. Barns should always be dry and water spillage should be avoided to minimize breeding site for pathogens. Parasite control and vaccinations are important when sheep are kept indoors. Contact your veterinarian or your local extension office to create a treatment plan for any sick ewes or lambs.

Publication No. G2619