Sheep Safety Lesson

Sheep Safety

4-H Lifeskills: Managing self, solving problems, making decisions

Sheep project members will:

  • Describe how you can be hurt while working with show sheep.
  • Recognize how work habits affect personal safety and the animals you work with.
  • Demonstrate use of appropriate personal protection equipment and clothing choices for working with show sheep at home and at shows.
  • Understand how to keep yourself and others safe at public shows.
  • Be familiar with how to include members with disabilities in sheep project activities.


Lesson 1: Take Good Care of Yourself

Livestock are involved in many youth injury incidents every year. Because sheep are small animals and tend to tame down easily their potential to cause injury may be deceptive. Young people who show must keep in mind that regardless of size all livestock are capable of causing injury. This lesson is designed to teach best practices for personal safety when working with sheep raised or purchased for show. It should be used with other Sheep Project materials.Safe working habits include protecting yourself, your animals, and others. The most common injuries from working with and/or showing sheep are:

  • Slips / Falls
  • Muscle and/or back strain
  • Bruises, cuts, and scrapes from being hit by a jumping sheep, kicked, or stepped on
  • Blisters and burns from lead ropes or electrical appliances such as clippers

Less common injuries from working with and/or showing sheep:

  • Breathing problems from inhaling dust, animal dander, or chemicals
  • Serious injury – such as broken bones or puncture wounds

Practice personal safety by using personal protection equipment and developing safe working habits when working with show sheep, including:

  • Closed-toe shoes or boots – sturdy, preferably leather with non-slip soles
  • Gloves – Different jobs require different gloves
  • Leather gloves protect hands from rope burns while leading your show sheep at home. They also protect your hands while shearing.
  • Latex or rubber gloves protect your hands and forearms while washing, grooming, or doctoring.
  • Long sleeves and long pants protect your skin from being exposed:
  • To too much sunlight
  • To dirt and dander from your show sheep
  • Safety glasses protect your eyes from wool clippings, dirt, and grooming products. When working in bright sunlight, try tinted safety glasses to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays.
  • Ear plugs protect your ears when using motorized equipment, such as the clippers or blower and when working in an enclosed area where noises are loud.
  • Sunscreen will protect exposed skin from sun damage.
  • Frequent hand washing with soap protects your skin whenever you work with livestock. Animals can easily and unknowingly spread disease to humans. Frequent contact with the animal’s hide, dander, and feces – especially from feeding, washing, and grooming tasks – creates an opportunity for disease to pass from your show sheep to you. An example is sore mouth.
  • Learn first aid and keep a first aid kit in your show box and in the barn or building where you house your show sheep.

Do I Really Need Protection? – How You Can Be Hurt Working with Show Sheep

  • The sheep can be frightened and run, jump, or kick.
  • You slip, trip, or fall over things left laying around, on a slick walkway, in a pen, or on an uneven surface (such as in sand in the show ring or uneven surfaces in the lot).
  • You get kicked, stepped on, or tripped while leading, moving, feeding, or grooming your animal.
  • You get a rope burn from the lead rope.
  • You can get burned by the hot motor on clippers or blowers.
  • Your fingers get pinched in a gate latch; you get poked by a wire, the blades on the clippers, or the teeth on the wool card or curry comb.
  • You can strain muscles in your arms, legs, or back by carrying heavy show boxes or buckets of feed. Frequent washing and grooming can cause muscle strains from frequently repeated movements, as in the up and down, back and forth of clipping and combing.

Try This!

Practice safe lifting and carrying to protect your back. Here’s how:

  • Stand close to object to be lifted;
  • Spread your feet wide enough to straddle the object;
  • Squat, bending your knees and hips;
  • Keep your head up and your back straight;
  • Hold in your stomach muscles;
  • Lift using your leg muscles;
  • Keep the load close to your body with a firm grip;
  • Turn your feet, not your back, in the direction you are going

Did You Know?
Ergonomists (scientists who study work and the human body) say the three worst problems for agriculture are: full body stoop (bending forward and down from the waist, as when picking up feed bags, buckets, or show boxes); lifting/moving heavy objects (greater than 15% of body weight, i.e. feed bags, show boxes, pulling on a show animal’s lead rope); and repetitive handwork (as when you are washing and grooming).

You are more likely to hurt your back when:

  • Lifting more than 15% of your body weight
  • Carrying a load more than 10-15 yards

And how much is 15% of your body weight?  You can use this simple formula. 

Take your weight times 0.15. 

Your Weight   X   0.15   =   Maximum Load

What should you do if you have a heavy load to carry more than 10 or 15 yards? 

Ask someone to help you, get a wheeled dolly, a feed cart, wheel barrow, a wheeled utility cart, or a show box with wheels.

Remember, to avoid injury, you have to take good care of yourself!

Discussion Questions
With your project group members, discuss how you stay safe working with your show sheep.


  • How did you feel the very first time you worked with your show sheep?
  • What do you wear when feeding your show sheep and why?
  • What do you wear when showing your sheep and why?


  • How can you be injured when working with your show sheep?
  • How do you keep yourself and people helping you safe while working with your show sheep?
  • How can you determine how much you can safely carry without hurting your back. Hint: 15 % of your body weight is the most you should lift.
  • ________  X  0.15  =  ______________
  • Example: 100 lbs.  X  0.15  =  15 pounds


  • Why is protecting yourself important?
  • What other activities do you participate in that require you to protect yourself and how do you protect yourself?


  • How can you use what you’ve learned about personal protection to help you in other activities?


Sheep Safety

Lesson 2: Behavior Basics: Getting to Know Your Show Sheep

To work safely with your show sheep, you should have a basic understanding of animal behavior in general, and the behavior patterns of sheep in particular. Sheep are generally gentle animals and are often recommended as a first project animal for 4-H and FFA members, but that doesn’t mean they will tame down without a lot of work and regular contact with humans.

Sheep (whether show sheep or commercial sheep) typically have more close interaction with humans than any other livestock species, however their behavior will still be determined by genetics and experience. Work with your show sheep regularly and you will experience positive results. Sheep that are handled gently and quietly will have smaller flight zones and be easier to handle than sheep that have been handled roughly or have little human contact.

Sheep have a strong “flocking instinct” and prefer to be with other sheep. Many breeders will strongly suggest that you have more than one sheep even if you only intend to show one.

Sheep are sensitive to high-pitched sounds and may “spook” easily when they hear sudden loud noises, such as a dog barking. A sheep will generally move its head and ears toward the sound that has its attention even though it may not appear to be looking in the same direction.

Sheep have a wide field of vision, which means they can see nearly everything around them without moving their head. A sheep will pick up slight movements from a distance and may even start to run if the movement frightens it.

Sheep have a highly-developed sense of smell. This sense is helpful for mating and predator evasion purposes, but can cause a sheep to become nervous when introduced to a pen that smells different than the one at home, such as a new pen at the fair or a show.

Halter breaking is a good way to begin to tame your sheep to get it ready for showing.

When working with sheep make changes slowly. Watch closely as changes are made and adjust handling methods accordingly. Your show sheep may be calm at home in familiar surroundings, but may become agitated when taken to a different location with new, strange sights,  smells, and sounds, such as the county fairgrounds.

Do your best to make the sheep’s first experience in different surroundings a positive one. For example, when moving an animal to a new pen have a full feed pan waiting and bring some water from home to help it adjust to the taste of new water at the show.

Fear causes animals to run away from whatever scared them. Animals can develop permanent fear memories that may never be erased. This means that if your show sheep has a bad experience when loaded on a trailer for the first time, it may be difficult to load again.

When shearing, allow your sheep to calm down after you have caught it and before you begin to shear. Work slowly and carefully so the sheep adjusts to the sound and feel of the shears on its skin, to keep it calm, and to avoid cuts to the sheep or you.

When shearing is finished allow the sheep to go free carefully. It might be excited to be let loose and could run over you or kick you.

Sheep move quickly and are surprisingly strong for their size. Do not underestimate their strength and be prepared to react quickly yet calmly. Learning how to lead your show sheep with a halter first will help you learn how to stay in control and help the sheep learn that you are in control. Remember, if frightened it will run from whatever scared it and if you’re hanging on to the halter and not in control your sheep might just drag you along too.

When you understand how your sheep might act in different situations you can use that understanding to help make livestock shows safer for everyone – exhibitors as well as people who are watching the show. Keeping your show sheep calm is a good start. Other strategies to keep in mind at the show include:

  • Be aware of where others are at the show – the general public (in the stands and walking around) and other exhibitors.
  • Move slowly to and from the show ring with your sheep. When you get excited or in a hurry, your sheep will sense the change in your behavior, which might scare it. Remember that fear causes an animal to run from whatever scares it.
  • Get to know your sheep’s behavior patterns and help it adjust to new surroundings.
  • Do the best you can to keep away from crowded areas while leading your show sheep to and from the ring. Many people do not understand how easy it is to scare a show animal, because they usually look so calm when they are being led.
  • Practice, practice, practice show day activities – at home and again when you get to the show. If you show with a halter, practice haltering; leading on halter; jumping on and off the blocking stand; leading to the show ring; leading to and from the pen or stall; opening and closing gates; washing and grooming. If you don’t use a halter, practice all this without the halter. Your show sheep will be much more comfortable doing activities it has practiced before and it will be less likely to be scared of the show ring if it’s been in there before the show.

Discussion Questions
With your project group members, discuss how you stay safe when working with your show sheep.


  • If you bought your show sheep, how did it act the day you bought it?
  • Whether purchased or raised, how did it act the first time you led it with a halter and without a halter?
  • How did you feel the first time you sheared a sheep?


  • How does your behavior affect the way your show sheep behave?
  • How do its surroundings affect the way your show sheep behave?


  • Why is it important to practice showing your sheep?

  • What can you do to make sure your show sheep are ready for the show ring?


  • List some ways you can you show others what you’ve learned about animal behavior?


Sheep Safety

Lesson 3: Facilities and Equipment

Keeping yourself and your show sheep safe includes making sure buildings, pens/lots, and equipment are well maintained and in proper working order. The facilities you use to house and work your sheep should be well designed and ventilated, sturdy, and safe for you and your animals.

Keep buildings, alleys, and lots neat and tidy. Remember: Slips, trips, and falls cause many injuries when working with livestock. Make sure you have a place to put all your supplies, equipment, and feed and keep all of those items in their proper place. Clean up spills as soon as they happen. Don’t allow manure or feed to accumulate in alleyways or chutes.

Keep mechanical equipment clean and well maintained. Clean and sanitize grooming tools regularly, not only to keep them operating properly, but also to remove any organisms that can spread disease (such as ring worm). Be extra careful cleaning clipper blades because they are sharp.

Inspect electrical cords on clippers and blowers often. Replace cords that have exposed wires.

Make sure the clipper blades are sharp. Shearing with dull blades presents a safety hazard to you and your sheep.

Use only electrical outlets have three-pronged receptacles; if outlets are located outdoors, make sure they are waterproof and have ground fault circuit interrupters to keep you and your show sheep from getting an electric shock.

Maintain good lighting for indoor and outdoor areas where you will be working with your show sheep. Lighting should be bright and not create shadowy areas. Sheep can get scared going from a brightly lit area to a dark shadowy area.

Buildings used for housing sheep should be well ventilated to help keep your sheep cool in the summer and to also minimize your exposure to dust when you enter the building.

Keep fences, gates, doors, etc. repaired. Replace or repair equipment that doesn’t work. Gates that are hard to open can cause muscle strains or can pinch you if you have to push hard and they open or close unexpectedly. Wire ties or nails poking out of fence boards can cause scrapes or puncture wounds – to you and your sheep.

Choose equipment that will help make working with your show sheep easier. A blocking stand with head restraint helps hold your sheep still while you groom and allows you easy access by elevating the sheep to a better working height. Some blocking stands allow for variable table heights making it even easier to groom the sheep at a height that is optimum for the person grooming.

Discussion Questions


  • What do you do with your buildings and pens to help you stay safe when working with your show sheep?
  • How do you care for your equipment to help you stay safe when using it to work with your show sheep?


  • How can facilities contribute to a safer environment for you? For your show sheep?
  • How does proper maintenance of equipment contribute to keeping you safe?


  • Why are good housekeeping and proper maintenance necessary for personal safety?


  • List some of the safety practices you do each day – in your home, at work or school?

Suggested Activities:

  1. Set up a practice show at a project meeting to practice show ring safety.
  2. Take the Sheep Safety Assessment Quiz at
  3. Evaluate the safety of your livestock facilities using the Safety Audit Checklist. Make note of potential dangers and work with your parents to correct the dangers.
  4. Visit and evaluate project members’ facilities with an eye on safety preparedness.