Intriguing Sights No.4

This particular intriguing sight is something I have witnessed on more that one occasion and it can be somewhat distressing. However, this tale has a happy ending so please don’t let that put you off.

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Sheep, as you might know, sometimes make the unfortunate error of getting onto their backs, from where all they can do is wave their little legs in the air helplessly. From this position, if not assisted, they are often unable to get back the right way up.

I’m sorry to say that I have seen a few dead ones in this position, but on the up side I have also seen a few live ones, and was recently even able to play the caped crusader myself and rescue one.

It was a few years ago that I first witnessed the method by which one should right an upside down sheep. As with many of the useful things I’ve picked up in life, I learned this from my dear parents.

We were on holiday in Galloway, driving along a small country road next to a green field full of grazing sheep, when we noticed that one of them was the wrong way up.

Some time before this, my parents had found a similar sheep elsewhere and had alerted a farmer to the situation. The farmer had gone along with them to see the poor animal and had shown them how best to get it on its feet again.

Having taken this very short sheep-righting course, the parents were ready to tackle their first sheep alone.

All three of us jumped out of the car and hot-footed it to the sheep, whereupon we assessed the situation.


I watched carefully as the delightful assistants took up positions behind the sheep’s head and each took one of the sheep’s shoulders.


What happened next was that the sheep was hauled up onto its posterior, so that it was sitting up. It was then allowed a few seconds of calm meditation, time to reorientate itself and reflect on its folly, before being given a gentle push from the back to tip it forward onto its little feet so that it could trot off.

I watched all this happen on the above occasion and tried to memorise it in case I should ever be called upon to do the same thing myself.

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Just a few weeks ago, I was out for a quiet country walk with delightful assistant no.1 when we spotted a sheep lying a field with all four legs sticking up into the air. Delightful assistant no.1 was afraid that it might already be dead, but on watching it for a short while, we saw a leg move.

The sheep was some way off across a squelchy muddy field, but we got to it as quickly as we could and, after a little nervousness from me, grabbed a shoulder each and hauled the poor thing up onto its bottom. It looked a little puzzled for a few seconds, but when we thought it was getting the hang of life again, we tipped it forwards, and off it trotted to join its fellows further up the field.

One thing I would say to anyone wanting to turn a sheep the right way up is that you might like to be prepared for the weight of the beast. The one we righted was an astonishingly large and solid animal, and required our joint strength to get it up from the ground. Only time will tell if I am able to right a sheep on my own, but perhaps it’s a bit like those situations where mothers lift cars to save their children, superhuman strength miraculously appearing when urgently required.

I’m sorry I don’t have a more detailed series of photos to explain the whole procedure, but I hope that anyone reading this and wondering if they ought to rescue upside down sheep when they see them might be able to make use of this post to assist them in their endeavours.

Just to be sure of what you’re aiming for, here’s a picture of a sheep the right way up:



51 thoughts on “Intriguing Sights No.4

  1. I wish I’d had this information to hand in Skye a few years ago when I came across a sheep on its back I was unable to do anything and for years I’ve tormented myself wondering if someone turned up in time to rescue it.

    • Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve failed to rescue a fair number myself, so I sympathise with your torment. Hopefully someone did turn up in time to rescue the one you saw. They do occasionally manage to right themselves, although I think it’s uncommon.

  2. I’ve never heard about this situation! Poor things. I have heard about sheep getting potentially fatally bloated after eating something (can’t remember that detail, but I learned about the bloat via Far From the Madding Crowd 😉 ).

    Anyway – hurrah for you and the Delightful Assistants!! Must make you all feel warm and (ahem) fuzzy inside!

    • I think it’s most common with ewes in lamb, maybe they just get too heavy and fat and fall over, I don’t know. I have heard that gases build up in their stomachs and they can’t release them when they’re the wrong way up, which is a bit like what happened in Far From the Madding Crowd by the sounds of things (I’ve read that but it was many many years ago and I don’t remember the sheep, I must read it again some time).

      It did feel good to save a sheep, and now that I’ve done it once I’d be more confident about doing it again.

  3. ‘Sheep righting’ sounds like an ancient pagan festival. In fact, I think it should be! 🙂 That was a very good deed that you and your delightful assistants did, and I hope your useful guide will help save the lives of many more sheep. “It was then allowed a few seconds of calm meditation, time to reorientate itself and reflect on its folly…” dearie me! 🙂 I just love your choice of words! Thanks also for the helpful pic of a properly aligned sheep.

    • It does indeed sound like an ancient pagan festival.Thank you for your kind comments Jo, I hope anyone reading this and then seeing a sheep in trouble might feel they can assist in some way. It is a bit upsetting being close to one and seeing it wiggling in distress, but worth the temporary discomfort to save a life.

    • I’m sorry to say it is absolutely for real, I’ve seen quite a few upside down and unable to get on their feet again. I don’t know how they get into that position in the first place, perhaps they lie down and then roll over and get stuck.

  4. As someone who raised sheep (200+) I can say it’s not just pregnant girls who tip over. The reason you sit them on their bottoms for a few moments is because they are small ruminants (meaning they have more than one stomach) and those stomachs need to allow gravity to settle everything back into place. The reason they die is because the stomachs collapse over themselves and they “kinda” suffocate. Very sad… this also will happen with goats. Enjoyed many a cup of tea with my fuzzy girls.

    • Thank you kindly for that most interesting explanation, I was hoping a sheepie person might pop in with more information. Do you know how it is that they find themselves on their backs in the first place? Are they lying down and then roll over by mistake?

    • This is very intersting information. Something new I have learned today. My Dad had cows and horses on our ranch so I am not familiar with sheep. Just love them as they look so cuddly.

  5. I have learnt something new from this post! I watched Rick Steve’s Europe DVD and Galloway has a huge industry for lambs wool and leather. Interesting post Lorna!

  6. I thought this only happened to turtle!. This is the first I have herad of this. I was raised on a cattle ranch and we only had cows and horses (plus a few pigs and chickens) none of which ever ended upside down. I had to chuckle as this seems very Monty Pythonish to me. On the other hand, as an animal lover, I am very impressed with you and your assistant in saving the poor sheep from a dismal fate. Thanks!!

    • I’m glad to hear that none of your animals turned themselves upside down, Darlene, I wouldn’t fancy trying to turn a horse or a cow the right way up. It is a bit Monty Python-like, now that you mention it.

      • This has become a huge discussion in our family. My daughter was very keen to learn about this and is planning to do research. We even practiced righting an upside down toy sheep. I followed your instructions and I think I did it right.

        • That really made me laugh Darlene, the vision of your family righting an upside down toy sheep. I’m delighted to have provoked a discussion and would be very interested to hear any results of your daughter’s research.

  7. We’re in the heart of sheep land here. And I never knew this!!!!??? I guess with the dogs about we’re never really THAT close to them but definitely worth knowing, Particularly the *sit them up first* stomach comment ^_^

    • Best not to get too near sheep with your dogs, I would imagine, but if you do ever see any local sheep in distress you could perhaps have a pop at rescuing them. It’s good to know about the sitting thing too, as you say. I’ve heard of people who rolled them over onto their sides to get them up, which may work I don’t know, but might not be the best method given the tummy troubles.

  8. They just lie down to rest… and sometimes, when they feel really safe, they go to sleep. Sometimes, the ground isn’t level and they find themselves upside down. Sometimes, it appeared they just rolled the wrong way or were startled by a guard dog or a border collie trying to do his job. You can never fully understand a sheep… although I loved everything about them. Miss them dearly!

    • Thank you for that, I didn’t know that they only slept when they felt really safe. I’ve seen them up and about chewing away in the middle of the night and I wondered if they ever slept. I feel very content with your comment ‘you can never fully understand a sheep’. I, for one, am happy to allow them to remain somewhat mysterious animals. I’m always cheered up by a field of sheep and can well imagine how you must miss yours.

  9. I like it that Scotland has so many sheep. I especially like visiting in the spring when the little lambs are running around with their windmill tails. this is good information to have for when i next see an upside down sheep.

  10. Tea coinneussuer and rescuer of sheep! That’s quite a skill you have there. Bravo to you and the delightful assistants for putting those poor wooly dears, the right way up! 🙂

    • Thank you Alice, those sound like words I could update my CV with. We felt so good about righting that one that we’ve been looking for more ever since, but thankfully for the sheep, they’ve all been the right way up so far.

  11. Thank-you for that last tip there Lorna! 🙂 Very useful information though. (I’m surprised they didn’t teach us all that in primary school here, except that, as you note, there is the issue of weight to consider… but still, high school … it could have fit right in with PE.)

    • Glad to be able to pass it on Trish. You’re right, the school curriculum is sadly lacking in livestock husbandry. It would be a useful thing for anyone to learn, and good exercise to boot, as you so rightly point out.

  12. Lorna, Hurrah for you and your fab parents. Being an animal devotee I appreciate all information regarding their care I’ve heard of the upside down desperation before, and am glad to learn exactly how it should be handled. Far From the Madding Crowd has a terrific scene where the farmer pokes the sheep in the bloated belly with a sharp instrument to release the gas. One of the best things about the movie, in my view.

    • Thanks Kathleen, I haven’t seen the film, that must be what Annie of An Unrefined Vegan was referring to in her comment above. I’m glad to hear that the sheep was saved, although being poked in the belly with a sharp instrument sounds very uncomfortable.

  13. You provide such helpful hints, Lorna–armed with this knowledge, I hope to be able to right a sheep or two in my own lifeftime. I did not know that sheep could land in this position. I’ve seen it happen to cockroaches, but I have never been inspired to turn them rightside up.

    • Although I don’t like to think of any creature in distress, I can’t say I blame you on the cockroach front, Robin. I hope that if a sheep does find itself upside down in your presence, you’ll notice it and zoom in to the rescue. I’m quite sure you’ll do an excellent job of turning it the right way up.

  14. Bless your heart for saving those little guys! I used to have a pet sheep and I don’t remember him ending up on his back but he did wander off and get stuck “Winnie the Pooh” style in a fence. Too bad you weren’t along then because he was stranded for a long time before I finally found him.
    I laughed out loud when I saw your picture of what we should be aiming for! You’re a hoot!

    • A sheep and now a goat, you do have some unusual pets. Thank you for having faith in me, I’m not sure how I’d get a sheep unstuck from a fence, although I have thought about it. I remember seeing one last year in just that situation but fortunately it got itself free. The trouble with sheep is that they’re quite nervous and get agitated if you get too close, but mind you, that was what freed the one I saw stuck in the fence. I approached it to try and help and my presence made it wriggle its way free. The look in its eye said ‘no, don’t come near me, anything but that!’

  15. Lorna, my husband was wearing a tea shirt today that he bought when we were in Yorkshire. I had totally forgotten that when we had a tour of the brewery at Masham we were told about the sheep that end up on their backs. They are said to be riggwelted which is Yorkshire dialect for this state of affairs. My husband’s tea shirt has the definition on the back. The front of the tea shirt has Riggwelter on it as it is the name of one of their famous beers. The brewery was The Black Sheep Brewery. It has been fascinating following all the comments on this particular post.

    • How marvellous, Heather! I’ve never heard of the word ‘riggwelted’ but I do know of the Black Sheep Brewery. I’ve been enjoying the comments on this post too, and I think I might like one of those t-shirts. 🙂

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