What’s a Cast Sheep?

(Photo: Unsplash)
The Danger of Rolling Too Far

A very woolly mother sheep nursing her lamb.There’s a key danger any individual sheep can fall into. If the sheep accidentally rolls onto its back and its feet lose contact with the ground, it becomes permanently stuck in that position. Shepherds call these “cast sheep.” Totally helpless, the distressed sheep struggles to right itself. But it’s no use. It can’t flip it’s body back over.

Gas builds up in the 1st stomach chamber, called the rumen. As this chamber swells, circulation is cut off to the legs. Cast down sheep will die 100% of the time, unless the shepherd finds them. On a hot summer day, death comes in a few hours. If the weather is cool, overcast and rainy, the cast sheep might live for several days.

Unless a hungry predator finds them 1st.

But how does this happen?

How does a Sheep get in to this Predicament?

There are 3 types of sheep that are most likely to become cast down.

  • Too Much Wool – A sheep’s thick fleece can become matted with mud, ticks, twigs burrs and manure, which makes it even heavier.
  • Sheep that are overweight and out of shape.
  • Ewes who are heavily pregnant.

A ewe with a very thick coat;All three types of sheep are top-heavy. So they roll onto their back more easily than other sheep do. The shepherd needs to find the lost sheep, roll it back on its side to relieve the gas pressure, then lift it up on its feet, and hold it upright while vigorously rubbing the legs. This restores the blood circulation. As soon as the animal can walk without stumbling or falling, the shepherd lets it go.

Coping with an Ongoing Problem

Often a sheep will become cast repeatedly, until the root cause is corrected. One shepherd discovered that a certain ewe became cast every 2nd or 3rd day during her late term pregnancies. If the ewe died, her unborn lambs would too. So every spring, the shepherd would frequently check to make sure that particular mama sheep was on her feet until after she gave birth.

A professional sheep shearer, shaving off the fleece.But if a sheep’s fleece is too heavy, a quick sheering session solves the problem. Sheep don’t enjoy being sheered and it’s a lot of work, but shaving off the sheep’s heavy wool coat removes the danger.

On the other hand, what a fat unhealthy sheep needs is a change of diet. The shepherd will reduce the amount of grain he offers and provide fresh green pastures for the sheep to graze in.

The Spiritual Point:

When Christians make a mess of their lives by getting entangled in adulterous affairs or hooked on alcohol or drugs, often they want to repent and start over. So what stops them? Often a false belief that the Lord is furiously angry. Or that He won’t ever forgive them. Yet God never turns away a truly repentant sinner.

A sheep being carried on a shepherd's shoulders.The compassion an earthly shepherd feels for a cast sheep lying helplessly on its back, frantically pawing the air, is mirrored in Christ’s compassionate love for sinners. The Good Shepherd desires nothing more than to set His children back on their feet so they can walk by his side again.

These images come from


One of my favorite Christian books is A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. My insights into shepherding came from his book.

Republished with permission from Maureen Hall Puccini from her blog

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