|The domestic sheep (Ovis aries), the most widespread and numerous species of the sheep genus (Ovis), is a ruminant quadruped, in many breeds having a woolly fleece. It is probably descended from the wild mouflon of South Asia and Southwest Asia. Female sheep are referred to as ewes, intact males as rams, castrated males as wethers, yearlings as hoggets, and younger sheep as lambs. In sheep husbandry, a group of sheep is called a flock, or in some areas herd or mob. Sheep meat is called lamb from younger animals, or mutton from older ones. Sheep husbandry has a vast lexicon of terms, which varies considerably with region (see glossary below).|
The sheep is related to the goat, both belonging to the goat antelope subfamily Caprinae, itself part of the family Bovidae. However, the genes of sheep and goats differ so greatly that cross-species hybrids rarely occur, and are always infertile. A hybrid of a ewe and a buck is called a sheep-goat hybrid, not to be confused with a geep, which is a genetic chimera.
Sheep have had associations with many cultures, especially in the Mediterranean area and Great Britain, where they form the most common type of livestock in pastoralism. Selective breeding of sheep has frequently occurred.
A wide symbology relates to sheep in ancient art, traditions and culture. In Egyptian mythology the ram was the symbol of Heryshaf. Judaism uses many sheep references including the Passover lamb. Christianity uses sheep-related images, such as: Christ as the good shepherd, or as the sacrificed Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), the bishop's Pastoral, the lion lying down with the lamb (a reference to all of creation being at peace, without suffering, predation or otherwise). Easter celebrations in Greece and Romania traditionally feature a meal of Paschal lamb. Sheep also have considerable importance in Arab culture; Eid ul-Adha is a major annual festival in Islam in which a sheep is sacrificed.
Herding sheep plays an important historico-symbolic part in the Jewish and Christian faiths, since Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and King David all worked as shepherds.
The ram is the first sign of the Western zodiac, in which it is known as Aries. The sheep (or goat) also forms one of the animals associated with the 12-year cycle of in the Chinese zodiac, related to the Chinese calendar. Chinese tradition associates each animal with certain personality traits. See: Sheep (Zodiac).
The raising of sheep for wool and meat became a major industry in colonial Australia and New Zealand and remains significant. As a result, sheep and sheep shearing have become an important part of the folklore and cultural tradition of these two countries. In New Zealand, sheep outnumber the human population 12 to 1.
Sheep are often associated with obedience due to the widespread perception that they lack intelligence and their undoubted herd mentality, hence the pejorative connotation of the adjective 'ovine'. In George Orwell's satirical novel Animal Farm, sheep are used to represent the ignorant and uneducated masses of revolutionary Russia. The sheep are unable to be taught the subtleties of revolutionary ideology and can only be taught repetitive slogans such as "Four legs good, two legs bad" which they bleat in unison at rallies.
The rock group Pink Floyd wrote a song using sheep as a symbol for ordinary people, that is, everyone who isn't a pig or dog. People who accept overbearing governments have been pejoratively referred to as "sheeple".
In contemporary events, controversy has raged over a scientific study at the Oregon Health and Science University which, because of the unedited printing of a press-release by PETA in a British newspaper, has been accused of attempting to find a way to breed out the minority trait which causes some rams to prefer homosexual relations. Further investigation revealed it only attempts to study the genetics and circumstances which produce the phenomenon and not "cure" it.
There are many breeds of sheep, but these are generally sub-classable as wool class, hair class and sheep meat variety breeds. Dual-purpose breeds are bred for both wool and meat.
Major wool breeds include Merino, Rambouillet, Romney, Shetland, and Lincoln. Drysdale and Herdwick are bred specifically for carpet wool.
Breeds of meat sheep include Beltex, Suffolk, Portland, Hampshire, Columbia, Texel, and Montadale.
Breeders of dual-purpose wool class sheep concentrate on fast growth, multiple births, ease of lambing and hardiness. An easy-care sheep is the Coopworth that has long wool and good lamb meat production qualities. Other dual-use breed are the Corriedale and Shropshire. Sometimes sheep are used for both purposes equally and cross-breeding is practiced to maximize both outputs. For example, Merino ewes providing wool may be crossed with Suffolk rams to produce lambs which are robust and suitable for the meat market.
Hair class sheep are the original class of sheep in the world, developed for meat and leather. They are prolific and highly resistant to disease and parasites. Dorpers and Kahtahdins are composite breeds of wool and hair crosses with different degrees of wool/hair mixes within the hair class. True hair sheep such as St. Croix, Barbados Blackbelly, Mouflon, Santa Inez and Royal White shed their protective down fiber to an all hair coat in the Spring/Summer. Hair class sheep are becoming more popular for their no-shear aspects.
Raising sheep was and is important to farmers in many economies, given that sheep can give milk (and its derivative products, such as cheese), wool, sheepskin (used for making clothes, footwear, rugs, and other coverings) and meat. Sheep droppings have even been sterilized and mixed with other traditional pulp materials to make paper. In the 21st century, sheep retain considerable importance in the economies of several countries. After China, the largest producers of sheep products are in the southern hemisphere: Australia, New Zealand and the Patagonian regions of Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. Sheep play an important role in the economies of a number of smaller countries, such as Wales. In some places, like Sardinia, sheep-breeding has become the principal and characteristic activity.
In the United Kingdom, the importance of the wool trade was so significant that in the upper chamber of parliament (the House of Lords), the Lord Chancellor sits on a bench known as the Woolsack. This is, as its name suggests, a sack of wool and confers the importance of the wool trade to the English economy at the time of its installation many centuries ago.
The economic importance of sheep in much of the United States has declined as it has become, in some cases, economically unviable to ranch sheep for wool. Texas has by far the most sheep of any state, but now has only about one-tenth of the almost 11 million sheep it had in the 1940s.
In the 21st century, in some situations, sheep can provide a return on investment of up to 400% of their cost annually (including reproduction gains). Sheep breeding has played a role in several historic conflicts, such as the Scottish Highland Clearances, the American range wars, and the English "enclosing of the commons".
Evidence for the domestication of sheep dates to 9000 BC in Iraq. DNA analysis has shown that domestic sheep are descended from two ancestor species, one of which is the mouflon. Although the second ancestor has not been identified, both the urial and argali have been ruled out. The urial (O. vignei) is found from northeastern Iran to northwestern India. It has a higher number of chromosomes (58) than domestic sheep (54) which makes it an unlikely ancestor of the latter, but it interbreeds with the mouflon. The argali sheep (O. ammon) of inner Asia (Tibet, Himalayas, Altay Mountains, Tien-Shan and Pamir) has 56 chromosomes and the Siberian snow sheep (Ovis nivicola) has 52 chromosomes.
Evidence of early domesticated sheep has been found in PPNB Jericho and Zawi Chemi Shanidar. The fleece-bearing sheep are only found since the Bronze Age. Primitive breeds, like the Scottish Soay sheep have to be plucked (a process called rooing), instead of sheared, as the kemps are still longer than the soft fleece, or the fleece must be collected from the field after it falls out. The European mouflon (O. musimon) found on Corsica and Sardinia as well as the Cretan and the extinct Cypriot wild sheep are possibly descended from early domestic sheep that turned feral.
Chefs and diners commonly know sheep meat prepared for food as lamb or mutton (compare the French word for "sheep": mouton).
Ewes' milk is used in the production of cheese and yogurt in many upland parts of the world. Well known sheep milk cheeses include the Roquefort of France, the brocciu of Corsica, the pecorino of Italy and the feta cheese of Greece. See Category:Sheep's-milk cheeses. Sheep milk contains lactose, and may trigger lactose intolerance in humans.
Sheep testicles - called animelles or Lamb fries in culinary terms - are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. They are sometimes confused with Rocky Mountain oysters which are exclusively the testicles of boars or bulls.
Some breeds of sheep exhibit a strong flocking behavior. Flocking behavior is advantageous to non-predatory animals; the strongest animals fight their way to the center of the flock which offers them great protection from predators. It can be disadvantageous when food sources are limited and sheep are almost as prone to overgrazing a pasture as goats. In Iceland, where sheep have no natural predators, and grasses grow slowly, none of the various breeds of sheep exhibit a strong flocking behavior.
Sheep flocking behavior is so prevalent in some English breeds that special names apply to the different roles sheep play in a flock. One calls a sheep that roams furthest away from the others an outlier, this sheep ventures further away from the safety of the flock to graze, due to a larger flight zone or a weakness that prevents it from obtaining enough forage when with the flock, while taking a chance that a predator, such as a wolf, will attack it first because of its isolation.
Another sheep, the bellwether, which never goes first but always follows an outlier, signals to the others that they may follow in safety. When it moves, the others will also move. Traditionally this was a castrated ram (or wether) with a bell hung off a string around its neck. The tendency to act as an outlier, bellwether or to fight for the middle of the flock stays with sheep throughout their adulthood; that is unless they have a scary experience which causes them to increase their flight zone.
According to a spokesperson of the British National Sheep Association, "Sheep are quite intelligent creatures and have more brainpower than people are willing to give them credit for." For example, sheep in Yorkshire, England found a way to get over cattle grids by rolling on their backs. A study published in National Geographic (December 8) showed a sheep can remember the faces of fifty other sheep for over two years. If sheep are acting poorly, they are known as a "Goulden in the rough."
Sheep can become hefted to one particular pasture so they do not roam far from home. Since the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom, transplanted sheep have had to be trained to stay in their grazing area.
Sheep are also one of the many animals that can display a preference for homosexuality and are one of the few in which this occurrence has been systematically studied. It occurs in about eight percent of rams on average. Its occurrence does not seem to be related to dominance or flock hierarchy; rather the rams typical motor pattern for intercourse is merely directed at rams instead of ewes.
Sheep have horizontal slit-shaped pupils. The narrower the pupil, the more accurate the depth perception of peripheral vision is; so narrowing it in one direction would increase depth perception in that plane . Animals like goats and sheep may have evolved horizontal pupils because better vision in the vertical plane may be beneficial in mountainous environments.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Artiodactyla
- Family: Bovidae
- Subfamily: Caprinae
- Genus: Ovis
- Species: O. aries
Ovis aries Linnaeus, 1758
List of sheep breeds
This is a list of domestic sheep breeds. Domestic sheep (Ovis aries) are derived from ancestral mouflon (Ovis orientalis) stock, and have diverged sufficiently to be considered a different species.
Breeds of domestic sheep currently used in farming
- Hair sheep (mutton-type)
- Barbados Blackbelly Sheep
- Blackhead Persian
- Brazilian Somali
- Rabo Largo
- Royal White
- Santa Inês
- St. Croix (Virgin Island White)
- West African Dwarf
- Milk Sheep
- Dual-purpose (wool and mutton/lamb) sheep
- Beulah Speckled Face
- California Red
- Finnsheep or Finnish Landrace
- Hampshire and South Hampshire
- Lithuanian Black-Headed sheep
- Soay, with both British and American lines
- South Dorset
- Suffolk and South Suffolk
- Triple-purpose (wool, mutton/lamb and milk) sheep
Comprehensive list of domestic sheep breeds
- Algarve Churro
- Alpines Steinschaf
- Altay (Altai)
- Ancon (Otter sheep)
- Afghan Arabi
- Algerian Arabi
- Arapawa Island
- Armenian Semicoarsewool
- Barbados Blackbelly
- American Blackbelly (Barbado)
- Bentheimer Landschaf (Bentheim sheep)
- Berichon du Cher
- Beulah Speckled Face
- Blackhead Persian
- Bleu du Maine (Blauköpfiges Fleischschaf)
- Bluefaced Leicester
- Border Leicester
- Braunes Bergschaf (Brown Mountain sheep)
- Brazilian Somali
- Brillenschaf (Carinthian sheep)
- British Milk sheep
- Bündner Oberland
- California Red
- California Variegated Mutant
- Cameroon sheep
- Campanian Barbary
- Castlemilk Moorit
- Cine Capari
- Brecknock Hill Cheviot
- North Country Cheviot
- Churro (Churra sheep)
- Clun Forest
- Coburger Fuchsschaf (Coburg sheep)
- Dala Fur sheep
- Danish Landrace
- Greyface Dartmoor
- Whiteface Dartmoor
- Derbyshire Gritstone
- Deutsches Bergschaf (German Mountain sheep)
- Devon Closewool
- Devon Longwoolled
- Dorset Down
- East Friesian (Ostfriesisches Milchschaf)
- English Leicester
- Estonian Ruhnu
- Exmoor Horn
- Fat-tailed sheep
- Finnsheep (Finnish Landrace sheep)
- Flanders Milk sheep (extinct breed)
- French Alpine sheep
- Friesian Milk sheep
- Gansu Alpine Fine-wool
- Gentile di Puglia
- Geschecktes Bergschaf
- Gotland sheep
- Gotland Pelt
- Grey Troender
- Groningen Milk sheep (extinct breed)
- Gulf Coast
- Langzhou Large-tail Han
- Small-tail Han
- Hasht Nagri
- Heidschnucke (German Heath)
- Graue gehörnte Heidschnucke (German Grey Heath)
- Moorschnucke (Weiße hornlose Heidschnucke, White Polled Heath)
- Weiße gehörnte Heidschnucke (White Horned Heath)
- Hill Radnor
- Hog Island
- Icelandic sheep
- Inner Mongolian wool
- Istrian milk
- Kerry Hill
- Krainer Steinschaf
- Leineschaf (Leine sheep)
- Leineschaf ursprünglicher Typ (Leine old type)
- Leicester Longwool (Bakewells Longwool)
- Lithuanian Black-Headed sheep
- Luzein sheep
- Manx Loaghtan
- Massese sheep
- Merinizzata Italiana
- Argentine Merino
- Arles Merino
- Booroola Merino
- Delaine Merino
- Fonthill Merino
- Karacabey Merino
- Medium-wool Merino
- Merinofleischschaft (German Mutton Merino)
- Merinolandschaf (German Merino)
- Merino Longwool
- Poll Merino
- South African Merino
- South African mutton merino (South African Meat Merino or SAMM)
- Strong Wool Merino
- Ming Black
- Morada Nova
- Nolana sheep
- Norfolk Horn
- North Ronaldsay
- Norwegian Fur sheep
- Old Norwegian
- Pag Island
- Pedi Sheep
- Pitt Island
- Polish Heath
- Poll Dorset
- Qinghai Black Tibetan
- Qinghai Semifinewool
- Quanglin Large-Tail
- Rabo Largo
- Rasa Aragonesa
- Rauhwolliges Pommersches Landschaf (Pomeranian Coarsewool)
- Red Engadine
- Red Karaman
- Rhönschaf (Rhoen sheep)
- Rideau Arcott
- Romney sheep (Romney Marsh)
- Rouge de l'Ouest
- Rouge de Roussillon (Roussillon Red)
- Rough Fell
- Royal White
- Santa Cruz
- Santa Inês
- Šar Mountain
- Schwarzköpfiges Fleischschaf (German Blackheaded Mutton)
- Schwarzes Bergschaf
- Scottish Blackface
- Sicilian Barbary
- South Devon
- South Dorset
- South Hampshire
- South Suffolk
- South Wales Mountain
- St. Croix (Virgin Island white)
- Swedish Fur sheep
- Schweizer Schwarzbraunes Bergschaf (Swiss Black-Brown Mountain sheep)
- Schweizer Alpenschaf (Swiss Alpine)
- Tautra (extinct)
- Tiroler Steinschaf (Tyrol Mountain)
- Tong or Toeng
- Valais Blacknose
- Van Rooy
- Walachenschaf (Valachian sheep)
- Waldschaf (Bavarian Forest sheep)
- Wallis Country sheep
- Weißes Bergschaf (Swiss White Alpine)
- Weißköpfiges Fleischschaf (German Whiteheaded Mutton)
- Welsh Hill Speckled Face
- Welsh Mountain sheep
- Balwen Welsh Mountain
- Black Welsh Mountain
- Welsh Mountain Badger Faced
- West African Dwarf
- White Horned Heath sheep
- White Karaman
- White Suffolk
- Whiteface Woodland
- Wiltshire Horn
- Xaxi Ardia
- Xinjiang Finewool
- Yemen White
- Yunnan Semifinewool
- Zaïre Long-Legged
- Zeeland Milk
- Zeta Yellow
This is a glossary of terms that relate to sheep and domestic sheep. Note that some terms have localized meanings, and may be used only in one geographical region, or may mean slightly different things in different areas.
Bottle lamb or cade lamb – an orphan lamb reared on a bottle. Also poddy lamb or pet lamb.
Cull ewe – a ewe no longer suitable for breeding, and sold for meat.
Ewe (pronounced like "you") – a female sheep, capable of producing lambs. In areas where gimmer or similar terms are used, may refer to a female only after her first lamb. In some areas yow (rhymes with "how").
Dags – clumps of dried dung stuck to the wool of the rear and tail of a sheep, which may lead to fly-strike. (Hence "to rattle your dags", meaning "to hurry up", especially used in Australia.)
Dagging – clipping off dags, or clipping the wool to prevent them forming.
Draft ewe – a ewe too old for rough grazing (such as moorland), drafted onto better grazing (often on another farm). Usually spelt draft, but in British Isles still sometimes as draught.
Flock – a group of sheep (or goats). Sometimes called herd or mob.
Fold (or sheepfold) – a pen in which flocks are kept overnight to keep them safe from predators, or to allow the collection of dung for fertiliser.
Gimmer ("g" pronounced as in "gift") – a young female sheep, usually before her first lamb (especially used in the north of England). Also theave.
Hefting – the instinct in some breeds of keeping to a certain heft (small local area) throughout their lives. Allows different farmers to graze different areas without the need for fences in an extensive landscape such as moorland, the ewes being scattered evenly over a wide area. Lambs usually learn their heft from their mothers.
Hogget (also hogg, hog or hoggat) – a yearling sheep, especially one intended for meat.
Lamb (pronounced "lamm") – a young sheep in its first year. In many eastern countries there is a looser use of the term which may include older hoggetts. Also the meat of younger sheep.
Lambing – the process of giving birth in sheep. Also the work of tending lambing ewes (shepherds are said to lamb their flocks).
In lamb – pregnant.
Monorchid – a male mammal with only one descended testicle, the other being retained internally. Monorchid sheep are less fertile than full rams, but have leaner meat than wethers due to the presence of testosterone.
Mutton – the meat of an older sheep. Also used for older female sheep to be used for this purpose. May refer to goat meat in eastern countries. Derived from the Anglo-Norman French word mouton (sheep).
Old-season lamb – a lamb a year old or more.
Ovine – the adjective applied to sheep, especially in technical language (for example "ovine anatomy"). Also any member of the genus Ovis.
Poddy lamb or pet lamb – an orphan lamb reared on a bottle. Also bottle lamb or cade lamb.
Ram – an uncastrated adult male sheep. Also tup.
Raddle – a coloured marker strapped to the chest of a ram, to mark the backs of ewes he tups. Different rams may be given different colors. Also a verb ("that ewe's been raddled").
Riggwelter – a sheep that has fallen onto its back and (usually because of the weight of its fleece) is unable to get up.
Shearling – a yearling sheep before its first shearing. Also teg.
Sheep – the species, or members of it. The plural is the same as the singular, and it can also be used as a mass noun. Normally used of individuals of any age, but in some areas only for those of breeding age.
Sheepdog or shepherd dog – a dog used to move and control sheep, often very highly trained. Other types of dog may be used to guard sheep (see livestock guardian dog), and these are sometimes also called sheepdogs.
Shepherd – a stockperson or farmer who looks after sheep. Used even in areas where a group of sheep is called a flock.
Theave (or theaf) – a young female sheep, usually before her first lamb. Also gimmer.
Shepherding – herding sheep, or sheep husbandry more generally.
Slink – a very young lamb.
Sucker – an unweaned lamb.
Teg – a sheep in its second year. Also shearling.
Tup – an alternative term for ram.
Tupping – mating in sheep, or the mating season (autumn, for a spring-lambing flock).
Wether – a castrated male sheep (or goat).
Yow (rhymes with "how") – local form of ewe in some areas.