Sheep have been domesticated for around 10,000 years.
Sheep are mostly used for meat, hides, as well their fleeces are used for wool. Sheep can be used for dairy, although this is less common. Some sheep are used for pasture control, particularly in areas that are hard to mow. Sheep are also often used in science; a sheep, Dolly, was the first cloned mammal.
For every 7 people there is about one sheep, meaning we have roughly 1 billion sheep on the earth. In New Zealand and Australia, sheep outnumber people.
There are more than 300 breeds of domestic sheep. Not all sheep have wool, some are hair sheep and are noted for shedding like a dog and requiring less maintenance. Hair sheep do have a few wool fibers; originally sheep were not as woolly as they are now, this is the result of breeding programs selecting sheep with more wool.
Lamb – young sheep, if female it is a ewe lamb, if male it is a ram lamb
Ewe – mature female
Ram – mature male
Wether – castrated male
Bummer – an orphaned, or bottle fed lamb
Polled – sheep with no horns
Non-polled – has horns
Docking – shortening of the tail, usually done at a few days of age, not done on hair sheep
Crutching – removing wool around the sheep's rump
Mulesing – cutting the sheep's rump to remove extra skin – highly controversial, considered cruel by animal rights groups
©Authors sheep. The brown ones on the left are Barbado, the white ones in the middle are Katahdin (all are hair sheep), on the right is a wool ewe, a Suffolk x Dorset.
Information on Sheep
Sheep are mostly known for being covered with a woolly white fleece, but some sheep are not white, and others do not have wool at all. As mentioned earlier some sheep, such as the Katahdin, have hair, not wool. There are also some "fat-tailed" sheep that most people are not familiar with outside Africa.
Some breeds of sheep are more prone to certain diseases than others.
The wool of a sheep has a crimp and this is what it is often judged on in terms of quality, with some wool being better suited for carpets, and other wool for sweaters and even soft baby blankets.
Shearing is not cruel, and unless the sheep are handled rough, does not hurt them. It is actually more humane in hot climates as it prevents overheating in addition to allowing for the collection of the fleece. Shearing is usually done once a year, or twice in hotter climates. Hair sheep do not need shearing and are kept more for meat or pasture control.
One sheep may produce enough wool in a year to make 4 light weight sweaters.
Sheep are grazers, they prefer to eat grass, and legumes, they eat clover but it can alter the ewe's estrus (heat) cycle.
Sheep are ruminants, they have one stomach with four compartments and spend much of their time chewing their cud, which is food they ate and partially digested earlier.
Sheep do not have front teeth on their top jaw.
Copper, a mineral in most other livestock feeds, is toxic to sheep.
Sheep have a strong herding desire. A group of sheep is called herd, or flock.
Sheep are sexually mature around 5 months of age but should not be bred until 8 months of age. Gestation is about 5 months long. Most sheep breeders breed in the fall for spring lambs. Some sheep cycle all year and can be bred at any time, but others only come into heat in the fall.
Sheep usually have 1, 2, or 3 lambs.
The average lifespan for a sheep is 15 years although repeated breeding can decrease lifespan.