Domestic sheep

Domestic sheep

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Sheep are quadruped
Quadruped
Quadrupedalism is a form of land animal locomotion using four limbs or legs. An animal or machine that usually moves in a quadrupedal manner is known as a quadruped, meaning "four feet"...

al, ruminant
Ruminant
A ruminant is a mammal of the order Artiodactyla that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal's first compartment of the stomach, principally through bacterial actions, then regurgitating the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chewing it again...

 mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

s typically kept as livestock
Livestock
Livestock refers to one or more domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor. The term "livestock" as used in this article does not include poultry or farmed fish; however the inclusion of these, especially poultry, within the meaning...

. Like all ruminants, sheep are members of the order Artiodactyla, the even-toed ungulate
Even-toed ungulate
The even-toed ungulates are ungulates whose weight is borne about equally by the third and fourth toes, rather than mostly or entirely by the third as in odd-toed ungulates such as horses....

s. Although the name "sheep" applies to many species in the genus Ovis
Ovis
Ovis is a genus of mammals, part of the goat-antelope subfamily of the ruminant family Bovidae. Its five or more highly gregarious species are known as sheep...

, in everyday usage it almost always refers to Ovis aries. Numbering a little over one billion, domestic sheep are also the most numerous species of sheep.

Sheep are most likely descended from the wild mouflon
Mouflon
The mouflon is a subspecies group of the wild sheep Ovis aries. Populations of Ovis aries can be partitioned into the mouflons and urials or arkars...

 of Europe and Asia. One of the earliest animals to be domesticated for agricultural
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 purposes, sheep are raised for fleece
Wool
Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, vicuña, alpaca, camel from animals in the camel family, and angora from rabbits....

, meat (lamb, hogget or mutton) and milk
Sheep milk
Sheep's milk is the milk of domestic sheep. Though not widely drunk in any modern culture, sheep's milk is commonly used to make cultured dairy products. Well-known cheeses made from sheep milk include the Feta of Greece, Roquefort of France, Manchego from Spain, the Pecorino Romano , the Pecorino...

. A sheep's wool
Wool
Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, vicuña, alpaca, camel from animals in the camel family, and angora from rabbits....

 is the most widely used animal fiber, and is usually harvested by shearing
Sheep shearing
Sheep shearing, shearing or clipping is the process by which the woollen fleece of a sheep is cut off. The person who removes the sheep's wool is called a shearer. Typically each adult sheep is shorn once each year...

. Ovine meat is called lamb when from younger animals and mutton when from older ones. Sheep continue to be important for wool and meat today, and are also occasionally raised for pelts
Sheepskin (material)
Sheepskin is the hide of a sheep, sometimes also called lambskin. Unlike common leather, sheepskin is tanned with the fleece intact, as in a pelt.-Uses:...

, as dairy
Dairy
A dairy is a business enterprise established for the harvesting of animal milk—mostly from cows or goats, but also from buffalo, sheep, horses or camels —for human consumption. A dairy is typically located on a dedicated dairy farm or section of a multi-purpose farm that is concerned...

 animals, or as model organism
Model organism
A model organism is a non-human species that is extensively studied to understand particular biological phenomena, with the expectation that discoveries made in the organism model will provide insight into the workings of other organisms. Model organisms are in vivo models and are widely used to...

s for science.

Sheep husbandry
Sheep husbandry
Sheep husbandry is a subcategory of animal husbandry specifically dealing with the raising and breeding of domestic sheep. Sheep farming is primarily based on raising lambs for meat, or raising sheep for wool. Sheep may also be raised for milk or to sell to other farmers.-Shelter and...

 is practised throughout the majority of the inhabited world, and has been fundamental to many civilizations. In the modern era, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, the southern and central South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

n nations, and the British Isles
British Isles
The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and...

 are most closely associated with sheep production.

Sheep-raising has a large lexicon of unique terms
Glossary of sheep husbandry
The raising of domestic sheep has occurred in nearly every inhabited part of the globe, and the variations in cultures and languages which have kept sheep has produced a vast lexicon of unique terminology used to describe sheep husbandry...

 which vary considerably by region and dialect
Dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

. Use of the word sheep began in Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 as a derivation of the Old English word scēap; it is both the singular and plural name for the animal. A group of sheep is called a flock, herd
Herd
Herd refers to a social grouping of certain animals of the same species, either wild or domestic, and also to the form of collective animal behavior associated with this or as a verb, to herd, to its control by another species such as humans or dogs.The term herd is generally applied to mammals,...

 or mob. Adult female sheep are referred to as ewes, intact males as rams or occasionally tups, castrated
Castration
Castration is any action, surgical, chemical, or otherwise, by which a male loses the functions of the testicles or a female loses the functions of the ovaries.-Humans:...

 males as wethers, and younger sheep as lambs. Many other specific terms for the various life stages of sheep exist, generally related to lambing, shearing, and age.

Being a key animal in the history of farming, sheep have a deeply entrenched place in human culture, and find representation in much modern language and symbology
Symbology
Symbology concerns the study of symbols.Symbology may also refer to:-Academics:* Semiotics, study of signs and symbols* Iconography, branch of art history which studies images...

. As livestock, sheep are most-often associated with pastoral
Pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

, Arcadian
Arcadia (utopia)
Arcadia refers to a vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature. The term is derived from the Greek province of the same name which dates to antiquity; the province's mountainous topography and sparse population of pastoralists later caused the word Arcadia to develop into a poetic byword for an...

 imagery. Sheep figure in many mythologies
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

—such as the Golden Fleece
Golden Fleece
In Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece is the fleece of the gold-haired winged ram, which can be procured in Colchis. It figures in the tale of Jason and his band of Argonauts, who set out on a quest by order of King Pelias for the fleece in order to place Jason rightfully on the throne of Iolcus...

—and major religions, especially the Abrahamic traditions. In both ancient and modern religious ritual, sheep are used as sacrificial animals
Animal sacrifice
Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practised by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature...

.

Description



Domestic sheep are relatively small ruminants, usually with a crimped hair called wool and often with horns forming a lateral spiral
Spiral
In mathematics, a spiral is a curve which emanates from a central point, getting progressively farther away as it revolves around the point.-Spiral or helix:...

. Domestic sheep differ from their wild relatives and ancestors in several respects, having become uniquely neotenic
Neoteny
Neoteny , also called juvenilization , is one of the two ways by which paedomorphism can arise. Paedomorphism is the retention by adults of traits previously seen only in juveniles, and is a subject studied in the field of developmental biology. In neoteny, the physiological development of an...

 as a result of selective breeding by humans. A few primitive breeds of sheep retain some of the characteristics of their wild cousins, such as short tails. Depending on breed, domestic sheep may have no horns at all (i.e. polled
Polled livestock
Polled livestock are livestock without horns, of species that normally have them. The term refers both to breeds or strains which are naturally polled through selective breeding and also to naturally horned animals which have been dehorned...

), or horns in both sexes, or in males only. Most horned breeds have a single pair, but a few breeds may have several.

Another trait unique to domestic sheep as compared to wild ovines is their wide variation in color. Wild sheep are largely variations of brown hues, and variation within species is extremely limited. Colors of domestic sheep range from pure white to dark chocolate brown and even spotted or piebald
Piebald
A piebald or pied animal is one that has a spotting pattern of large unpigmented, usually white, areas of hair, feathers, or scales and normally pigmented patches, generally black. The colour of the animal's skin underneath its coat is also pigmented under the dark patches and unpigmented under...

. Selection for easily dyeable white fleeces began early in sheep domestication, and as white wool is a dominant trait it spread quickly. However, colored sheep do appear in many modern breeds, and may even appear as a recessive
Recessive
In genetics, the term "recessive gene" refers to an allele that causes a phenotype that is only seen in a homozygous genotype and never in a heterozygous genotype. Every person has two copies of every gene on autosomal chromosomes, one from mother and one from father...

 trait in white flocks. While white wool is desirable for large commercial markets, there is a niche market
Niche market
A niche market is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focusing; therefore the market niche defines the specific product features aimed at satisfying specific market needs, as well as the price range, production quality and the demographics that is intended to impact...

 for colored fleeces, mostly for handspinning. The nature of the fleece varies widely among the breeds, from dense and highly crimped, to long and hair-like. There is variation of wool type and quality even among members of the same flock, so wool classing
Wool classing
Wool classing is an occupation for which people are trained to produce uniform, predictable, low risk lines of wool. This is carried out by examining the characteristics of the wool in its raw state. The characteristics which a wool classer would examine are:Breed of the sheep: Shedding breeds will...

 is a step in the commercial processing of the fibre.


Depending on breed, sheep show a range of heights and weights. Their rate of growth and mature weight is a heritable trait that is often selected for in breeding. Ewes typically weigh between 45 and 100 kg (99.2 and 220.5 lb), and rams between 45 and 160 kg (99.2 and 352.7 lb). Mature sheep have 32 teeth. As with other ruminants, the front teeth in the lower jaw bite against a hard, toothless pad in the upper jaw. These are used to pick off vegetation, then the rear teeth grind it before it is swallowed. There are eight lower front teeth in ruminants, but there is some disagreement as to whether these are eight incisor
Incisor
Incisors are the first kind of tooth in heterodont mammals. They are located in the premaxilla above and mandible below.-Function:...

s, or six incisors and two incisor-shaped canine
Canine tooth
In mammalian oral anatomy, the canine teeth, also called cuspids, dogteeth, fangs, or eye teeth, are relatively long, pointed teeth...

s. This means that the dental formula
Dentition
Dentition pertains to the development of teeth and their arrangement in the mouth. In particular, the characteristic arrangement, kind, and number of teeth in a given species at a given age...

 for sheep is either or There is a large toothless gap between the front "biting" teeth and the rear "grinding" teeth.

For the first few years of life it is possible to calculate the age of sheep from their front teeth, as a pair of milk teeth
Deciduous teeth
Deciduous teeth, otherwise known as reborner teeth, baby teeth, temporary teeth and primary teeth, are the first set of teeth in the growth development of humans and many other mammals. In some Asian countries they are referred to as fall teeth as they will eventually fall out, while in almost all...

 is replaced by larger adult teeth each year, the full set of eight adult front teeth being complete at about four years of age. The front teeth are then gradually lost as sheep age, making it harder for them to feed and hindering the health and productivity of the animal. For this reason, domestic sheep on normal pasture
Pasture
Pasture is land used for grazing. Pasture lands in the narrow sense are enclosed tracts of farmland, grazed by domesticated livestock, such as horses, cattle, sheep or swine. The vegetation of tended pasture, forage, consists mainly of grasses, with an interspersion of legumes and other forbs...

 begin to slowly decline from four years on, and the average life expectancy of a sheep is 10 to 12 years, though some sheep may live as long as 20 years.

Sheep have good hearing, and are sensitive to noise when being handled. Sheep have horizontal slit-shaped pupils, possessing excellent peripheral vision
Peripheral vision
Peripheral vision is a part of vision that occurs outside the very center of gaze. There is a broad set of non-central points in the field of view that is included in the notion of peripheral vision...

; with visual fields of approximately 270° to 320°, sheep can see behind themselves without turning their heads. However, sheep have poor depth perception
Depth perception
Depth perception is the visual ability to perceive the world in three dimensions and the distance of an object. Depth sensation is the ability to move accurately, or to respond consistently, based on the distances of objects in an environment....

; shadows and dips in the ground may cause sheep to baulk. In general, sheep have a tendency to move out of the dark and into well-lit areas, and prefer to move uphill when disturbed. Sheep also have an excellent sense of smell, and, like all species of their genus, have scent glands just in front of the eyes, and interdigitally on the feet. The purpose of these glands is uncertain, but those on the face may be used in breeding behaviors. The foot glands might also be related to reproduction, but alternative reasons, such as secretion of a waste product or a scent marker to help lost sheep find their flock, have also been proposed.

Sheep compared to goats


Sheep and goat
Goat
The domestic goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of...

s are closely related as both are in the subfamily Caprinae. However, they are separate species, so hybrids rarely occur, and are always infertile. A hybrid of a ewe and a buck (a male goat) is called a sheep-goat hybrid
Sheep-goat hybrid
A sheep–goat hybrid is the hybrid offspring of a sheep and a goat. Although sheep and goats seem similar and can be mated, they belong to different genera in the subfamily Caprinae of the family Bovidae. Sheep belong to the genus Ovis and have 54 chromosomes, while goats belong to the genus Capra...

 (only a single such animal has been confirmed), and is not to be confused with the genetic chimera
Chimera (genetics)
A chimera or chimaera is a single organism that is composed of two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated from different zygotes involved in sexual reproduction. If the different cells have emerged from the same zygote, the organism is called a mosaic...

 called a geep. Visual differences between sheep and goats include the beard and divided upper lip of goats. Sheep tails also hang down, even when short or docked
Docking (animal)
Docking is a term for the intentional removal of part of an animal's tail or ears. The term cropping is also used, though more commonly in reference to the cropping of ears, while docking more commonly—but not exclusively—refers to the tail. The term tailing is also commonly used...

, while the short tails of goats are held upwards. Sheep breeds are also often naturally polled (either in both sexes or just in the female), while naturally polled goats are rare (though many are polled artificially). Males of the two species differ in that buck goats acquire a unique and strong odor during the rut
Rut (mammalian reproduction)
The rut is the mating season of ruminant animals such as deer, sheep, elk, moose, caribou, ibex, goats, pronghorn and Asian and African antelope....

, whereas rams do not.

Breeds




The domestic sheep is a multi-purpose animal, and the more than 200 breeds now in existence were created to serve these diverse purposes. Some sources give a count of a thousand or more breeds, but these numbers cannot be verified. Almost all sheep are classified as being best suited to furnishing a certain product: wool, meat, milk, hides, or a combination in a dual-purpose breed. Other features used when classifying sheep include face color (generally white or black), tail length, presence or lack of horns, and the topography
Topography
Topography is the study of Earth's surface shape and features or those ofplanets, moons, and asteroids...

 for which the breed has been developed. This last point is especially stressed in the UK, where breeds are described as either upland (hill or mountain) or lowland breeds. A sheep may also be of a fat-tailed type
Fat-tailed sheep
The fat-tailed sheep is a general type of domestic sheep known for their distinctive large tails and hindquarters. Fat-tailed sheep breeds comprise approximately 25% of the world sheep population, and are commonly found in northern parts of Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, North India, Western...

, which is a dual-purpose sheep common in Africa and Asia with larger deposits of fat within and around its tail.


Breeds are often categorized by the type of their wool. Fine wool breeds are those that have wool of great crimp and density, which are preferred for textiles. Most of these were derived from Merino sheep, and the breed continues to dominate the world sheep industry. Downs breeds have wool between the extremes, and are typically fast-growing meat and ram breeds with dark faces. Some major medium wool breeds, such as the Corriedale, are dual-purpose crosses of long and fine-wooled breeds and were created for high-production commercial flocks. Long wool breeds are the largest of sheep, with long wool and a slow rate of growth. Long wool sheep are most valued for crossbreeding to improve the attributes of other sheep types. For example: the American Columbia
Columbia (sheep)
The Columbia is one of the first breeds of sheep developed in the United States. The product of USDA and university research, it was intended to be an improved breed specially built for the Western ranges of the country . Beginning in 1912 in Laramie, Wyoming, Lincoln rams were crossed with...

 breed was developed by crossing Lincoln
Lincoln (sheep)
The Lincoln, sometimes called the Lincoln Longwool, is a breed of sheep from England. The Lincoln is the largest British sheep, developed specifically to produce the heaviest, longest and most lustrous fleece of any breed in the world. Great numbers were exported to many countries to improve the...

 rams (a long wool breed) with fine-wooled Rambouillet
Rambouillet (sheep)
The Rambouillet is also known as the Rambouillet Merino or the French Merino. The development of the Rambouillet breed started in 1786 when Louis XVI purchased over three hundred Spanish Merinos from his cousin, King Charles III of Spain...

 ewes.

Coarse or carpet
Carpet
A carpet is a textile floor covering consisting of an upper layer of "pile" attached to a backing. The pile is generally either made from wool or a manmade fibre such as polypropylene,nylon or polyester and usually consists of twisted tufts which are often heat-treated to maintain their...

 wool sheep are those with a medium to long length wool of characteristic coarseness. Breeds traditionally used for carpet wool show great variability, but the chief requirement is a wool that will not break down under heavy use (as would that of the finer breeds). As the demand for carpet-quality wool declines, some breeders of this type of sheep are attempting to use a few of these traditional breeds for alternative purposes. Others have always been primarily meat-class sheep.

A minor class of sheep are the dairy
Dairy
A dairy is a business enterprise established for the harvesting of animal milk—mostly from cows or goats, but also from buffalo, sheep, horses or camels —for human consumption. A dairy is typically located on a dedicated dairy farm or section of a multi-purpose farm that is concerned...

 breeds. Dual-purpose breeds that may primarily be meat or wool sheep are often used secondarily as milking animals, but there are a few breeds that are predominantly used for milking. These sheep do produce a higher quantity of milk and have slightly longer lactation curves. In the quality of their milk, fat and protein content percentages of dairy sheep vary from non-dairy breeds but lactose content does not.

A last group of sheep breeds is that of fur or hair sheep, which do not grow wool at all. Hair sheep are similar to the early domesticated sheep kept before woolly breeds were developed, and are raised for meat and pelts. Some modern breeds of hair sheep, such as the Dorper, result from crosses between wool and hair breeds. For meat and hide producers, hair sheep are cheaper to keep, as they do not need shearing. Hair sheep are also more resistant to parasites and hot weather.
With the modern rise of corporate agribusiness
Agribusiness
In agriculture, agribusiness is a generic term for the various businesses involved in food production, including farming and contract farming, seed supply, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, processing, marketing, and retail sales....

 and the decline of localized family farm
Family farm
A family farm is a farm owned and operated by a family, and often passed down from generation to generation. It is the basic unit of the mostly agricultural economy of much of human history and continues to be so in developing nations...

s, many breeds of sheep are in danger of extinction. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust
Rare Breeds Survival Trust
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is a conservation charity, whose purpose is to secure the continued existence and viability of the United Kingdom’s native farm animal genetic resources...

 of the UK lists 22 native breeds as having only 3,000 registered animals (each), and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is a nonprofit organization focused on preserving and promoting genetic diversity among rare breeds of livestock...

 lists 14 as having fewer than 10,000. Preferences for breeds with uniform characteristics and fast growth have pushed heritage (or heirloom) breeds to the margins of the sheep industry. Those that remain are maintained through the efforts of conservation organizations, breed registries, and individual farmers dedicated to their preservation.

Diet



Sheep are exclusively herbivorous mammals. Most breeds prefer to graze on grass
Grass
Grasses, or more technically graminoids, are monocotyledonous, usually herbaceous plants with narrow leaves growing from the base. They include the "true grasses", of the Poaceae family, as well as the sedges and the rushes . The true grasses include cereals, bamboo and the grasses of lawns ...

 and other short roughage, avoiding the taller woody parts of plants that goats readily consume. Both sheep and goats use their lip
Lip
Lips are a visible body part at the mouth of humans and many animals. Lips are soft, movable, and serve as the opening for food intake and in the articulation of sound and speech...

s and tongue
Tongue
The tongue is a muscular hydrostat on the floors of the mouths of most vertebrates which manipulates food for mastication. It is the primary organ of taste , as much of the upper surface of the tongue is covered in papillae and taste buds. It is sensitive and kept moist by saliva, and is richly...

s to select parts of the plant that are easier to digest or higher in nutrition. Sheep, however, graze well in monoculture
Monoculture
Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing one single crop over a wide area. It is also known as a way of farming practice of growing large stands of a single species. It is widely used in modern industrial agriculture and its implementation has allowed for large harvests from...

 pastures where most goats fare poorly. Like all ruminants, sheep have a complex digestive system composed of four chambers, allowing them to break down cellulose
Cellulose
Cellulose is an organic compound with the formula , a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to over ten thousand β linked D-glucose units....

 from stems, leaves, and seed hulls into simpler carbohydrate
Carbohydrate
A carbohydrate is an organic compound with the empirical formula ; that is, consists only of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with a hydrogen:oxygen atom ratio of 2:1 . However, there are exceptions to this. One common example would be deoxyribose, a component of DNA, which has the empirical...

s. When sheep graze
Grazing
Grazing generally describes a type of feeding, in which a herbivore feeds on plants , and also on other multicellular autotrophs...

, vegetation is chewed into a mass called a bolus
Bolus (digestion)
In digestion, a bolus is a mass of food that has been chewed at the point of swallowing. Once a bolus reaches the stomach, digestion begins....

, which is then passed into the first chamber: the rumen
Rumen
The rumen, also known as a paunch, forms the larger part of the reticulorumen, which is the first chamber in the alimentary canal of ruminant animals. It serves as the primary site for microbial fermentation of ingested feed...

. The rumen is a 19 to 38-liter (5 to 10 gal) organ in which feed is fermented
Fermentation (food)
Fermentation in food processing typically is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria, or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. Fermentation in simple terms is the chemical conversion of sugars into ethanol...

 via a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

, protozoa
Protozoa
Protozoa are a diverse group of single-cells eukaryotic organisms, many of which are motile. Throughout history, protozoa have been defined as single-cell protists with animal-like behavior, e.g., movement...

, and yeast
Yeast
Yeasts are eukaryotic micro-organisms classified in the kingdom Fungi, with 1,500 species currently described estimated to be only 1% of all fungal species. Most reproduce asexually by mitosis, and many do so by an asymmetric division process called budding...

s of the gut flora
Gut flora
Gut flora consists of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of animals and is the largest reservoir of human flora. In this context, gut is synonymous with intestinal, and flora with microbiota and microflora....

. The bolus is periodically regurgitated back to the mouth as cud
Cud
Cud is a portion of food that returns from a ruminant's stomach in the mouth to be chewed for the second time. More accurately, it is a bolus of semi-degraded food regurgitated from the reticulorumen of a ruminant. Cud is produced during the physical digestive process of rumination, or "chewing the...

 for additional chewing and salivation. Cud chewing is an adaptation
Adaptation
An adaptation in biology is a trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism that is maintained and evolved by means of natural selection. An adaptation refers to both the current state of being adapted and to the dynamic evolutionary process that leads to the adaptation....

 allowing ruminants to graze more quickly in the morning, and then fully chew and digest feed later in the day. This is safer than grazing, which requires lowering the head thus leaving the animal vulnerable to predators, while cud chewing does not.

During fermentation, the rumen produces gas that must be expelled; disturbances of the organ, such as sudden changes in a sheep's diet, can cause the potentially fatal condition of bloat
Bloat
Bloat is a medical condition in which the stomach becomes overstretched by excessive gas content. It is also commonly referred to as torsion, gastric torsion, and gastric dilatation-volvulus when the stomach is also twisted. The word bloat is often used as a general term to cover gas distension...

, when gas becomes trapped in the rumen. After fermentation in the rumen, feed passes in to the reticulum
Reticulum (anatomy)
The reticulum is the second chamber in the alimentary canal of a ruminant animal. Anatomically it is considered the smaller half of the reticulorumen along with the rumen. Together these two compartments make up 84% of the volume of the total stomach. The reticulum is located between the rumen and...

 and the omasum
Omasum
The omasum, also known as the bible, the fardel, the manyplies and the psalterium, is the third compartment of the stomach in ruminants...

; special feeds such as grains may bypass the rumen altogether. After the first three chambers, food moves in to the abomasum
Abomasum
The abomasum, also known as the maw, and the rennet-bag, and the read, is the fourth and final stomach compartment in ruminants. It secretes rennin - the artificial form of which is called rennet, and is used in cheese creation....

 for final digestion before processing by the intestine
Intestine
In human anatomy, the intestine is the segment of the alimentary canal extending from the pyloric sphincter of the stomach to the anus and, in humans and other mammals, consists of two segments, the small intestine and the large intestine...

s. The abomasum is the only one of the four chambers analogous to the human stomach (being the only one that absorbs nutrients for use as energy), and is sometimes called the "true stomach".

Sheep follow a diurnal pattern of activity, feeding from dawn to dusk, stopping sporadically to rest and chew their cud
Cud
Cud is a portion of food that returns from a ruminant's stomach in the mouth to be chewed for the second time. More accurately, it is a bolus of semi-degraded food regurgitated from the reticulorumen of a ruminant. Cud is produced during the physical digestive process of rumination, or "chewing the...

. Ideal pasture for sheep is not lawn-like grass, but an array of grass
Grass
Grasses, or more technically graminoids, are monocotyledonous, usually herbaceous plants with narrow leaves growing from the base. They include the "true grasses", of the Poaceae family, as well as the sedges and the rushes . The true grasses include cereals, bamboo and the grasses of lawns ...

es, legumes and forb
Forb
A forb is a herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid . The term is used in biology and in vegetation ecology, especially in relation to grasslands and understory.-Etymology:...

s. Types of land where sheep are raised vary widely, from pastures that are seeded and improved intentionally to rough, native lands. Common plants toxic to sheep are present in most of the world, and include (but are not limited to) oak and acorns, tomato, yew
Taxus
Taxus is a genus of yews, small coniferous trees or shrubs in the yew family Taxaceae. They are relatively slow-growing and can be very long-lived, and reach heights of 1-40 m, with trunk diameters of up to 4 m...

, rhubarb, potato, and rhododendron
Rhododendron
Rhododendron is a genus of over 1 000 species of woody plants in the heath family, most with showy flowers...

.
Sheep are largely grazing
Grazing
Grazing generally describes a type of feeding, in which a herbivore feeds on plants , and also on other multicellular autotrophs...

 herbivores, unlike browsing
Browsing (predation)
Browsing is a type of herbivory in which an herbivore feeds on leaves, soft shoots, or fruits of high growing, generally woody, plants such as shrubs. This is contrasted with grazing, usually associated with animals feeding on grass or other low vegetation...

 animals such as goats and deer that prefer taller foliage. With a much narrower face, sheep crop plants very close to the ground and can overgraze a pasture much faster than cattle. For this reason, many shepherds use managed intensive rotational grazing, where a flock is rotated through multiple pastures, giving plants time to recover. Paradoxically, sheep can both cause and solve the spread of invasive plant species
Invasive species
"Invasive species", or invasive exotics, is a nomenclature term and categorization phrase used for flora and fauna, and for specific restoration-preservation processes in native habitats, with several definitions....

. By disturbing the natural state of pasture, sheep and other livestock can pave the way for invasive plants. However, sheep also prefer to eat invasives such as cheatgrass, leafy spurge
Leafy spurge
Euphorbia esula, commonly known as the Green Spurge or Leafy Spurge, is a species of spurge native to central and southern Europe , and eastward through most of Asia north of the Himalaya to Korea and eastern Siberia.It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 1-1.2 m tall, with several stems...

, kudzu
Kudzu
Kudzu is a plant in the genus Pueraria in the pea family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. It is a climbing, coiling, and trailing vine native to southern Japan and southeast China. Its name comes from the Japanese name for the plant, . It is a weed that climbs over trees or shrubs and grows so...

 and spotted knapweed over native species such as sagebrush
Sagebrush
Sagebrush is a common name of a number of shrubby plant species in the genus Artemisia native to western North America;Or, the sagebrush steppe ecoregion, having one or more kinds of sagebrush, bunchgrasses and others;...

, making grazing sheep effective for conservation grazing
Conservation grazing
Conservation grazing is the use of semi-feral or domesticated grazing livestock to maintain and increase the biodiversity of natural or semi-natural grasslands, heathlands, wood pasture, wetlands and many other habitats....

. Research conducted in Imperial County, California
Imperial County, California
Imperial County is a county located in the Imperial Valley, in the far southeast of the U.S. state of California, bordering both Arizona and Mexico. It is part of the El Centro Metropolitan Area, which encompasses all of Imperial County. The population as of 2000 was 142,361. The county seat is the...

 compared lamb grazing with herbicides for weed
Weed
A weed in a general sense is a plant that is considered by the user of the term to be a nuisance, and normally applied to unwanted plants in human-controlled settings, especially farm fields and gardens, but also lawns, parks, woods, and other areas. More specifically, the term is often used to...

 control in seedling alfalfa
Alfalfa
Alfalfa is a flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae cultivated as an important forage crop in the US, Canada, Argentina, France, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, and many other countries. It is known as lucerne in the UK, France, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and known as...

 fields. Three trials demonstrated that grazing lambs were just as effective as herbicides in controlling winter weeds. Entomologists also compared grazing lambs to insecticides for insect control in winter alfalfa. In this trial, lambs provided insect control as effectively as insecticides.

Other than forage, the other staple feed for sheep is hay
Hay
Hay is grass, legumes or other herbaceous plants that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder, particularly for grazing livestock such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Hay is also fed to pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs...

, often during the winter months. The ability to thrive solely on pasture (even without hay) varies with breed, but all sheep can survive on this diet. Also included in some sheep's diets are mineral
Mineral
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid chemical substance formed through biogeochemical processes, having characteristic chemical composition, highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. By comparison, a rock is an aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids and does not...

s, either in a trace mix or in licks
Salt lick
A mineral lick is a natural mineral deposit where animals in nutrient-poor ecosystems can obtain essential mineral nutrients...

.

Naturally, a constant source of potable water is also a fundamental requirement for sheep. The amount of water needed by sheep fluctuates with the season and the type and quality of the food they consume. When sheep feed on large amounts of new growth and there is precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

 (including dew
Dew
[Image:Dew on a flower.jpg|right|220px|thumb|Some dew on an iris in Sequoia National Park]]Dew is water in the form of droplets that appears on thin, exposed objects in the morning or evening...

, as sheep are dawn feeders), sheep need less water. When sheep are confined or are eating large amounts of cured hay
Hay
Hay is grass, legumes or other herbaceous plants that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder, particularly for grazing livestock such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Hay is also fed to pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs...

, more water is typically needed. Sheep also require clean water, and may refuse to drink water that is covered in scum or algae
Algae
Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. They are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because their tissues are not organized into the many...

.

Sheep are one of the few livestock animals raised for meat today that have never been widely raised in an intensive
Intensive farming
Intensive farming or intensive agriculture is an agricultural production system characterized by the high inputs of capital, labour, or heavy usage of technologies such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers relative to land area....

, confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). Although there is a growing movement advocating alternative farming styles, a large percentage of beef
Beef
Beef is the culinary name for meat from bovines, especially domestic cattle. Beef can be harvested from cows, bulls, heifers or steers. It is one of the principal meats used in the cuisine of the Middle East , Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Europe and the United States, and is also important in...

 cattle, pig
Pig
A pig is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the Suidae family of even-toed ungulates. Pigs include the domestic pig, its ancestor the wild boar, and several other wild relatives...

s, and poultry
Poultry
Poultry are domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of producing eggs, meat, and/or feathers. These most typically are members of the superorder Galloanserae , especially the order Galliformes and the family Anatidae , commonly known as "waterfowl"...

 are still produced under such conditions. In contrast, only some sheep are regularly given high-concentration grain feed, much less kept in confinement. Especially in industrialized countries, sheep producers may fatten market lambs before slaughter (called "finishing") in feedlot
Feedlot
A feedlot or feedyard is a type of animal feeding operation which is used in factory farming for finishing livestock, notably beef cattle, but also swine, horses, sheep, turkeys, chickens or ducks, prior to slaughter. Large beef feedlots are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations . They...

s. Many sheep breeders flush
Glossary of sheep husbandry
The raising of domestic sheep has occurred in nearly every inhabited part of the globe, and the variations in cultures and languages which have kept sheep has produced a vast lexicon of unique terminology used to describe sheep husbandry...

 ewes and rams with a daily ration of grain during breeding to increase fertility
Fertility
Fertility is the natural capability of producing offsprings. As a measure, "fertility rate" is the number of children born per couple, person or population. Fertility differs from fecundity, which is defined as the potential for reproduction...

. Ewes are also flushed during pregnancy to increase birth weights, as 70% of a lamb's growth occurs in the last five to six weeks of gestation. Otherwise, only lactating ewes and especially old or infirm sheep are commonly provided with grain. Feed provided to sheep must be specially formulated, as most cattle, poultry, pig, and even some goat feeds contain levels of copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 that are lethal to sheep. The same danger applies to mineral supplements such as salt lick
Salt lick
A mineral lick is a natural mineral deposit where animals in nutrient-poor ecosystems can obtain essential mineral nutrients...

s.

Behavior and intelligence



Sheep are prey
Predation
In ecology, predation describes a biological interaction where a predator feeds on its prey . Predators may or may not kill their prey prior to feeding on them, but the act of predation always results in the death of its prey and the eventual absorption of the prey's tissue through consumption...

 animals with a strong gregarious instinct, and a majority of sheep behaviors can be understood in these terms. The dominance hierarchy
Dominance hierarchy
A dominance hierarchy is the organization of individuals in a group that occurs when competition for resources leads to aggression...

 of Ovis aries and its natural inclination to follow a leader to new pastures were the pivotal factors in it being one of the first domesticated livestock species. All sheep have a tendency to congregate close to other members of a flock, although this behavior varies with breed. Farmers exploit this behavior to keep sheep together on unfenced pastures and to move them more easily. Shepherds may also use herding dog
Herding dog
A herding dog, also known as a stock dog or working dog, is a type of pastoral dog that either has been trained in herding or belongs to breeds developed for herding...

s in this effort, whose highly bred herding
Herding
Herding is the act of bringing individual animals together into a group , maintaining the group and moving the group from place to place—or any combination of those. While the layperson uses the term "herding", most individuals involved in the process term it mustering, "working stock" or...

 ability can assist in moving flocks. Sheep are also extremely food-oriented, and association of humans with regular feeding often results in sheep soliciting people for food. Those who are moving sheep may exploit this behavior by leading sheep with buckets of feed, rather than forcing their movements with herding.

In regions where sheep have no natural predators, none of the native breeds of sheep exhibit a strong flocking behavior. Sheep can also become hefted to one particular local pasture (heft) so they do not roam freely in unfenced landscapes. Ewes teach the heft to their lambs, and if whole flocks are culled it must be retaught to the replacement animals.

Flock dynamics in sheep are, as a rule, only exhibited in a group of four or more sheep. Fewer sheep may not react as normally expected when alone or with few other sheep. For sheep, the primary defense mechanism is simply to flee from danger when their flight zone
Flight zone
The flight zone of an animal is the area surrounding the animal that will cause alarm and escape behavior when encroached upon. If a person enters the flight zone of an animal, the animal will move away. The size of the flight zone depends upon the tameness of the animal. Completely tame animals...

 is crossed. Secondly, cornered sheep may charge or threaten to do so through hoof stamping and aggressive posture. This is particularly true for ewes with newborn lambs.

In displaying flocking, sheep have a strong lead-follow tendency, and a leader often as not is simply the first sheep to move. However, sheep do establish a pecking order
Pecking order
Pecking order or just peck order is the colloquial term for a hierarchical system of social organization in chickens. It was first described from the behaviour of poultry by Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe in 1921 under the German terms Hackordnung or Hackliste' ...

 through physical displays of dominance. Dominant animals are inclined to be more aggressive with other sheep, and usually feed first at troughs. Primarily among rams, horn size is a factor in the flock hierarchy. Rams with different size horns may be less inclined to fight to establish pecking order, while rams with similarly sized horns are more so.

Sheep can become stressed when separated from their flock members. Sheep can recognize individual human and ovine faces, and remember them for years. Relationships in flocks tend to be closest among related sheep: in mixed-breed flocks same-breed subgroups tend to form, and a ewe and her direct descendants often move as a unit within large flocks.

Sheep are frequently thought of as extremely unintelligent animals. A sheep's herd mentality
Herd mentality
Herd mentality describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items. Examples of the herd mentality include stock market trends, fashions in apparel, cars, taste in music, home décor, etc...

 and quickness to flee and panic in the face of stress often make shepherding a difficult endeavor for the uninitiated. Despite these perceptions, a University of Illinois
University of Illinois system
The University of Illinois is a system of public universities in Illinois consisting of three campuses: Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield. Across its three campuses, the University of Illinois enrolls about 70,000 students. It had an operating budget of $4.17 billion in 2007.-System:The...

 monograph
Monograph
A monograph is a work of writing upon a single subject, usually by a single author.It is often a scholarly essay or learned treatise, and may be released in the manner of a book or journal article. It is by definition a single document that forms a complete text in itself...

 on sheep found them to be just below pigs and on par with cattle in IQ
Intelligence quotient
An intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a score derived from one of several different standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. When modern IQ tests are constructed, the mean score within an age group is set to 100 and the standard deviation to 15...

, and some sheep have shown problem-solving abilities; a flock in West Yorkshire
West Yorkshire
West Yorkshire is a metropolitan county within the Yorkshire and the Humber region of England with a population of 2.2 million. West Yorkshire came into existence as a metropolitan county in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972....

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 allegedly found a way to get over cattle grid
Cattle grid
A cattle grid or cattle guard – also known as a vehicle pass, Texas gate, stock gap A cattle grid (or stock grid)(British English) or cattle guard (American English) – also known as a vehicle pass, Texas gate, stock gap A cattle grid (or stock grid)(British English) or cattle guard (American...

s by rolling on their backs, although documentation of this has relied on anecdotal accounts. In addition to long-term facial recognition of individuals, sheep can also differentiate emotional states through facial characteristics. If worked with patiently, sheep may learn their names, and many sheep are trained to be led by halter
Halter
A halter, headcollar, or, less often, headstall, is headgear that is used to lead or tie up livestock and, occasionally, other animals; it fits behind the ears , and around the muzzle. To handle the animal, usually a lead rope or lead shank is attached...

 for showing and other purposes. Sheep have also responded well to clicker training
Clicker training
Clicker training is an operant conditioning method for training an animal using a clicker, or small mechanical noisemaker, as a marker for behavior. The method uses positive reinforcement - it is reward based...

. Very rarely, sheep are used as pack animals. Tibetan
Tibetan people
The Tibetan people are an ethnic group that is native to Tibet, which is mostly in the People's Republic of China. They number 5.4 million and are the 10th largest ethnic group in the country. Significant Tibetan minorities also live in India, Nepal, and Bhutan...

 nomads distribute baggage equally throughout a flock as it is herded between living sites.

Reproduction




Sheep follow a similar reproductive strategy to other herd animals. A group of ewes is generally mated by a single ram, who has either been chosen by a breeder or has established dominance through physical contest with other rams (in feral
Feral
A feral organism is one that has changed from being domesticated to being wild or untamed. In the case of plants it is a movement from cultivated to uncultivated or controlled to volunteer. The introduction of feral animals or plants to their non-native regions, like any introduced species, may...

 populations). Most sheep are seasonal breeder
Seasonal breeder
Seasonal breeders are animal species that successfully mate only during certain times of the year. These times of year allow for the births at a time optimal for the survival of the young in terms of factors such as temperature, food and water. Related sexual interest and behaviors are expressed...

s, although some are able to breed year-round. Ewes generally reach sexual maturity at six to eight months of age, and rams generally at four to six months. Ewes have estrus cycles about every 17 days, during which they emit a scent and indicate readiness through physical displays towards rams. A minority of sheep display a preference for homosexuality (8% on average) or are freemartin
Freemartin
A freemartin or free-martin is an infertile female mammal which has masculinized behavior and non-functioning ovaries. Genetically and externally the animal is female, but it is sterilized in the womb by hormones from a male twin, becoming an infertile partial intersex...

s (female animals that are behaviorally masculine and lack functioning ovaries
Ovary
The ovary is an ovum-producing reproductive organ, often found in pairs as part of the vertebrate female reproductive system. Ovaries in anatomically female individuals are analogous to testes in anatomically male individuals, in that they are both gonads and endocrine glands.-Human anatomy:Ovaries...

).

In feral sheep, rams may fight during the rut
Rut (mammalian reproduction)
The rut is the mating season of ruminant animals such as deer, sheep, elk, moose, caribou, ibex, goats, pronghorn and Asian and African antelope....

 to determine which individuals may mate with ewes. Rams, especially unfamiliar ones, will also fight outside the breeding period to establish dominance; rams can kill one another if allowed to mix freely. During the rut, even normally friendly rams may become aggressive towards humans due to increases in their hormone levels.

After mating, sheep have a gestation
Gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 period of about five months, and normal labor take one to three hours. Although some breeds regularly throw larger litters of lambs, most produce single or twin lambs. During or soon after labor, ewes and lambs may be confined to small lambing jugs
Glossary of sheep husbandry
The raising of domestic sheep has occurred in nearly every inhabited part of the globe, and the variations in cultures and languages which have kept sheep has produced a vast lexicon of unique terminology used to describe sheep husbandry...

, small pens designed to aid both careful observation of ewes and to cement the bond between them and their lambs.
Ovine obstetrics
Obstetrics
Obstetrics is the medical specialty dealing with the care of all women's reproductive tracts and their children during pregnancy , childbirth and the postnatal period...

 can be problematic. By selectively breeding ewes that produce multiple offspring with higher birth weights for generations, sheep producers have inadvertently caused some domestic sheep to have difficulty lambing; balancing ease of lambing with high productivity is one of the dilemmas of sheep breeding. In the case of any such problems, those present at lambing may assist the ewe by extracting or repositioning lambs. After the birth, ewes ideally break the amniotic sac
Amniotic sac
The amniotic sac is the sac in which the fetus develops in amniotes. It is a tough but thin transparent pair of membranes, which hold a developing embryo until shortly before birth. The inner membrane, the amnion, contains the amniotic fluid and the fetus. The outer membrane, the Chorion,...

 (if it is not broken during labor), and begin licking clean the lamb. Most lambs will begin standing within an hour of birth. In normal situations, lambs nurse after standing, receiving vital colostrum
Colostrum
Colostrum is a form of milk produced by the mammary glands of mammals in late pregnancy. Most species will generate colostrum just prior to giving birth...

 milk. Lambs that either fail to nurse or that are rejected by the ewe require aid to live, such as bottle-feeding or fostering by another ewe.

After lambs are several weeks old, lamb marking
Glossary of sheep husbandry
The raising of domestic sheep has occurred in nearly every inhabited part of the globe, and the variations in cultures and languages which have kept sheep has produced a vast lexicon of unique terminology used to describe sheep husbandry...

 (the process of ear tagging
Glossary of sheep husbandry
The raising of domestic sheep has occurred in nearly every inhabited part of the globe, and the variations in cultures and languages which have kept sheep has produced a vast lexicon of unique terminology used to describe sheep husbandry...

, docking
Docking (animal)
Docking is a term for the intentional removal of part of an animal's tail or ears. The term cropping is also used, though more commonly in reference to the cropping of ears, while docking more commonly—but not exclusively—refers to the tail. The term tailing is also commonly used...

, and castrating) is carried out. Vaccinations are usually carried out at this point as well. Ear tags with numbers are attached, or ear marks are applied for ease of later identification of sheep. Castration is performed on ram lambs not intended for breeding, although some shepherds choose to avoid the procedure for ethical, economic or practical reasons. Ram lambs that will either be slaughtered or separated from ewes before sexual maturity are not usually castrated. Docking, which is the shortening of a lamb's tail, is practised for health reasons. Objections to all these procedures have been raised by animal rights groups, but farmers defend them by saying they solve many practical and veterinary problems, and inflict only temporary pain.

Health



Sheep may fall victim to poisons, infectious diseases, and physical injuries. As a prey species, a sheep's system is adapted to hide the obvious signs of illness, to prevent being targeted by predators. However, there are some obvious signs of ill health, with sick sheep eating little, vocalizing excessively, and being generally listless. Throughout history, much of the money and labor of sheep husbandry has aimed to prevent sheep ailments. Historically, shepherds often created remedies by experimentation on the farm. In some developed countries, including the United States, sheep lack the economic importance for drugs companies to perform expensive clinical trials required to approve drugs for ovine use. In such instances, shepherds resort to illegal, extra-label usage of drugs approved for other animals. In the 20th and 21st centuries, a minority of sheep owners have turned to alternative treatments such as homeopathy
Homeopathy
Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine in which practitioners claim to treat patients using highly diluted preparations that are believed to cause healthy people to exhibit symptoms that are similar to those exhibited by the patient...

, herbalism
Herbalism
Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, herblore, and phytotherapy...

 and even traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to a broad range of medicine practices sharing common theoretical concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years, including various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage , exercise , and dietary therapy...

 to treat sheep veterinary problems. Despite some favorable anecdotal evidence
Anecdotal evidence
The expression anecdotal evidence refers to evidence from anecdotes. Because of the small sample, there is a larger chance that it may be true but unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise unrepresentative of typical cases....

, the effectiveness of alternative veterinary medicine has been met with skepticism in scientific journal
Scientific journal
In academic publishing, a scientific journal is a periodical publication intended to further the progress of science, usually by reporting new research. There are thousands of scientific journals in publication, and many more have been published at various points in the past...

s. The need for traditional anti-parasite drugs and antibiotic
Antibiotic
An antibacterial is a compound or substance that kills or slows down the growth of bacteria.The term is often used synonymously with the term antibiotic; today, however, with increased knowledge of the causative agents of various infectious diseases, antibiotic has come to denote a broader range of...

s is widespread, and is the main impediment to certified organic farming
Organic farming
Organic farming is the form of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and control pests on a farm...

 with sheep.

Many breeders take a variety of preventive measures
Preventive medicine
Preventive medicine or preventive care refers to measures taken to prevent diseases, rather than curing them or treating their symptoms...

 to ward off problems. The first is to ensure that all sheep are healthy when purchased. Many buyers avoid outlets known to be clearing houses for animals culled from healthy flocks as either sick or simply inferior. This can also mean maintaining a closed flock, and quarantining
Quarantine
Quarantine is compulsory isolation, typically to contain the spread of something considered dangerous, often but not always disease. The word comes from the Italian quarantena, meaning forty-day period....

 new sheep for a month. Two fundamental preventive programs are maintaining good nutrition and reducing stress in the sheep. Handling sheep in loud, erratic ways causes them to produce cortisol
Cortisol
Cortisol is a steroid hormone, more specifically a glucocorticoid, produced by the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucocorticoids. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis; suppress the immune system; and aid in fat,...

, a stress hormone
Stress hormone
Stress hormones such as cortisol, GH and norepinephrine are released at periods of high stress. The hormone regulating system is known as the endocrine system...

. This can lead to a weakened immune system
Immune system
An immune system is a system of biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease by identifying and killing pathogens and tumor cells. It detects a wide variety of agents, from viruses to parasitic worms, and needs to distinguish them from the organism's own...

, thus making sheep far more vulnerable to disease. Signs of stress in sheep include: excessive panting, teeth grinding, restless movement, wool eating, and wood chewing. Avoiding poisoning is also important; common poisons are pesticide
Pesticide
Pesticides are substances or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest.A pesticide may be a chemical unicycle, biological agent , antimicrobial, disinfectant or device used against any pest...

 sprays, inorganic fertilizer
Fertilizer
Fertilizer is any organic or inorganic material of natural or synthetic origin that is added to a soil to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants. A recent assessment found that about 40 to 60% of crop yields are attributable to commercial fertilizer use...

, motor oil
Motor oil
Motor oil or engine oil is an oil used for lubrication of various internal combustion engines. The main function is to lubricate moving parts; it also cleans, inhibits corrosion, improves sealing, and cools the engine by carrying heat away from moving parts.Motor oils are derived from...

, as well as radiator coolant
Coolant
A coolant is a fluid which flows through a device to prevent its overheating, transferring the heat produced by the device to other devices that use or dissipate it. An ideal coolant has high thermal capacity, low viscosity, is low-cost, non-toxic, and chemically inert, neither causing nor...

 (the ethylene glycol
Ethylene glycol
Ethylene glycol is an organic compound widely used as an automotive antifreeze and a precursor to polymers. In its pure form, it is an odorless, colorless, syrupy, sweet-tasting liquid...

 antifreeze
Antifreeze
Antifreeze is a freeze preventive used in internal combustion engines and other heat transfer applications, such as HVAC chillers and solar water heaters....

 is sweet-tasting).
Common forms of preventive medication for sheep are vaccination
Vaccination
Vaccination is the administration of antigenic material to stimulate the immune system of an individual to develop adaptive immunity to a disease. Vaccines can prevent or ameliorate the effects of infection by many pathogens...

s and treatments for parasites. Both external and internal parasites are the most prevalent malady in sheep, and are either fatal, or reduce the productivity of flocks. Worm
Worm
The term worm refers to an obsolete taxon used by Carolus Linnaeus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck for all non-arthropod invertebrate animals, and stems from the Old English word wyrm. Currently it is used to describe many different distantly-related animals that typically have a long cylindrical...

s are the most common internal parasites. They are ingested during grazing, incubate within the sheep, and are expelled through the digestive system (beginning the cycle again). Oral anti-parasitic medicines, known as drench
Drench
Drench is a brand of bottled spring water owned by Britvic. Drench is one of a range of water brands from Britvic, which includes Pennine Spring and Fruit Shoot H20.-The Water:...

es, are given to a flock to treat worms, sometimes after worm eggs in the feces has been counted to assess infestation levels. Afterwards, sheep may be moved to a new pasture to avoid ingesting the same parasites. External sheep parasites include: lice (for different parts of the body), sheep ked
Hippoboscidae
Hippoboscidae, the louse flies or keds are obligate parasites of mammals and birds. In this family there are winged species which can fly at least reasonably well, as well as others with vestigial or no wings which are flightless and highly apomorphic...

s, nose bots, sheep itch mites, and maggot
Maggot
In everyday speech the word maggot means the larva of a fly ; it is applied in particular to the larvae of Brachyceran flies, such as houseflies, cheese flies, and blowflies, rather than larvae of the Nematocera, such as mosquitoes and Crane flies...

s. Keds are blood-sucking parasites that cause general malnutrition and decreased productivity, but are not fatal. Maggots are those of the bot fly and the blow-fly
Blow-fly
Calliphoridae are insects in the Order Diptera, family Calliphoridae...

. Fly maggots cause the extremely destructive condition of flystrike. Flies lay their eggs in wounds or wet, manure-soiled wool; when the maggots hatch they burrow into a sheep's flesh, eventually causing death if untreated. In addition to other treatments, crutching
Crutching
Crutching refers to the removal of wool from around the tail and between the rear legs of a sheep. It can also refer to removing wool from the heads of sheep or from the bellies of male sheep .-Motivation:...

 (shearing wool from a sheep's rump) is a common preventive method. Nose bots are flies that inhabit a sheep's sinuses
Paranasal sinus
Paranasal sinuses are a group of four paired air-filled spaces that surround the nasal cavity , above and between the eyes , and behind the ethmoids...

, causing breathing difficulties and discomfort. Common signs are a discharge from the nasal passage, sneezing, and frantic movement such as head shaking. External parasites may be controlled through the use of backliner
Glossary of sheep husbandry
The raising of domestic sheep has occurred in nearly every inhabited part of the globe, and the variations in cultures and languages which have kept sheep has produced a vast lexicon of unique terminology used to describe sheep husbandry...

s, sprays or immersive sheep dip
Sheep dip
Sheep dip is a liquid formulation of insecticide and fungicide which shepherds and farmers may use to protect their sheep from infestation against external parasites such as itch mite , blow-fly, ticks and lice...

s.

A wide array of bacterial diseases affect sheep. Diseases of the hoof, such as foot rot
Foot rot
Foot rot, or infectious pododermatitis, is a hoof infection commonly found in sheep, goats, and cattle. As the name suggests, it rots away the foot of the animal, more specifically the area between the two toes of the affected animal. It is extremely painful and contagious. It can be treated with...

 and foot scald may occur, and are treated with footbaths and other remedies. These painful conditions cause lameness and hinder feeding. Ovine Johne's disease
Johne's disease
Paratuberculosis or Johne's disease is a contagious, chronic and sometimes fatal infection that primarily affects the small intestine of ruminants. It is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis...

 is a wasting disease that affects young sheep. Bluetongue disease
Bluetongue disease
Bluetongue disease or catarrhal fever is a non-contagious, non-zoonotic, insect-borne, viral disease of ruminants, mainly sheep and less frequently cattle, goats, buffalo, deer, dromedaries and antelope...

 is an insect-borne illness causing fever and inflammation of the mucous membrane
Mucous membrane
The mucous membranes are linings of mostly endodermal origin, covered in epithelium, which are involved in absorption and secretion. They line cavities that are exposed to the external environment and internal organs...

s. Ovine rinderpest (or peste des petits ruminants) is a highly contagious and often fatal viral
Virus
A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of organisms. Viruses infect all types of organisms, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea...

 disease affecting sheep and goats.

A few sheep conditions are transmissible to humans. Orf
Orf (animal disease)
Orf is an exanthemous disease caused by a parapox virus and occurring primarily in sheep and goats. It is also known as contagious pustular dermatitis, infectious labial dermatitis, ecthyma contagiosum, and sheep pox, thistle disease and scabby mouth...

 (also known as scabby mouth, contagious ecthyma or soremouth) is a skin disease leaving lesions that is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Cutaneous anthrax
Anthrax
Anthrax is an acute disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Most forms of the disease are lethal, and it affects both humans and other animals...

 is also called woolsorter's disease, as the spores can be transmitted in unwashed wool. More seriously, the organisms that can cause spontaneous enzootic abortion
Abortion
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

 in sheep are easily transmitted to pregnant women. Also of concern are the prion
Prion
A prion is an infectious agent composed of protein in a misfolded form. This is in contrast to all other known infectious agents which must contain nucleic acids . The word prion, coined in 1982 by Stanley B. Prusiner, is a portmanteau derived from the words protein and infection...

 disease scrapie
Scrapie
Scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease that affects the nervous systems of sheep and goats. It is one of several transmissible spongiform encephalopathies , which are related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy and chronic wasting disease of deer. Like other spongiform encephalopathies, scrapie...

 and the virus
Virus
A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of organisms. Viruses infect all types of organisms, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea...

 that causes foot-and-mouth disease
Foot-and-mouth disease
Foot-and-mouth disease or hoof-and-mouth disease is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals, including domestic and wild bovids...

 (FMD), as both can devastate flocks. The latter poses a slight risk to humans. During the 2001 FMD pandemic in the UK, hundreds of sheep were culled and some rare British breeds were at risk of extinction due to this.

Predation




Other than parasites and disease, predation
Predation
In ecology, predation describes a biological interaction where a predator feeds on its prey . Predators may or may not kill their prey prior to feeding on them, but the act of predation always results in the death of its prey and the eventual absorption of the prey's tissue through consumption...

 is a threat to sheep and the profitability of sheep raising. Sheep have little ability to defend themselves, compared with other species kept as livestock. Even if sheep survive an attack, they may die from their injuries, or simply from panic. However, the impact of predation varies dramatically with region. In Africa, Australia, the Americas, and parts of Europe and Asia predators are a serious problem. In the United States, for instance, over one third of sheep deaths in 2004 were caused by predation. In contrast, other nations are virtually devoid of sheep predators, particularly islands known for extensive sheep husbandry. Worldwide, canid
Canidae
Canidae is the biological family of carnivorous and omnivorous mammals that includes wolves, foxes, jackals, coyotes, and domestic dogs. A member of this family is called a canid . The Canidae family is divided into two tribes: Canini and Vulpini...

s—including the domestic dog—are responsible for most sheep deaths. Other animals that occasionally prey on sheep include: felines, bears, birds of prey, ravens and feral hogs
Razorback
Razorback is an Americanism, loosely applied to any type of feral pig or wild boar in North America. The term has also appeared in Australia, to describe said animals in that country.-Introduction to the Americas:...

.

Sheep producers have used a wide variety of measures to combat predation. Pre-modern shepherds used their own presence, livestock guardian dog
Livestock guardian dog
A livestock guardian dog is a domesticated canine used to defend livestock against predators. LGDs are commonly referred to as "sheep dogs" since they most often have guarded flocks of sheep, but most are capable of guarding other species of livestock. They are classified as pastoral dogs...

s, and protective structures such as barns and fencing. Fencing (both regular and electric
Electric fence
An electric fence is a barrier that uses electric shocks to deter animals or people from crossing a boundary. The voltage of the shock may have effects ranging from uncomfortable, to painful or even lethal...

), penning sheep at night and lambing indoors all continue to be widely used. More modern shepherds used guns, traps, and poisons to kill predators, causing significant decreases in predator populations. In the wake of the environmental and conservation movements, the use of these methods now usually falls under the purview of specially designated government agencies in most developed countries .

The 1970s saw a resurgence in the use of livestock guardian dogs and the development of new methods of predator control by sheep producers, many of them non-lethal. Donkeys and guard llama
Guard llama
A guard llama is a llama used in farming to protect sheep, alpacas, goats or other livestock from coyotes, dogs and other predators. Typically, a single gelded male is used.-Guarding:...

s have been used since the 1980s in sheep operations, using the same basic principle as livestock guardian dogs. Interspecific pasturing, usually with larger livestock such as cattle or horses, may help to deter predators, even if such species do not actively guard sheep. In addition to animal guardians, contemporary sheep operations may use non-lethal predator deterrents such as motion-activated lights and noisy alarms.

Economic importance


Sheep are an important part of the global agricultural economy. However, their once-vital status has been largely replaced by other livestock species, especially the pig, chicken, and cow. China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 have the largest modern flocks, and serve both local and exportation needs for wool and mutton. Other countries such as New Zealand have smaller flocks but retain a large international economic impact due to their export of sheep products. Sheep also play a major role in many local economies, which may be niche markets focused on organic or sustainable agriculture
Sustainable agriculture
Sustainable agriculture is the practice of farming using principles of ecology, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment...

 and local food customers. Especially in developing countries
Developing country
A developing country, also known as a less-developed country, is a nation with a low level of material well-being. Since no single definition of the term developing country is recognized internationally, the levels of development may vary widely within so-called developing countries...

, such flocks may be a part of subsistence agriculture
Subsistence agriculture
Subsistence agriculture is self-sufficiency farming in which the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed their families. The typical subsistence farm has a range of crops and animals needed by the family to eat and clothe themselves during the year. Planting decisions are made with an eye...

 rather than a system of trade. Sheep themselves may be a medium of trade in barter economies
Barter
Barter is a method of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money. It is usually bilateral, but may be multilateral, and usually exists parallel to monetary systems in most developed countries, though to a...

.

Domestic sheep provide a wide array of raw materials. Wool was one of the first textiles, although in the late 20th century wool prices began to fall dramatically as the result of the popularity and cheap prices for synthetic fabric
Synthetic fabric
Synthetic fabrics are textiles made from synthetic fibers. They are used primarily to make clothing. A synthetic fabric is plastic fabric. It is also used to cover skin of androids so it looks human like. Some of the examples of synthetic clothings were usually made of polyester, acrylic, and nylon....

s. For many sheep owners, the cost of shearing is greater than the possible profit from the fleece, making subsisting on wool production alone practically impossible without farm subsidies. Fleeces are used as material in making alternative products such as wool insulation
Wool insulation
Wool insulation is made solely from sheep wool fibres that are either mechanically held together or bonded using up to 12% polyester adhesive to form insulating batts, rolls and ropes. Batts are commonly used in timber-frame buildings, rolls for lofts and ropes are primarily used between the logs...

. In the 21st century, the sale of meat is the most profitable enterprise in the sheep industry, even though far less sheep meat is consumed than chicken, pork or beef.

Sheepskin
Sheepskin
Sheepskin is the hide of a sheep, sometimes also called lambskin or lambswool.Sheepskin may also refer to:* Parchment, a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin** Diploma, originally made of sheepskin...

 is likewise used for making clothes, footwear, rugs, and other products. Byproducts from the slaughter of sheep are also of value: sheep tallow
Tallow
Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, processed from suet. It is solid at room temperature. Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for extended periods without the need for refrigeration to prevent decomposition, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation.In industry,...

 can be used in candle and soap making, sheep bone and cartilage
Cartilage
Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue found in many areas in the bodies of humans and other animals, including the joints between bones, the rib cage, the ear, the nose, the elbow, the knee, the ankle, the bronchial tubes and the intervertebral discs...

 has been used to furnish carved items such as dice and buttons as well as rendered glue and gelatin
Gelatin
Gelatin is a translucent, colorless, brittle , flavorless solid substance, derived from the collagen inside animals' skin and bones. It is commonly used as a gelling agent in food, pharmaceuticals, photography, and cosmetic manufacturing. Substances containing gelatin or functioning in a similar...

. Sheep intestine
Intestine
In human anatomy, the intestine is the segment of the alimentary canal extending from the pyloric sphincter of the stomach to the anus and, in humans and other mammals, consists of two segments, the small intestine and the large intestine...

 can be formed into sausage casings, and lamb intestine has been formed into surgical sutures, as well as strings for musical instruments and tennis rackets. Sheep droppings, which are high in cellulose
Cellulose
Cellulose is an organic compound with the formula , a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to over ten thousand β linked D-glucose units....

, have even been sterilized and mixed with traditional pulp
Wood pulp
Pulp is a lignocellulosic fibrous material prepared by chemically or mechanically separating cellulose fibres from wood, fibre crops or waste paper. Wood pulp is the most common raw material in papermaking.-History:...

 materials to make paper. Of all sheep byproducts, perhaps the most valuable is lanolin
Lanolin
Lanolin , also called Adeps Lanae, wool wax or wool grease, is a yellow waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals. Most lanolin used by humans comes from domestic sheep...

: the water-proof, fatty substance found naturally in sheep's wool and used as a base for innumerable cosmetics
Cosmetics
Cosmetics are substances used to enhance the appearance or odor of the human body. Cosmetics include skin-care creams, lotions, powders, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail and toe nail polish, eye and facial makeup, towelettes, permanent waves, colored contact lenses, hair colors, hair sprays and...

 and other products.

Some farmers who keep sheep also make a profit from live sheep. Providing lambs for youth programs such as 4-H
4-H
4-H in the United States is a youth organization administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the United States Department of Agriculture , with the mission of "engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development." The name represents...

 and competition at agricultural show
Agricultural show
An agricultural show is a public event showcasing the equipment, animals, sports and recreation associated with agriculture and animal husbandry. The largest comprise a livestock show , a trade fair, competitions, and entertainment...

s is often a dependable avenue for the sale of sheep. Farmers may also choose to focus on a particular breed of sheep in order to sell registered purebred
Purebred
Purebreds, also called purebreeds, are cultivated varieties or cultivars of an animal species, achieved through the process of selective breeding...

 animals, as well as provide a ram rental service for breeding. The most valuable sheep ever sold to date was a purebred Texel
Texel (sheep)
The Texel is a breed of domestic sheep originally from the island of Texel in the Netherlands. It is now a popular lean meat sheep in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay and Europe. The Texel is a heavily muscled sheep. It produces a lean meat carcass and will pass on this quality to crossbred...

 ram that fetched £231,000 at auction. The previous record holder was a Merino
Merino
The Merino is an economically influential breed of sheep prized for its wool. Merinos are regarded as having some of the finest and softest wool of any sheep...

 ram sold for £205,000 in 1989. A new option for deriving profit from live sheep is the rental of flocks for grazing; these "mowing
Lawn mower
A lawn mower is a machine that uses a revolving blade or blades to cut a lawn at an even length.Lawn mowers employing a blade that rotates about a vertical axis are known as rotary mowers, while those employing a blade assembly that rotates about a horizontal axis are known as cylinder or reel...

 services" are hired in order to keep unwanted vegetation down in public spaces and to lessen fire hazard.

Despite the falling demand and price for sheep products in many markets, sheep have distinct economic advantages when compared with other livestock. They do not require the expensive housing, such as that used in the intensive farming
Intensive farming
Intensive farming or intensive agriculture is an agricultural production system characterized by the high inputs of capital, labour, or heavy usage of technologies such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers relative to land area....

 of chickens or pigs. They are an efficient use of land; roughly six sheep can be kept on the amount that would suffice for a single cow or horse. Sheep can also consume plants, such as noxious weeds, that most other animals will not touch, and produce more young at a faster rate. Also, in contrast to most livestock species, the cost of raising sheep is not necessarily tied to the price of feed crops such as grain, soybeans and corn. Combined with the lower cost of quality sheep, all these factors combine to equal a lower overhead
Overhead (business)
In business, overhead or overhead expense refers to an ongoing expense of operating a business...

 for sheep producers, thus entailing a higher profitability potential for the small farmer. Sheep are especially beneficial for independent producers, including family farms with limited resources, as the sheep industry is one of the few types of animal agriculture that has not been vertically integrated by agribusiness
Agribusiness
In agriculture, agribusiness is a generic term for the various businesses involved in food production, including farming and contract farming, seed supply, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution, processing, marketing, and retail sales....

.

As food



Sheep meat and milk were one of the earliest staple proteins consumed by human civilization after the transition from hunting and gathering
Hunter-gatherer
A hunter-gatherer or forage society is one in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies which rely mainly on domesticated species. Hunting and gathering was the ancestral subsistence mode of Homo, and all modern humans were...

 to agriculture. Sheep meat prepared for food is known as either mutton or lamb. "Mutton" is derived from the Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 moton, which was the word for sheep used by the Anglo-Norman
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 rulers of much of the British Isles in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. This became the name for sheep meat in English, while the Old English
Old English language
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century...

 word sceap was kept for the live animal. Throughout modern history, "mutton" has been limited to the meat of mature sheep usually at least two years of age; "lamb" is used for that of immature sheep less than a year.

In the 21st century, the nations with the highest consumption of sheep meat are the Persian Gulf
Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf, in Southwest Asia, is an extension of the Indian Ocean located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.The Persian Gulf was the focus of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War, in which each side attacked the other's oil tankers...

 states, New Zealand, Australia, Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, Uruguay
Uruguay
Uruguay ,officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay,sometimes the Eastern Republic of Uruguay; ) is a country in the southeastern part of South America. It is home to some 3.5 million people, of whom 1.8 million live in the capital Montevideo and its metropolitan area...

, the United Kingdom and Ireland. These countries eat 14–40 lbs (3–18 kg) of sheep meat per capita
Per capita
Per capita is a Latin prepositional phrase: per and capita . The phrase thus means "by heads" or "for each head", i.e. per individual or per person...

, per annum. Sheep meat is also popular in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Africa (especially the Maghreb
Maghreb
The Maghreb is the region of Northwest Africa, west of Egypt. It includes five countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara...

), the Caribbean
Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

, the rest of the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and parts of China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. This often reflects a past history of sheep production. In these countries in particular, dishes comprising alternative cuts and offal
Offal
Offal , also called, especially in the United States, variety meats or organ meats, refers to the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of edible organs, which varies by culture and region, but includes most internal organs other than...

 may be popular or traditional. Sheep testicle
Testicle
The testicle is the male gonad in animals. Like the ovaries to which they are homologous, testes are components of both the reproductive system and the endocrine system...

s—called animelles
Animelles
The testicles of calves, lambs, cocks, and other animals are eaten in many parts of the world, under a wide variety of euphemistic culinary names...

 or lamb fries
Lamb fries
Lamb fries are lamb testicles used as food.One popular dish in the United States serves them breaded and fried.Lamb testicles are served in a variety of cuisines, including Italian, Persian,, American Basque, barbecue, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, etc....

—are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. Perhaps the most unusual dish of sheep meat is the Scottish haggis
Haggis
Haggis is a dish containing sheep's 'pluck' , minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach.Haggis is a kind...

, composed of various sheep innards
Offal
Offal , also called, especially in the United States, variety meats or organ meats, refers to the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of edible organs, which varies by culture and region, but includes most internal organs other than...

 cooked along with oatmeal and chopped onions inside its stomach. In comparison, countries such as the U.S. consume only a pound or less (under 0.5 kg), with Americans eating 50 pounds (22 kg) of pork and 65 pounds (29 kg) of beef. In addition, such countries rarely eat mutton, and may favor the more expensive cuts of lamb: mostly lamb chops
Meat chop
A meat chop is a cut of meat cut perpendicularly to the spine, and usually containing a rib or riblet part of a vertebra and served as an individual portion. The most common kinds of meat chops are pork and lamb. A thin boneless chop, or one with only the rib bone, may be called a cutlet, though...

 and leg of lamb.

Though sheep's milk may be drunk rarely in fresh form, today it is used predominantly in cheese and yogurt making. Sheep have only two teats, and produce a far smaller volume of milk than cows. However, as sheep's milk contains far more fat, solids, and minerals than cow's milk, it is ideal for the cheese-making process. It also resists contamination during cooling better because of its much higher calcium
Calcium
Calcium is the chemical element with the symbol Ca and atomic number 20. It has an atomic mass of 40.078 amu. Calcium is a soft gray alkaline earth metal, and is the fifth-most-abundant element by mass in the Earth's crust...

 content. Well-known cheeses made from sheep milk include the Feta
Feta
Feta is a brined curd cheese traditionally made in Greece. Feta is an aged crumbly cheese, commonly produced in blocks, and has a slightly grainy texture. It is used as a table cheese, as well as in salads Feta is a brined curd cheese traditionally made in Greece. Feta is an aged crumbly cheese,...

 of Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

 and Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, Roquefort of France, Manchego from Spain, the Pecorino Romano (the Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 word for sheep is pecore) and Ricotta
Ricotta
Ricotta is an Italian dairy product made from sheep milk whey left over from the production of cheese. Although typically referred to as ricotta cheese, ricotta is not properly a cheese because it is not produced by coagulation of casein...

 of Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. Yogurts, especially some forms of strained yogurt, may also be made from sheep milk. Many of these products are now often made with cow's milk, especially when produced outside their country of origin. Sheep milk contains 4.8% lactose
Lactose
Lactose is a disaccharide sugar that is found most notably in milk and is formed from galactose and glucose. Lactose makes up around 2~8% of milk , although the amount varies among species and individuals. It is extracted from sweet or sour whey. The name comes from or , the Latin word for milk,...

, which may affect those who are intolerant
Lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance, also called lactase deficiency or hypolactasia, is the inability to digest and metabolize lactose, a sugar found in milk...

.

In science



Sheep are generally too large and reproduce too slowly to make ideal research subjects, and thus are not a common model organism
Model organism
A model organism is a non-human species that is extensively studied to understand particular biological phenomena, with the expectation that discoveries made in the organism model will provide insight into the workings of other organisms. Model organisms are in vivo models and are widely used to...

. They have, however, played an influential role in some fields of science. In particular, the Roslin Institute of Edinburgh, Scotland used sheep for genetics
Genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

 research that produced groundbreaking results. In 1995, two ewes named Megan and Morag
Megan and Morag (cloned sheep)
Megan and Morag, two domestic sheep, were the first mammals to have been successfully cloned from differentiated cells. They are not to be confused with Dolly the Sheep which was the first animal to be successfully cloned from an adult somatic cell or Polly the sheep which was the first cloned and...

 were the first mammals cloned
Cloning
Cloning in biology is the process of producing similar populations of genetically identical individuals that occurs in nature when organisms such as bacteria, insects or plants reproduce asexually. Cloning in biotechnology refers to processes used to create copies of DNA fragments , cells , or...

 from differentiated cells
Cellular differentiation
In developmental biology, cellular differentiation is the process by which a less specialized cell becomes a more specialized cell type. Differentiation occurs numerous times during the development of a multicellular organism as the organism changes from a simple zygote to a complex system of...

. A year later, a Finnish Dorset sheep named Dolly, dubbed "the world's most famous sheep" in Scientific American
Scientific American
Scientific American is a popular science magazine. It is notable for its long history of presenting science monthly to an educated but not necessarily scientific public, through its careful attention to the clarity of its text as well as the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics...

, was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell
Somatic cell
A somatic cell is any biological cell forming the body of an organism; that is, in a multicellular organism, any cell other than a gamete, germ cell, gametocyte or undifferentiated stem cell...

. Following this, Polly and Molly
Polly and Molly
Polly and Molly , two ewes, were the first mammals to have been successfully cloned from an adult somatic cell and to be transgenic animals at the same time. This is not to be confused with Dolly the Sheep which was the first animal to be successfully cloned from an adult somatic cell where there...

 were the first mammals to be simultaneously cloned and transgenic. As of 2008, the sheep genome
Genome
In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA....

 has not been fully sequenced, although a detailed genetic map
Genetic linkage
Genetic linkage is the tendency of certain loci or alleles to be inherited together. Genetic loci that are physically close to one another on the same chromosome tend to stay together during meiosis, and are thus genetically linked.-Background:...

 has been published, and a draft version of the complete genome produced by assembling sheep DNA sequences using information given by the genomes of other mammals.

In the study of natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

, the population of Soay sheep that remain on the island of Hirta
Hirta
Hirta is the largest island in the St Kilda archipelago, on the western edge of Scotland. The name "Hiort" and "Hirta" have also been applied to the entire archipelago.-Geography:...

 have been used to explore the relation of body size and coloration to reproductive success. Soay sheep come in several colors, and researchers investigated why the larger, darker sheep were in decline; this occurrence contradicted the rule of thumb that larger members of a population tend to be more successful reproductively. The feral Soays on Hirta are especially useful subjects because they are isolated.

Sheep are one of the few animals where the molecular basis of the diversity of male sexual preferences has been examined. However, this research has been controversial, and much publicity has been produced by a study at the Oregon Health and Science University that investigated the mechanisms that produce homosexuality in rams. Organizations such as PETA campaigned against the study, accusing scientists of trying to cure homosexuality in the sheep. OHSU and the involved scientists vehemently denied such accusations.
Domestic sheep are sometimes used in medical research, particularly for researching cardiovascular physiology, in areas such as hypertension
Hypertension
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a cardiac chronic medical condition in which the systemic arterial blood pressure is elevated. What that means is that the heart is having to work harder than it should to pump the blood around the body. Blood pressure involves two measurements, systolic and...

 and heart failure. Pregnant sheep are also a useful model for human pregnancy, and have been used to investigate the effects on fetal development of malnutrition
Malnutrition
Malnutrition is the condition that results from taking an unbalanced diet in which certain nutrients are lacking, in excess , or in the wrong proportions....

 and hypoxia
Hypoxia (medical)
Hypoxia, or hypoxiation, is a pathological condition in which the body as a whole or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. Variations in arterial oxygen concentrations can be part of the normal physiology, for example, during strenuous physical exercise...

. In behavioral sciences, sheep have been used in isolated cases for the study of facial recognition
Face perception
Face perception is the process by which the brain and mind understand and interpret the face, particularly the human face.The human face's proportions and expressions are important to identify origin, emotional tendencies, health qualities, and some social information. From birth, faces are...

, as their mental process of recognition is qualitatively similar to humans.

Cultural impact



Sheep have had a strong presence in many cultures, especially in areas where they form the most common type of livestock. In the English language, to call someone a sheep or ovine may allude that they are timid and easily led, if not outright stupid. In contradiction to this image, male sheep are often used as symbols of virility and power, such as for the St. Louis Rams
St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams are a professional American football team based in St. Louis, Missouri. They are currently members of the West Division of the National Football Conference in the National Football League . The Rams have won three NFL Championships .The Rams began playing in 1936 in Cleveland,...

 and the Dodge Ram
Dodge Ram
The Dodge Ram is a full-size pickup truck manufactured by the Chrysler Group LLC. As of late 2010, it has been sold under the Ram Trucks brand. Previously, Ram was part of the Dodge lineup of light trucks...

. Sheep are key symbols in fable
Fable
A fable is a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized , and that illustrates a moral lesson , which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.A fable differs from...

s and nursery rhyme
Nursery rhyme
The term nursery rhyme is used for "traditional" poems for young children in Britain and many other countries, but usage only dates from the 19th century and in North America the older ‘Mother Goose Rhymes’ is still often used.-Lullabies:...

s like The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing is an idiom of Biblical origin. It is used of those playing a role contrary to their real character, with whom contact is dangerous. As a fable it has been falsely credited to Aesop and the theme is now numbered 451 in the Perry Index...

, Little Bo Peep
Little Bo Peep
"Little Bo Peep" or "Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep" is a popular English language nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 6487.-Lyrics:As with most products of oral tradition, there are many variations to the rhyme...

, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Novels such as George Orwell
George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

's Animal Farm
Animal Farm
Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II...

, Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami
is a Japanese writer and translator. His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered him critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize and Jerusalem Prize among others.He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature...

's A Wild Sheep Chase
A Wild Sheep Chase
is a novel published in 1982 by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. It is the sequel to Pinball, 1973, and is the third book in Murakami's "Trilogy of the Rat"....

, Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

's Far from the Madding Crowd
Far from the Madding Crowd
Far from the Madding Crowd is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel and his first major literary success. It originally appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, where it gained a wide readership. Critical notices were plentiful and mostly positive...

and Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story utilize sheep as characters or plot device
Plot device
A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot....

s. Poems like William Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

's "The Lamb
The Lamb
"The Lamb" is a poem by William Blake, published in Songs of Innocence in 1789. Like many of Blake's works, the poem is about Christianity.-Background:...

", songs such as Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd were an English rock band that achieved worldwide success with their progressive and psychedelic rock music. Their work is marked by the use of philosophical lyrics, sonic experimentation, innovative album art, and elaborate live shows. Pink Floyd are one of the most commercially...

's Sheep
Sheep (song)
"Sheep" is a song by the English band Pink Floyd. It was released on the album Animals in 1977. In 1974, it was originally titled "Raving and Drooling".-History:...

and Bach's
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 aria Sheep may safely graze (Schafe können sicher weiden) use sheep for metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

ical purposes. In more recent popular culture, the 2007 film Black Sheep
Black Sheep (2007 film)
Black Sheep is a New Zealand made comedy horror film written and directed by Jonathan King. North American distribution rights were acquired by The Weinstein Company and IFC Films. The Weinstein Company released the film on DVD on 9 October 2007 under their Dimension Extreme brand through Genius...

exploits sheep for horror and comedic effect, ironically turning them into blood-thirsty killers.
Counting sheep
Counting sheep
Counting sheep is a mental exercise used in some cultures as a means of lulling oneself to sleep.In most depictions of the activity, the practitioner envisions an endless series of identical white sheep jumping over a fence, while counting them as they do so...

 is popularly said to be an aid to sleep, and some ancient systems of counting sheep
Yan Tan Tethera
Yan Tan Tethera is a sheep counting rhyme traditionally used by shepherds in Northern England. Until the Industrial Revolution, the use of traditional number systems was common among shepherds, especially in the dales of the Lake District. The Yan Tan Tethera system was also used for counting...

 persist today. Sheep also enter in colloquial sayings and idiom
Idiom
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...

 frequently with such phrases as "black sheep
Black sheep
In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family. The term has typically been given negative implications, implying waywardness...

". To call an individual a black sheep implies that they are an odd or disreputable member of a group. This usage derives from the recessive trait that causes an occasional black lamb to be born in to an entirely white flock. These black sheep were considered undesirable by shepherds, as black wool is not as commercially viable as white wool. Citizens who accept overbearing governments have been referred to by the Portmanteau
Portmanteau word
A portmanteau or portmanteau word is a blend of two words or morphemes into one new word. A portmanteau word typically combines both sounds and meanings, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog. More generally, it may refer to any term or phrase that combines two or more meanings...

 neologism of sheeple
Sheeple
Sheeple is a term of disparagement, in which people are likened to the herd animals sheep. The term is often used to denote persons who voluntarily acquiesce to a perceived authority figure's suggestion without critical analysis or sufficient research to understand the ramifications of that decision...

. Somewhat differently, the adjective "sheepish" is also used to describe embarrassment.

In religion and folklore



In antiquity, symbolism involving sheep cropped up in religions in the ancient Near East
Ancient Near East
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia , ancient Egypt, ancient Iran The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia...

, the Mideast, and the Mediterranean area: Çatalhöyük
Çatalhöyük
Çatalhöyük was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement in southern Anatolia, which existed from approximately 7500 BCE to 5700 BCE...

, ancient Egyptian religion, the Cana'anite and Phoenician tradition, Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, Greek religion
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, and others. Religious symbolism and ritual involving sheep began with some of the first known faiths: skulls of rams (along with bulls) occupied central placement in shrines at the Çatalhöyük settlement in 8,000 BCE. In Ancient Egyptian religion, the ram was the symbol of several gods: Khnum, Heryshaf
Heryshaf
In Egyptian mythology, Heryshaf, or Hershef, , transcribed in Greek as Harsaphes was an ancient ram-god whose cult was centered in Herakleopolis Magna . He was identified with Ra and Osiris in Egyptian mythology, and to Heracles in Greek mythology...

 and Amun
Amun
Amun, reconstructed Egyptian Yamānu , was a god in Egyptian mythology who in the form of Amun-Ra became the focus of the most complex system of theology in Ancient Egypt...

 (in his incarnation as a god of fertility
Fertility
Fertility is the natural capability of producing offsprings. As a measure, "fertility rate" is the number of children born per couple, person or population. Fertility differs from fecundity, which is defined as the potential for reproduction...

). Other deities occasionally shown with ram features include: the goddess Ishtar
Ishtar
Ishtar is the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. She is the counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna and to the cognate north-west Semitic goddess Astarte.-Characteristics:...

, the Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

n god Baal-Hamon, and the Babylonian god Ea-Oannes. In Madagascar, sheep were not eaten as they were believed to be incarnations of the souls of ancestors.

There are also many ancient Greek references to sheep: that of Chrysomallos, the golden-fleeced ram, continuing to be told through into the modern era. Astrologically
Astrology
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

, Aries
Aries (astrology)
Aries is the first astrological sign in the Zodiac, which spans the zodiac between the zero degree and the 29th degree of celestial longitude. The Sun enters Aries when it reaches the northern vernal equinox, which is usually on March 21 each year, and remains in this sign until around April 20...

, the ram, is the first sign of the classical Greek zodiac
Zodiac
In astronomy, the zodiac is a circle of twelve 30° divisions of celestial longitude which are centred upon the ecliptic: the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year...

 and the sheep is also the eighth of the twelve animals associated with the 12-year cycle of in the Chinese zodiac
Chinese zodiac
The Shēngxiào , better known in English as the Chinese Zodiac, is a scheme that relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes, according to a 12-year mathematical cycle...

, related to the Chinese calendar
Chinese calendar
The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, incorporating elements of a lunar calendar with those of a solar calendar. It is not exclusive to China, but followed by many other Asian cultures as well...

. In Mongolia
Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western-most point is only from Kazakhstan's eastern tip. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest...

, shagai
Shagai
Shagai , chükö , asyk/ashyk/oshuq refers to the astragalus of the ankle of a sheep or goat. The bones are collected and used for traditional games and fortunetelling throughout Central Asia, and games involving the ankle bones may also be referred to by the name of the bones. They may be painted...

 are an ancient form of dice made from the cuboid bones of sheep that are often used for fortunetelling purposes.

Sheep play an important role in all the Abrahamic faiths; Abraham
Abraham
Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

, Isaac
Isaac
Isaac as described in the Hebrew Bible, was the only son Abraham had with his wife Sarah, and was the father of Jacob and Esau. Isaac was one of the three patriarchs of the Israelites...

, Jacob
Jacob
Jacob "heel" or "leg-puller"), also later known as Israel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament and the Qur'an was the third patriarch of the Hebrew people with whom God made a covenant, and ancestor of the tribes of Israel, which were named after his descendants.In the...

, Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

, King David and the Islamic prophet Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

 were all shepherds. According to the Biblical story of the Binding of Isaac
Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac Akedah or Akeidat Yitzchak in Hebrew and Dhabih in Arabic, is a story from the Hebrew Bible in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah...

, a ram is sacrificed as a substitute for Isaac after an angel stays Abraham's hand (in the Islamic tradition, Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael). Eid al-Adha is a major annual festival in Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 in which sheep (or other animals) are sacrificed in remembrance of this act. Sheep are also occasionally sacrificed to commemorate important secular events in Islamic cultures. Greeks and Romans also sacrificed sheep regularly in religious practice, and Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 also once sacrificed sheep as a Korban
Korban
The term offering as found in the Hebrew Bible in relation to the worship of Ancient Israel is mainly represented by the Hebrew noun korban whether for an animal or other offering...

 (sacrifice), such as the Passover lamb
Korban Pesach
The Passover sacrifice , also known as the "sacrifice of Passover", the "Paschal Lamb" is the sacrifice that the Torah mandates to be brought on the eve of Passover, and eaten on the first night of the holiday with bitter herbs and matzo. According to the Torah, it was first offered on the night of...

 . Ovine symbols—such as the ceremonial blowing of a shofar
Shofar
A shofar is a horn, traditionally that of a ram, used for Jewish religious purposes. Shofar-blowing is incorporated in synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.Shofar come in a variety of sizes.- Bible and rabbinic literature :...

—still find a presence in modern Judaic traditions. Followers of Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 are collectively often referred to as a flock, with Christ as the Good Shepherd, and sheep are an element in the Christian iconography
Iconography
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

 of the birth of Jesus
Nativity of Jesus in art
The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century. The artistic depictions of the Nativity or birth of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas, are based on the narratives in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and further elaborated by written, oral and...

. Some Christian saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

s are considered patrons of shepherds
Patron saints of occupations and activities
-A:*Adrian of Nicomedia - arms dealers, butchers, guards, soldiers*Agatha - nurses, bellmaking*Albertus Magnus - natural scientists*Alexander of Comana - charcoal-burners*Alexius - nurses*Aloysius Gonzaga - children, Catholic students, Jesuit Scholastics...

, and even of sheep themselves. Christ is also portrayed as the Sacrificial lamb
Sacrificial lamb
A sacrificial lamb is a metaphorical reference to a person or animal sacrificed for the common good. The term is derived from the traditions of Abrahamic religion where a lamb is a highly valued possession, but is offered to God as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of Sin.-In politics:In politics, a...

 of God (Agnus Dei) and Easter celebrations in Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 and Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

 traditionally feature a meal of Paschal lamb. In many Christian traditions, a church leader is called the pastor
Pastor
The word pastor usually refers to an ordained leader of a Christian congregation. When used as an ecclesiastical styling or title, this role may be abbreviated to "Pr." or often "Ps"....

, which is derived from the Latin word for shepherd.

See also


  • Dry Sheep Equivalent
    Dry Sheep Equivalent
    Dry Sheep Equivalent is a standard unit frequently used in Australia to compare the feed requirements of different classes of stock or to assess the carrying capacity and potential productivity of a given farm or area of grazing land....

  • Shrek (sheep)
    Shrek (sheep)
    Shrek was a Merino wether belonging to Bendigo Station, a sheep station near Tarras, New Zealand, who gained international fame in 2004 after he avoided being caught and shorn for six years. Merinos are normally shorn annually, but Shrek apparently hid in caves, avoiding muster...

  • Sonny Wool
    Sonny Wool
    Sonny Wool is a sheep from the North Island of New Zealand. Born in Dannevirke circa 2008, he is named after All Black Sonny Bill Williams. He has become famous since his feeding behaviour has been used to correctly predict the winner of each of the New Zealand national rugby union team's matches...

  • Sheepfold
  • Venray sheep companies
    Venray sheep companies
    The Venray sheep companies were a group of Dutch livestock merchant companies who dominated the European trade in sheep in the 19th century.- Background :...

  • History of sheep
    History of sheep
    Sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated by humankind; sources provide a domestication date between nine and eleven thousand years ago in Mesopotamia...



External links