Information and Facts about Sheep

Not all Sheep are white or woolly. With over 200 varieties/breeds of sheep, from the typical wool sheep, to the more unusual hair sheep, there is quite a lot of diversity in the animal we think of as “sheep”.

To be clear the term Sheep generally refers to the domestic animals – Ovis aires. These domestic animals probably descended from the wild mouflon, which is a wild subspecies of sheep.

-Appearance-

Sheep have four legs, with cloven hooves. They can be visually distinguished from goats as sheep have a split lips but goats do not.

While many sheep have a woolly fleece, there are many sheep with hair much like that of a German Shepherd dog. The colors of sheep range from white, to brown, to black, and some animals will have more than one color. Some sheep have horns, others do not, in breeds with horns the males grow much larger horns than do females. In those breeds that produce wool, or more correctly, who produce fleece, the fibers can be curly, crimped, or loose.

Sheep range in size according to breed, and mature animals may range anywhere from 80 pounds (40 kg) to 350 pounds (160 kg) depending on breed.

Sheep normally have tails that are down to their hocks, but many breeders of wool sheep dock the tails to a few inches in length.

-Traits-

Sheep have good peripheral vision, however they may lack good depth perception. They are natural climbers and often flea to safety on a hill top or even a pile of rocks. Sheep have a strong herding instinct and will stick together well, some breeds more than others, however all get stressed when they are unable to see other sheep.

Sheep are ruminants who spend most of their time grazing or chewing their cud.

The average lifespan of a sheep is 10 – 12 years of age.

Sheep are relatively tolerant of cold and wet weather, with the hair breeds growing thicker coats in the winter. As the hair sheep shed they are more tolerant of hot weather, in which the wool sheep must be shorn.

Sheep are naturally fearful of humans and tend to flee when spooked. Bottle fed lambs grow into very friendly adults.

Sheep are prone to copper toxicity, and cannot have too much copper in their diet.

-Uses-

Sheep are most often kept to produce lambs for eating. The lambs being slaughtered around five months of age.

Some sheep produce wool which is sheared once, or twice a year, and used to make clothing or rugs.

Karakul sheep are used to produce lambs which are killed at birth for their black skins.

Some sheep breeds are used for milk.

Sheep are also used to graze overgrown pastures, or for lawn control.

-Reproduction-

Ewes of most breeds come into heat in the fall and remain in season if not bred until the middle of winter. A 5 month gestation period means lambs are born in the early spring or summer. Sheep are sexually mature at 5 – 6 months of age, although ewes should not be bred until they are at least 8 months of age.

Sheep typically produce 1 – 3 lambs. Some breeds of sheep cycle year round and very rarely will some produce more lambs.

-Sheep Terms-

Ewe – Female Sheep

Ram – Male Sheep

Lamb – Baby under one year old

Wether – Castrated male sheep

Flock – A group of sheep

Shearing – Cutting off the fleece of a sheep

Docking – Removing a lambs tail

Bummer – An orphaned lamb

Polled – Having no horns

Crimp – The texture in the fleece

-Other Facts-

In New Zealand sheep out number people.

Donkeys, llamas, or sheep dogs, are kept to guard sheep, other breeds of dogs may be used to herd sheep.

Each sheep has its own distinct “baa” call that it uses to communicate with.