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What is a Sheep?

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Sheep is a domesticated ruminant mammal with a dense woolly coat and curved horns. It is kept for its wool or meat.


Where Do Sheep Live?

Most of the world's population of sheep is kept on farms as livestock, and sheep can be found in the wild in the mountains, tundra, and desert. It is estimated their domestication took place around 10,000 years ago. Sheep have since been kept for their fur, skin, milk, and meat as livestock.


Sheep Information Based on the Classification

  • The kingdom of sheep is Animalia.

  • The Phylum is Chordata.

  • The Class of sheep is Mammalia.

  • The Order is Artiodactyla.

  • Sheep belongs to the Bovidae family and Caprinae subfamily.

  • The Genus is Ovis.

  • The scientific name of sheep is Ovis aries.

Characteristics of Sheep

  • Domestic sheep differ in many ways from their wild relatives and ancestors, having been uniquely neotenic as a result of human selective breeding.

  • Some of the features of the wild sheep, such as short tails, are preserved by a few primitive sheep breeds too.

  • Wild sheep are predominantly variations of brown hues, and there is very little variation between species. The domestic sheep's colours vary from pure white to dark brown chocolate, and even spotted or piebald.

  • Sheep exhibit a variety of heights and weights, depending on the breed. A heritable characteristic that is frequently selected for inbreeding is their rate of growth and mature weight.

  • Sheep weight: Ewes(adult female sheep) usually weigh between 45 and 100 kilograms and grams(adult male sheep) weigh between 45 and 160 kilograms.

  • The sheep have 20 teeth when all the deciduous teeth erupt. There are 32 teeth for mature sheep. The front teeth in the lower jaw, as with other ruminants, bite into a smooth, toothless pad in the upper jaw.

  • Sheep have excellent ears and are sensitive to noise.

  • Sheep have horizontal slit-shaped pupils sheep can see behind themselves without turning their heads with excellent peripheral vision.

  • Many breeds have only short hair on the face, and some have facial wool confined to the stud and mandibular angle area. 

  • Sheep have a poor sense of depth; shadows and dips in the soil can cause sheep to baulk.

  • Sheep also have an outstanding sense of smell, and they have scent glands just in front of the eyes and interdigital on the paws, like all members of their genus.

Sheep Body Parts

The body parts of the sheep are as follows:

  • Muzzle 

  • Poll

  • Loin

  • Dock

  • Stifle

  • Foot 

  • Belly 

  • Knee 

  • Forerib

  • Neck

  • Udder

  • Face

  • Top of Shoulder

  • Hip 

  • Twist

  • Hook 

  • Dewclaw

  • Ribs

  • Forearm

  • Forehead

  • Back

  • Rump

  • Leg

  • Pastern

  • Rear Flank 

  • Cannon 

  • Fore Flank


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Sheep Breeds

It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 distinct breeds of domestic sheep all over the world. Breeds are often classified by their wool type. Fine wool breeds, which are favoured for textiles, are those with wool of great crimp and density. Most of these are derived from Merino sheep, and the world's sheep industry continues to be dominated by this breed.

Let us look into a few of the popular types of sheep available locally in India and some of the exotic breeds. 

1. Marwari Sheep

The Marwari is a breed of domestic sheep from India. It originates in the Marwar area of south-western Rajasthan, in the north-west of India, and is named for it.


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2. Gaddi Sheep

Gaddi is a breed of sheep found in India that has been domesticated. They are one of eight distinct sheep breeds found in India's northern temperate zone. The Gaddi is raised mainly because of its wool.


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3. Nilgiri Sheep

The Nilgiri sheep is a breed of sheep found only in the Tamil Nadu State district of Nilgiris, India. It is bred in Nilgiri's hilly parts and is renowned for its fine wool.


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4. Lohi Sheep

The Lohi sheep are present in Pakistan's southern Punjab and in India's Rajasthan and Haryana. It is used for producing wool and meat for its carpet quality. The body is white and typically the head is tan, black or brown.


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5. Merino 

The Merino, highly prized for its wool, is one of the most historically valuable and economically successful breeds of sheep.


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6. Suffolk Sheep

Suffolk is a British domestic sheep breed. It emerged in the area of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk in the late eighteenth century, as a result of cross-breeding. It is a black-faced, polled breed, and is primarily raised for its meat.


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7. Dorper

The Dorper is a breed of domestic sheep produced by crossing the Dorset Horn and the Blackhead Persian sheep in South Africa.


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8. Lincoln Sheep

The Lincoln is the largest British sheep, specifically bred to produce the world's heaviest, longest and most lustrous fleece of any breed.


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9. Katahdin Sheep

The Katahdin is a breed of domestic sheep produced in Maine, United States and named after the highest peak in the state, Mount Katahdin.


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10. Texel Sheep

The Texel is a breed of domestic sheep that originated in the Netherlands from the island of Texel. It produces a lean meat carcass, a strongly muscled sheep, and will pass on this consistency to crossbred progeny. The wool is roughly 32 mm in size and is mainly used for yarns and wool knitting.


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11. Dorset Horn

The Dorset Horn is a British breed of domestic sheep that are endangered. It has been known since the seventeenth century, and is highly prolific, producing two lambing seasons per year often. It is the only breed capable of breeding in the winter among British sheep.


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12. California Red Sheep

The California Red is a breed of domestic sheep raised in the U.S. It is so-called because all of its lambs are born red, and this colour is preserved in adulthood in their faces and limbs.


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13. Norfolk Horn

One of the British black-faced sheep breeds is the Norfolk Horn. This breed is mainly raised for meat.


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14. Rambouillet Sheep

The Rambouillet, also known as the Rambouillet Merino or the French Merino, is a breed of sheep from France.


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Reproduction Facts About Sheep

The reproduction of domesticated sheep is discussed in this section. 

  • Sheep follow a similar reproductive approach to other animals in the herd.

  • In general, a group of ewes is mated by a single ram, which has either been chosen by a breeder or has established dominance in feral populations through physical competition with other rams.

  • Although some are able to breed year-round, most sheep are seasonal breeders.

  • Ewes usually reach sexual maturity at the age of six to eight months and rams usually reach sexual maturity at four to six months.

  • Sheep have a gestation period of about five months, and one to three hours of normal labour is needed.

  • While some breeds regularly throw larger lamb litters, most generate single or twin lambs.

  • Ewes and lambs may be confined to tiny lambing jugs during or soon after labour, small pens designed to aid both careful observations of ewes and to cement the bond between them and their lambs.

  • Ideally, after birth, ewes break the amniotic sac and begin licking the lamb clean.

  • Within one hour of birth, most lambs will start standing. Lambs nurse after standing, receiving vital colostrum milk, in normal situations.

  • Many lambs start life by being born outdoors. Lamb marking is performed after lambs are several weeks old. At this stage, vaccinations are typically carried out as well.

  • To alleviate discomfort, tension, recovery time, and complications, docking and castration are usually performed after 24 hours and are often done no later than one week after birth.

Uses of Sheep

Sheep are an important component of the agricultural economy worldwide. In this section let us understand about sheep by-products which we use in our daily lives. 

1. Wool

  • The commodity for which sheep are best known is wool.

  • Wool is commonly used in knitwear garments such as socks and jumpers, to the clothing used for costumes and suits.

  • It is used both for making chair covers and for upholstery in the furniture trade.

  • Many of the historically manufactured and today's better carpets are made from wool and also for filling mattresses wool is used.

  • Wool is used in various items such as tennis ball covers, baize for the pool table, and liners for hanging baskets.

2. Meat

  • Meat is the most important product that we get from sheep.

  • Meat is an essential component of our diets and many of the crucial vitamins and nutrients we need for healthy living are provided to us by lamb and mutton.

3. Lanolin

  • Raw wool contains grease or lanolin of 10% to 25%, which is recovered during the scouring process.

  • A highly complex combination of esters, alcohols, and fatty acids, lanolin is used in adhesive tape, printing inks, engine oils, and automotive lubrication.

  • In cosmetics and pharmaceutics, lanolin is also used. Lanolin is used in nearly all cosmetics and beauty aids, including lipsticks, mascara, lotions, shampoos, and hair conditioners.

4. Skins

  • After slaughter, sheepskins are eliminated from the carcasses. They are treated and made into soft leather in a process called tanning.

  • For making the chamois cloth with which we wash our car, sheepskin is commonly used.

  • A small number of skins are retained as sheepskins are sold, with the wool still attached.

  • The skin of a sheep's hair produces the highest quality leather. Compared to the smaller number of coarse fibres of the hair sheep, this is because the numerous fine wool fibres cause the skin to be more open and loose in texture.

5. Dairy

  • Sheep cheese makes up about 1.3% of the world's production of cheese.

  • Originally produced from sheep's milk, some of the world's most famous cheeses were: Roquefort, Feta, Ricotta, and Pecorino Romano.

  • We also make sheep's milk into yoghurt, butter, and ice cream. The United States is a big importer of milk cheeses for sheep.

6. Science and Medicine

  • Sheep make a lot of contributions to the science and medicine fields.

  • They are used to study illness and perfect surgical techniques as research models.

  • They are used in research on stem cells.

  • Their blood is the ideal medium for bacteria to cultivate.

  • Sheep blood and milk are used to produce pharmaceutical products.

  • Scientists are using wool proteins to create new wound dressings, bone graft implants, and medical sutures using nanotechnology.

  • A sheep called Dolly, which was a female domestic sheep is a famous example of the Sheep application in science and technology, and the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the nuclear transfer process.

7. Landscape Management

  • While sheep have been used to control unwanted vegetation for centuries, a relatively new phenomenon is grazing as a fee-based service.

  • Sheep are the best livestock to use, along with goats, to control unwanted vegetation, such as noxious weeds and invasive plants.

  • Sheep are also a good companion to solar farming because, while producing an income, they can control vegetation under the solar panels.

Fun Facts About Sheep

  • The majority of sheep have big, curling horns made of the same ingredient keratin that is present in human fingernails.

  • Sheep have exceptional peripheral vision. They can see nearly 360 degrees with their big, rectangular eyes, and they can even see behind themselves without turning their heads.

  • Sheep are able to feel emotions such as fear, frustration, rage, despair, boredom, disgust, and happiness.

  • In the upper front jaw, sheep do not have teeth. But they have the lower teeth pressed up to break down food against a rough upper palate.

  • Sheep medicate themselves. They use plants and other substances for disease prevention or cure and teach their young lambs to do the same.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is the Scientific Name of Sheep?

Ans: The scientific name of sheep is Ovis aries.

2. What are the Major Byproducts of Sheep?

Ans: The major products obtained from sheep are:

  • Meat

  • Wool

  • Skin

  • Dairy

3. Can Sheep Recognize Colours?

Ans: Sheep are believed to have colour vision, and a range of colours such as black, red, brown, green, purple, and white are distinguished by sheep.

4. Do Sheep Have Peripheral Vision?

Ans: The answer is yes, sheep do have peripheral vision. Sheep have their eyes on the side of their heads. They have in front of their head a small field of binocular vision and broad peripheral fields of monocular vision.