Part of the oldest organized industry
You are probably familiar with sheep since they are featured in many nursery rhymes, children’s stories and bedtime routines. But did you know there are over 1 billion sheep living all over the world? They are largely domesticated (tamed) and are known for the use of their wool, which is in everything from blankets to sweaters to suits.
Raising sheep is the oldest organized industry, with domestication of sheep beginning over 10,000 years ago in Central Asia. There are over 40 breeds of sheep in the US and approximately 900 different breeds around the world.
Sheep are social creatures and live together in herds. They have very good hearing, and while their eyesight isn’t very sharp, they can see behind them without turning their heads. That’s because of how their eyes are placed on either side of their head.
They also have just two digits (toes) on each foot that grow like fingernails and need to be trimmed regularly. Some sheep have horns, just like goats. One breed, the Navajo Churro sheep, can have two, four or even six horns!
Female sheep usually have one to two lambs per year, and lambs can stand within minutes of being born. They’ll start moving around with the herd almost immediately. Sheep are considered babies until they are one year old.
- Female sheep are called ewes and male sheep are called rams.
- Sheep do not have upper front teeth!
- One year’s growth of fleece is about 8 pounds of wool.
- Sheep are ruminant mammals, meaning that they have a special process of chewing and re-chewing their food to get nutrients from it (“chewing cud”). Cows, giraffes and antelope are also ruminant.
- Wool that comes directly from the sheep is called “raw wool.” Raw wool may go through 70 more processing steps to make sure it’s the best quality.
- Sheep consume two to four pounds of food daily.