All about sheep

Sheep feeding at a farm in the UK. Photo from Scott Radcliffe, Purdue UniversityOne of the downsides to being a human is our lack of a warm, furry outercoat. Historically, people would have to wear the furs and skins of other animals in order to stay warm during cold winters. One of the warmest things to wear was wool, the coarse, hair-like covering of sheep.

Sheep were domesticated in pastures about 12,000 years ago, and as they were tamed, their appearance changed. People bred the sheep that had the most wool, so domesticated sheep developed more wool and less hair. Their coloring went brown or grey to white or black. Their horns weakened and, in some breeds, disappeared. Their brains also became smaller as they became domesticated.

Sheep will graze on leaves and grass. Sheep, like cows and goats, are ruminants, meaning their stomachs have multiple compartments that can better digest rough plants. However, sheep are picky eaters, and their mouths and lips are specialized for certain plants over others.

Sheep are used for the same purposes today as they were many years ago — meat, skins, milk, and wool. Sheep’s wool is shorn on a regular basis as it grows back, and is then cleaned, brushed and sent to be made into wool shirts, coats and other materials.

Learn more about ruminants

Learn more about where sheep are raised

Featured Resource

Learn about sheep feeding management

Keeping lambs healthy

Farmers deworm lambs to keep their herds free of parasites. Click to learn more about the process.

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