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Scientific classification
Binomial name
Ovis aries

A sheep is any of several wooly ruminant quadrupeds, but most commonly the Domestic Sheep, Ovis aries, probably descended from the wild Urial of south-central and south-west Asia. For other types of sheep and their close relatives, see goat antelope.

Table of contents
1 Classification
2 Cultural Significance
3 Economic Importance
4 Cuisine
5 Ethology
6 External Links


Sheep aficionados know female sheep as ewes, males as rams, yearlings as hoggetts, and younger sheep as lambs. Note the adjective applying to sheep: ovine.

Many breeds of sheep occur, generally sub-classable as:

Farmers develop wool breeds for superior wool quantity and quality (fineness of fibers), wool
staple length and degree of crimp in the fiber. Major wool breeds include Merino, Rambouillet, and Lincoln.

Breeders of meat sheep concentrate on fast growth, multiple births, ease of lambing, and hardiness. Breeds of meat sheep include Suffolk, Hampshire. Dorset, Columbia, and Texel.

Dual-use breeds include the Corriedale.

The Finnish Landrace sheep has a reputation for multiple births. Some breeds, called hair sheep, like the Katahdin and Dorper, have little to no wool.

Cultural Significance

For centuries, sheep have had associations with many cultures, especially in the Mediterranean area, where they form the most common type of livestock in agriculture. Selective breeding of sheep has frequently occurred.

A wide symbology relates to sheep in ancient art, traditions and culture. Judaism uses many sheep references including the Passover lamb in Egypt. Christianity uses sheep-related metaphors, like the Christ the good shepherd, the bishop's Pastoral, the lion to lie down with the lamb. Greek Easter celebrations are incomplete without a meal of Paschal lamb. Sheep also have considerable importance in Arab culture.

Herding sheep plays an important historico-symbolic part in the Jewish and Christian faiths, since Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and King David all worked as shepherdss.

The sheep (or goat) is one of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. It is thought that each animal is associated with certain personality traits. See: Sheep (Zodiac).

Economic Importance

Raising sheep occupied many farmers in ancient economies, given that this animal can give milk (and all the derivative products, such as cheese), wool and meat. In the 21st century, sheep retain considerable importance in the economies of areas such as Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay.

In some places, like Sardinia, sheep-breeding has become the principal and characteristic activity. Even now, including reproduction gains, sheep are able to yearly render up to the 400% of their cost. Sheep breeding has been involved in several historic conflicts such as the Highland clearances, the US range wars, and the English "enclosing of the commons".


Chefs and diners commonly know sheep meat prepared for food as mutton (compare the French word for "sheep": mouton). The meat of immature sheep, also termed lamb, is generally regarded as tenderer and appears more often on tables in some western countries. Mutton tastes more flavorful but often tougher and fattier. Lamb commonly features in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.


The following notes come from the Simple English Wikipedia:

Sheep follow others blindly. This is why people are sometimes called sheep. It means that a person follows a group of people. This can be because they trust the group. Or it can be because they are not thinking for themself. This can be good if the group leads to something positive (like the group of sheep being led to grass). It can be bad if the group leads the other sheep to something negative.

The way sheep follow each other is so reliable that there are special names for the different roles sheep play in a flock. The sheep that is furthest away from the others is called the outlier, a term also used in statistics. This sheep is willing to go out further away from the safety of the flock to graze, but takes a chance that a predator like a wolf will attack it first, because it is alone. Another sheep, the bellwether, which never goes first but always follows an outlier, is the one that signals to the others that it is safe to go that way. When it moves, the others will also move. Tendency to be outliers or to be bellwethers, or stick in the middle of the flock, seems to stay with a sheep its whole life. There might be genes that make them repeat this role behaviour.

See also: Blue tongue disease, Dolly the sheep

External Links

Sheep, a Christian rock band of the early 1960s Jesus Movement in Europe, sang in English and Finnish.