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''Alternate meanings: Sheep (disambiguation)


alternate images
Scientific classification
Binomial name
Ovis aries
A sheep is any of several woolly ruminant quadrupeds, but most commonly the Domestic Sheep (Ovis aries), which probably descends 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 Related topics
7 External links


Sheep aficionados know female sheep as ewes, males as rams, yearlings as hoggets, and younger sheep as lambs. Note the adjective applying to sheep: ovine; and the collective terms for sheep: flock and mob.

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.

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Cultural significance

For centuries, sheep have had associations with many cultures, especially in the Mediterranean area and Wales, where they form the most common type of livestock in pastoralism. 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. Christianity uses sheep-related images, such as: Christ as the good shepherd; the bishop's Pastoral; the lion lying down with the lamb. Greek Easter celebrations traditionally feature 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) forms one of the animals associated with the 12-year cycle of in the Chinese zodiac, related to the Chinese calendar. Chinese tradition associates 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 its 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 in the 21st century, sheep can provide a return on investment of up to 400% of their cost annually (including reproduction gains). Sheep breeding has played a role 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, generally has a reputation as tenderer and appears more often on tables in some western countries. Mutton tastes more flavorful but often seems tougher and fattier than lamb. Lamb commonly features in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.


The following notes originated in the Simple English Wikipedia:

Sheep follow other sheep blindly, hence one can refer to people as "sheep" when they follow a group of other people. This can occur because such people trust the group, or it can happen because people do not think for themselves. Such sheep-like behaviour can have advantages if the group leads to something positive (like the group of sheep leading the main mob to grass). It can have disadvantages if the group leads the other sheep to something negative.

Sheep follow each other so reliably that special names apply to the different roles sheep play in a flock. One calls a sheep that roams furthest away from the others an outlier (the term also occurs in statistics). This sheep undertakes 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 of its isolation. Another sheep, the bellwether, which never goes first but always follows an outlier, signals to the others that they may follow in safety. When it moves, the others will also move. The tendency to act as outliers or as bellwethers, or to stick in the middle of the flock, seems to stay with sheep throughout their whole life. Genes may make them repeat this role behaviour.

Related topics

External links