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The Story Of... Sheep

Evolutionary cousins of the goat, sheep have been domesticated for at least 7,000 years and are descended from a wild species which roamed the plains of the Fertile Crescent throughout the Neolithic period.

  Sheep grazing  
Sheep mature very quickly, and many breed when they are just one and a half years old. They can weigh between 80 and 400 pounds and are farmed primarily for their thick, versatile wool. Milk, sheepskin and lamb are also valuable by-products, while their feces, rich in nutrients, can be almost as efficient fertilizer and fuel as cow dung. However, sheep can’t bear loads or pull any kind of machinery.

Notoriously timid animals, and vulnerable to predators, great care has had to be taken by sheep-farmers throughout history. Their vulnerability has become almost a cliché, enshrined in the biblical analogies of the shepherd and his flock.

At the end of the twentieth century, there were estimated to be more than a billion sheep in the world. A mainstay of the Eurasian food package, they were exported successfully to other temperate parts of the world and have proved particularly popular in Australia and New Zealand – where they outnumber the local human population by 10 to 1.

Where to next?

Get more stories about animals including Cattle, Goats, Pigs, Horses, Llamas, or Zebra.


- Wheat
- Rice
- Corn
- Sorghum

- Cattle
- Goats
- Sheep
- Pigs
- Llamas
- Horse
- Zebra

- Smallpox
- Malaria

- Steel
- Writing

- Latitude and Climate
- Shape of the Continents
- Cities and Civilizations

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