Animals Animal Science Facts
Extension Animal Husbandry

Sheep Facts

Matthew C. Claeys
Extension Livestock Specialist

Sharon B. Rogers
Extension Livestock Technician

Sheep is a term for selective grazing animals that may be domesticated (tamed) or wild. This material will primarily focus on domesticated sheep. Behaviorally, sheep are gregarious, precocial, defenseless creatures. But what does that mean? Gregarious means that they flock together or like to be with a group. It is rare to see a sheep by itself because of their gregarious nature. Precocial means that they have a high degree of independence at birth. This means that they can stand on their feet shortly after birth. Sheep are defenseless for the most part against predators like coyotes and wild dogs. Sheep are also very selective in their grazing habits. Sheep have a split in their upper lip, with this they are able to pick the preferred leaves off of the plant.

 At one time all sheep were wild. Around 10,000 BC sheep were domesticated by the humans. Most of the wool breeds of sheep were developed from Moulfan sheep. Most of the hair breeds are similar to the Urial sheep of ancient times. Prior to domesticating sheep, the dog and reindeer were domesticated.

As the animals were raised under tamed conditions, they went through several changes. On the outside the sheep began to develop more wool and less hair. The color of the wool and hair changed from brown and shades of brown to whites and blacks. Their ears became more of a lop ear than an erect ear. The horns that the wild sheep possessed were weakened and disappeared from many breeds. On the inside the sheep changed as well. These internal changes happened at both ends. The tails had less vertebrates, or bones than the sheep do now. Today's sheep also have a smaller brain than the sheep 12,000 years ago.

 Sheep were tamed for several uses that still apply today. The sheep were first used for meat, skins, milk and wool. Sheep are still used for these basic purposes plus many more. Sheep by-products are in many items that we use everyday.




The information within this fact sheet was developed for you to expand knowledge of sheep and to provide a quick reference to the most frequently asked question about sheep and sheep management.
Classification Scientific Name Common Terminology
Kingdom Animalia  animal 
Phylum  Cordata  vertebrates 
Class  Mammalia  suckle young 
Order  Ungulata  hoofed mammals 
Sub Order  Artiodactyla  even toed Ungulata 
Section  Pecora  typical ruminants 
Family  Bovidae  hollow horned ruminants 
Subfamily  Caprinac  sheep and goats 
Genus  Ovis  sheep 
Species  Ovis Aries  domesticated sheep 
Ram  male of breeding age 
Wether  castrated male 
Ram lamb  immature male 
Ewe lamb  immature female 
Lamb  newborn 
Flock  group (3 or more) 
Tupping  act of breeding 
Lambing  act of parturition (giving birth) 
Birth weight  5 - 8 lb. 
Average number born  1.1 - 1.4 lambs/year 
Weaning age  2 - 3 months 
Pasture carrying capacity  5 - 6 ewes & lambs/acre 
TYPES OF SHEEP (body covering) 
Fine wool  Merino (100%) 
Medium wool  1/4, 3/8, & ½ blood 
Long wool  coarse, strong, luster, 12"/yr (English breeds) 
Carpet wool  lowest quality 
Hair  straight, non elastic & glossy 
Life span 6 -11 years 
Chromosome number  54 
Ruminant - multiple-compartment stomach containing microbes (bugs) that are able to digest forages 
Daily consumption levels  Food = 2 - 4.5 lb. 
Water = 0.5 - 1.5 quarts 
Daily waste volume  Fecal = 2 - 6.5 lb. 
Urine = 10 - 40 ml per kg body weight 
Mature weight  90 - 300 lb. 
Breeding season  early fall to late winter (some are 
poly-estrous year around, ex. Dorset) 
Estrous cycle  14 - 19 days seasonally poly-estrous 
Duration of estrus  24 - 36 hr. (standing heat) 
Time of ovulation  24 - 30 hr. from beginning of estrus 
Gestation period  145 -155 days 
Breeding/year  1 - 2/yr. 
Artificial Insemination  Yes  Cervical or Vaginal Method 
       Intrauterine Method 
Ewe lambs 
Puberty  5 - 8 months (80 - 100 lb.) 
Minimum breeding age  8 - 10 months 
Puberty  6 - 8 months 
Mature weight  150 - 450 lb. 
Serviceability  1 ram: 30-35 ewes (60 day breeding season) 
Ejaculate volume  0.8 - 1.2 ml 
Sperm concentration  2000 - 3000 million/ml 
Motile sperm  60 - 80% 
Semen freezable  yes 
UNDER THE HIDE (Carcass Information) 
Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

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Last ModifiedMonday, 24-Mar-2003 12:20:08 EST
Lori McBryde, Department of Animal Science.