Domestic Sheep

Domestic sheep are one of the most common livestock animals on Earth. They were most likely domesticated from a species of wild sheep found in Europe and Asia as early as 5000 BCE. The process of raising sheep is a crucial part of many cultures and even religions. Parts of New Zealand, the Middle East, South America and Britain have a rich history of sheep husbandry. Sheep are versatile species that can provide a variety of animal products including wool, meat, milk, and more. 

Appearance

Domestic sheep come in a variety of colors, though the most common is white. This color was bred into sheep specifically for the ability to dye the wool to match any project. That being said, sheep can come in dark brown, grey, black, and more. The type of wool varies from breed to breed as well, with some having dense, coiled wool and others sporting a much longer and straighter combination. Depending on the breed, males and females can both have horns. Some farmers prefer to dock the tails of their sheep for sanitary reasons, though when born most sheep have a long, wool-covered tail. 

Adaptations

Domestic sheep are largely dependent on humans for their survival thanks to their years of domestication. For instance, sheep require shearing in order to keep their wool under control. In certain breeds, a lack of consistent shearing can lead to overgrowth and matting so severe that the individual can no longer move correctly. 

Sheep are social animals that require others, or more beneficially, an entire herd to live fulfilled lives. A dominance hierarchy is usually established by a ram, who is typically the first to feed and the one to guide the flock as they're being herded. 

Multi-Species Partnership

Domestic sheep have been a part of human history for thousands of years, revolutionizing the textile industry and serving as a livelihood for millions of people. Not only do the sheep themselves provide resources, but their demeanor is responsible for the selective breeding of certain traits into other species like canines. Herding dogs have been specifically bred to keep sheep in check when moving them from one place to another. Livestock guardian dogs on the other hand, are bred to blend in with and protect sheep and other livestock. 

Where are they?

Fossil Rim has one sheep, Earl, who lives at the Children's Animal Center.

VIEWING TIPS
Earl can be seen either wandering through the CAC yard or inside a separate fenced-in enclosure. Keep your ears open for his distinctive bleat, also known as "baaing."

Quick Facts

Scientific Name

Ovis aries

Species Survival Plan

No

Habitat

farmland

Food

grass and short plant roughage. 

Originally Native To

Europe and Asia

Characteristics

Typically white, dense wool, bare face and horns depending on sex and breed.

Lifespan

10-12 years

Social Behavior

Flocks of many individuals with one or more dominate rams. 

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