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Sheep – Description, Characteristics and Breeds

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  • Alternative Title: Ovis
  • Scientific name: Ovis aries
  • Gestation period: 152 days
  • Lifespan: 10 – 12 years
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae
  • Rank: Species

Sheep is one of the world’s most popular ruminant (cud-chewing) mammal, and it belongs to the genus Ovis. The sheep is known to be calmer and usually stockier than its close relative the goat.

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The horns of a sheep, when present, have a more divergent appearance. Sheep have scent glands in their face and hind feet; and the ram (the male sheep) lacks the kind of beard that he-goats have.

Sheep do not have long tails. In every wild species of sheep, the skin or outer coat comes in the form of hair or fur, and underneath this fur or hair lies a short coat of neat fine wool that has been made into the fleece of the domesticated sheep.

As earlier mentioned, the male sheep are known as rams, the female sheep are known as ewes, and the young animals are called lambs. Full grown sheep weigh anywhere from 80 to as much as 400 pounds (35 to 180 kg).

A sheep, just like other ruminant animals regurgitates the food they eat and chews the cud, which enables its four separate stomach compartments to effectively digest the grains or grasses and any other herbage that it feeds on.

The animals would rather graze on legumes or grass vegetation that is fine and short, though they will also eat high, brushy or coarse plants as well. They graze on plants closer to the root than cattles do, and so it is vital to take care that sheep do not overgraze a specific range.

Sheep are known as mostly timid animals, and they tend to graze in flocks and are nearly completely lacking in defense from predators. These mammals mature at about 12 months of age, and many sheep breed when they get to the age of around one and a half years.

Most sheep births are single, although sometimes they have twins but it’s not occasion. The lambs stop suckling and start to graze at around four or five months of age.

The first time sheep were domesticated from the wild species was at least 5000 BCE, and the remains of the early domestic sheep have been found at various sites of early human settlement in Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

Domesticated sheep are rared for their meat, fleece (wool), and for milk. The flesh of fully grown sheep is called mutton; that of that of the immature one is called lamb. The sheep were estimated to be well over one billion in the world in the early part of 21st century.

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The major countries that rare sheep are Australia, China, India, New Zealand, the United States, Turkey, South Africa, and Argentina. Countries with very large areas of grassland are the main producers.

Domestic sheep are different from their wild counterparts and also differ among themselves in quantity, conformation, colour, size, and quality of fleece, milk production, and other characteristics. Most domesticated sheep breeds wool, while a few sheep produce only wool, and wild sheep make a combination of hair and wool.

Several hundred variety of sheep breed have been bred to meet environmental conditions that are influenced by altitude and latitudes and to satisfy human wants for food and clothing.

Breeds of sheep that have fine wool are generally bred for only wool production, while breeds with long or medium wool or with just hair are mainly raised for meat production. Different crossbreeds have been bred that yield both meat and wool of high quality.

From the over 200 sheep breeds in the world, the vast majority of limited interest apart from local areas. If you have questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

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