Sheep Definition | Characteristics & Facts



Sheep Definition

Sheep (scientific name: Ovis aries) are domesticated ruminant mammals that are primarily raised for their meat, milk, and wool. Sheep are known for their woolly coats, which can be white, black, brown, or a combination of these colors.

 Sheep General Characteristics & Facts

Physical Characteristics

Sheep have stout bodies, short tails, and usually two horns, though some breeds may be polled (hornless). They have a unique digestive system called a ruminant, which allows them to efficiently extract nutrients from plant material. Sheep have a keen sense of hearing and excellent peripheral vision.


They mostly belong to social animals. Sheep prefer to live in groups called flocks. They have a strong herding instinct and tend to follow a dominant within the flock. Sheep are known for their flocking behavior, which helps protect them from predators.


There are numerous sheep breeds worldwide, each with its characteristics and purposes. Some popular breeds include Merino, Suffolk, Dorset, Rambouillet, and Texel. These breeds vary in terms of wool quality, meat production, adaptability to different climates, and other traits.

Wool Production

One of the primary reasons for raising sheep is their wool. Sheep have a thick coat of wool that provides insulation and protects them from extreme temperatures. The quality of wool varies among breeds, with some producing fine and soft fibers suitable for high-end textiles, while others have coarser wool better suited for carpets or insulation.

Meat Production

Sheep meat, commonly referred to as lamb or mutton, is a significant food source in many countries. Lamb refers to meat from young sheep, while mutton comes from mature animals. Different breeds are bred specifically for meat production and can vary in flavor and tenderness.

Milk and Dairy Products

Sheep’s milk is rich in nutrients and has a higher fat and protein content compared to cow’s milk. It is used to produce various dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and butter. Sheep milk products are particularly popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Environmental Impact

Sheep farming can have both positive and negative environmental impacts. On the positive side, sheep can help maintain grasslands, improve soil quality through grazing and manure, and contribute to biodiversity. However, overgrazing and improper land management can lead to soil erosion and degradation in some cases.

Cultural Significance

Sheep have played a significant role in various cultures throughout history. They are mentioned in religious texts, folklore, and traditional practices of many societies. They symbolize traits such as meekness, innocence, and docility.
It’s important to note that the specific details about sheep may vary depending on the region, breed, and husbandry practices.

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Sheep Physical Characteristics

  • Size: The size of sheep can vary depending on the breed. They range from small to medium-sized animals. The height at the shoulder typically ranges from about 20 inches (50 cm) for smaller breeds to over 32 inches (80 cm) for larger ones.
  • Body Shape: Sheep have a rectangular and compact body shape. They have a thickset build with a deep chest, a broad back, and sturdy legs. The body is covered in wool, which varies in thickness and length depending on the breed.
  • Coat and Wool: Sheep are known for their woolly coat, which can have different textures and colors depending on the breed. The wool provides insulation and protection from the elements. Some sheep breeds also have a double coat, consisting of a coarse outer layer and a soft, insulating undercoat.
  • Head: Sheep have a relatively small head with a flat forehead and a rounded muzzle. Both males (rams) and females (ewes) can have horns, although horned breeds are less common. The size and shape of the horns can vary between breeds and genders.
  • Eyes: Sheep have large, horizontal, and expressive eyes positioned on the sides of their head. Their eyesight is adapted for grazing, providing a wide field of vision to detect potential predators.
  • Ears: The ears of sheep are medium-sized and usually hang down on the sides of their head. They are covered in wool.
  • Legs and Hooves: Sheep have four sturdy legs with cloven hooves. The hooves are divided into two parts, enabling them to navigate various terrains, including rocky or uneven ground.
  • Tail: Sheep typically have a long, thin tail that hangs down naturally. The tail may be docked (partially removed) in some farming practices for health or management reasons.

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Scientific Classification of Sheep

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Bovidae

Subfamily: Caprinae

Genus: Ovis

Species: Ovis

Key Locations of Sheep

  • China
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • India
  • Turkey
  • Iran
  • Argentina
  • South Africa

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What Sheep Eats?

  • Grass
  • Forage
  • Hay
  • Silage
  • Grains
  • Pelleted or Mixed Feed
  • Minerals and Supplements
  • Browse and Shrubs

How long is a sheep’s gestation period?

The gestation period of a sheep is typically around 145 to 155 days. This means that the average pregnancy duration for a sheep is about 5 months.

How much wool can a sheep produce?

The amount of wool a sheep produces depends on the breed and individual factors. On average, a sheep can produce anywhere from 2 to 30 pounds (1-14 kilograms) of wool per year.

What are the different breeds of sheep?

There are numerous sheep breeds worldwide, each with its characteristics and purposes. Some popular breeds include Merino, Suffolk, Dorset, Hampshire, Rambouillet, Border Leicester, and Cheviot, among many others.

Do all sheep have horns?

No, not all sheep have horns. Both males (rams) and females (ewes) can have horns, but some breeds are naturally polled, meaning they do not have horns.

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