Sheep eat grass.
They have thick fur called wool.
The wool is cut off every year, like a haircut you get.
The wool is made into warm clothes for us to wear.
We eat sheep meat and eat cheese made from sheep milk.
Sheep were once wild animals, but were tamed thousands of years ago by humans for their wool, meat, hides and fat. Today, there are still a few kinds of wild sheep, but most are farmed.
A male sheep is a ram, a female is a ewe (say you), a young one is a lamb.
There are more than 200 different kinds of sheep. Sheep are farmed for wool or meat or milk. Sheep like to be with other sheep, so they naturally gather in groups. A large group of sheep together is called a flock of sheep. In Australia a group of sheep is often called a mob.
Some Sheep facts
- Sheep can see almost completely around themselves without turning their heads.
- On each foot a sheep has a hoof split into two toes.
- Some rams have horns. They curve outwards.
- Lanolin is a natural oil found in sheep's wool that is used to make hand and body cream for people.
- Sheep are very hardy animals that can live in many places in many kinds of weather.
- Not all sheep have white fleece. Some kinds have coloured fleece.
Sheep farms have big grassy paddocks where the sheep live. They eat grass. If there is a drought and there is not enough grass for the sheep, a farmer has to feed them hay. Farmers make sure the animals are fed and that they have plenty of clean water to drink.
Farmers have to check their animals to make sure none are sick or injured, and if they are, they must be treated and perhaps a vet may called in to do this. Fences and yards have to be kept in good condition as does all the farm machinery and other equipment.
Sheep grow thick fur called wool that grows continuously like your hair does. Some breeds (kinds) of sheep have better wool for making into fabric or knitting yarn. There is fine wool or coarse wool.
Wool is cut once a year. This is called shearing, and people who do it are called shearers. All shearing used to be done by hand with clippers, but now there are electric shears used when large numbers of sheep are sheared.
Sheep are sheared one at a time. Groups are moved to a small yard outside a shearing shed, and then each is taken to a shearer. After the sheep is shorn, it goes out to a different yard and then back to the paddocks.
The wool is cut close to the sheep's skin, and comes off in one piece. The cut wool is called fleece. A fleece is thrown onto a special table in the shearing shed, that has a top of slats or wire. The rough edges of the fleece are trimmed and it is checked by a wool classer who grades it according to its quality. The fleece is pressed into large bags called bales and is sold.
In factories, the wool is washed, spun into threads called yarn and dyed into lots of colours. Wool can also be spun by hand, using a spindle or a spinning wheel. These are ancient ways of spinning that many people still do. Yarn is knitted into clothes, or woven into cloth or rugs. The cloth is made into clothes or blankets. Pure wool clothing keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer, and it is flame resistant, which means it does not catch on fire.
Read the kidcyber page about hand spinning and weaving:
Some breeds of sheep are grown for meat. Farmers fatten them up. Sheep dogs help the farmer round up the sheep and get them into trucks. The sheep are taken to the market and are sold, and then taken to a place called an abattoir where they are killed and cut up for meat.
People go to butcher shops or supermarkets to buy the meat. Meat from sheep is called mutton or lamb.
Some farms raise female sheep for their milk, which is made into cheese and yoghurt.
Sheep's milk has more protein and fat than cow's milk. In France, the milk from roquefort (say rock-for) sheep is used to make a famous cheese also called roquefort.
Some breeds of sheep have no horns. In some breeds, rams have big curved horns. In some breeds, ewes have horns too.
A ewe gives birth about 150 days after mating with a ram. Sometimes a ewe has twin lambs. Lambs are born in spring.
Sheep in Australia
There are about 74 million sheep in Australia. Australia has the most sheep of any country after China.
The first sheep in Australia were brought here with the first fleet in 1788. There were just 70 on board.
The first merino sheep were introduced into Australia in 1797.
By 1803 Australian wool was being exported (sold to) England.
Australia is now the number one producer of fine wool.
Australian wool is sold to 52 countries.