One of the first farmed animals, reared for thousands of years for meat and milk. Read about how sheep and lambs are farmed today.
There are over 1 billion sheep worldwide. The greatest numbers are farmed in Asia and Africa. Sheep are kept for meat (lamb and mutton) and for milk.
Sheep are prey animals, largely defenseless against predators and naturally nervous and easily frightened. They flock together for safety. Sheep have a ‘flight zone’ – the distance they keep from a potential threat such as a person or sheepdog – which varies depending how wild the sheep are.
Lambs are very independent at birth and form strong bonds with their mothers, recognising each other by their bleats.
Sheep are surprisingly intelligent. They are able to recognise and remember 50 sheep faces and those of familiar humans.
Where do sheep come from?
Sheep originate from wild sheep. They were one of the first domesticated animals, farmed since about 9,000 BC. Over the years of domestication, sheep have been bred to have more wool and developed black, white and spotted varieties.
Sheep farming today
Most sheep are farmed outdoors in extensive systems, with less than 1% kept in intensive systems (although this is still several million animals). Some sheep may be housed over winter but otherwise housing is generally reserved for lambing, fattening of some lambs and for milking sheep.