Sheep are farm animals without equal. They have formed a special, mutually beneficial partnership with humans that goes back centuries. Every prospective farmer can see potential in owning sheep, but if you think sheep are only good for one thing - think again!
Whether you want to finally win that game of Trivial Pursuit, or be a Grand Champion on Jeopardy, this list of 55 sheep facts is sure to surprise you.
Table of Contents
Facts About Physical Sheep Features
- Sheep are one of the few animal species on earth that have rectangular pupils.
- Wild sheep do not have wool, and will always have horns, unlike domestic sheep which can have wool and may or may not be polled.
- Wild sheep are much larger than domestic sheep with wild rams standing nearly 4 feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds.
- Sheep have an incredibly wide field of vision and can see behind themselves without moving their heads, yet have terrible depth perception and may not see something immediately in front of them.
- Sheep can curl their upper lip. They do this to provide air to an organ that is in their mouth which helps them pick up on subtle scents.
- Sheep have a philtrum which is an indentation in their lip that allows them to get closer to food sources.
- Sheep are intelligent and can remember up to 50 human faces for several years.
- Sheep with horns will grow a ring over the course of one year, so by counting the rings on a sheep’s horn, you can learn how old it is.
Facts About Sheep Temperament
- Most sheep are gregarious and enjoy being in a large group of sheep for safety, however, a few breeds of sheep, (such as the East Friesian) do not enjoy living in large flocks.
- Sheep can have dog-like personalities and even learn tricks, especially if they are handled a lot by humans when they are lambs.
- Sheep are herbivores and grazers that can eat 2 to 3 percent of their body weight as grass or hay daily. Some farmers use them solely for landscape and vegetation management.
- Intact male sheep are called rams, whereas castrated male sheep are called wethers. Unlike rams which can be aggressive, wethers are docile enough to be used as companion animals and do not need to live separately from ewes.
- Sheep perform vocalizations to communicate with each other. They have their own unique voice and they also grunt, snort, and rumble – depending on their mood.
- Female sheep develop special communication and vocalization with their lambs, and a baby sheep’s bleat is instantly recognizable to her.
- Sheep are social animals and have a complex community and hierarchy including families, friends, enemies, followers, and leaders.
- As much as 8% of rams have a lifelong sexual preference for the same sex according to a scientific study conducted by Kay Larkin.
- Sheep can self-medicate and seek out herbs and natural botanicals that will help them heal from various maladies.
Fun Facts About Sheep Products
- Sheep are rock stars! The pelt of a sheep is often used to produce drum heads.
- Most people know that sheep produce wool – however, the fleece collected from sheep is often full of a natural grease by-product called lanolin.
- As a result, sheep farming workers will collect and determine the grease fleece weight of the wool they collect, which must be processed to remove the lanolin.
- Lanolin, the natural grease removed from fleece can often be found in moisturizers and cosmetics such as lipstick because it is naturally moisturizing and creates a waterproof barrier. Lanolin also acts as an emollient and is often found in baby diaper rash creams.
- Raw wool needs to go through roughly 70 process steps before it is usable including washing, combing, dyeing, sorting and spinning. Some wool may require fewer steps depending on what end product it is being used for.
- Sheep produce two types of meat – lamb and mutton.
- Lamb is meat from a sheep younger than 14 months, and mutton is meat collected from sheep older than 14 months.
- Sheep’s milk is often collected to produce well-known sheep’s milk cheese such as Pecorino Romano from Italy, Roquefort from France, Feta from Greece, and Queso Manchego from Spain.
- Cheese produced from sheep’s milk contains a higher fat percentage and higher protein amount than cow or goat cheeses.
- Sheep’s milk can be used to make anything a cow’s milk can, including yogurt and ice cream! Of course, sheep’s milk has a unique flavor, but the fat content means a richer end product.
- Sheep’s milk is more nutritious than cow’s milk and has more calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins A, B, and E!
- Sheep’s intestines can be used for sausage casing, instrument strings, surgical sutures, and tennis racquet strings!
- Sheep’s bones, horns and hooves can make more than 40 diverse products including piano keys, syringes, adhesive tape, wallpaper, plywood, marshmallows, dice, fertilizer, and shampoo and conditioner.
- The fats and fatty acids that sheep produce are used in a large number of products including crayons, tallow, explosives, chewing gum, tires, medicine, industrial oils, margarine, floor wax, and more.
- Sheep’s wool is used to manufacture clothing, yarn, artist’s brushes, fabrics, insulation, textiles, tennis balls, felt, carpet, footwear, baseballs, and much more.
- It takes approximately 13 pounds of wool to knit a King Size blanket.
Facts About Famous Farm Sheep
- The largest sheep breed (Ovis Aries) that is domesticated is the Suffolk sheep.
- The first mammal in the world to be cloned was Dolly the sheep in 1997. She only lived to be 6 years old and her body is on display at the Royal Museum of Scotland.
- Lucky is known as the oldest sheep in the world from Australia. She was a pet sheep that lived to be 23 years old and is recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records.
- A real flock of Border Leicester sheep was used in the filming of the movie Babe in 1995.
- The World Record for the Wooliest sheep has been held since 2015 by a feral sheep named Chris, who hadn’t been shorn in years, and his fleece weighed 88 pounds!
Historical Facts About Sheep
- Sheep were the first animals domesticated by humans 10,000 years ago in Central Asia.
- People did not learn how to spin yarn from wool until 3,500 BC.
- Queen Isabella of Spain used money obtained from the sheep industry in the 1400s to fund the voyage of Columbus, who brought sheep to North America for the first time.
- The popular nursery rhyme “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” was originally written in response to a wool tax that King Edward I imposed on farmers in the 13th century. The tax was hefty and proclaimed 1/3 of each pound of wool had to go to the King, and 1/3 of each pound had to go to the church, with the remainder going toward the farmer.
- England attempted to restrict America from exporting sheep goods after America began exporting in 1698. These restrictions played a significant part in America claiming independence and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
- The White House lawn once held a flock of grazing sheep. They were invited by President Woodrow Wilson who was fundraising for the Red Cross. The sheep’s wool was auctioned off and raised more than $50,000.
- George Washington set aside 75 acres for sheepfolds, paddocks and gardens for the White House. Also, his suit was made from American wool when he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States.
- Sheep are included as important symbols in many religions and cultures throughout the world including Hinduism, Christianity, Celtic Mythology, and Western and Eastern astrology.
- The oldest sheep breed in North America is the Navajo Churro.
- Sheep are widely referenced in works of literature and poems throughout the world including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
- The United States has banned the importation of live ruminants (animals that chew cud) since the 1990s unless they are from specific countries and have specialized health certificates.
- This means that the vast majority of new domestic sheep breeds introduced today arrive via sperm or embryos that are artificially inseminated into sheep that are already here.
- For more information on importation requirements for sheep, visit APHIS.
Statistical Facts About Sheep
- There are over 1,000 different breeds of sheep throughout the world.
- Despite the large variety of sheep in the world, only 47 sheep breeds can be found in the United States.
- One pound of wool can make 10 miles of yarn!
- There are only three modern breeds of purebred dairy sheep currently in the United States: the East Friesian, Lacuane, and Awassi.
- Sheep are prey animals and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a total of 226,910 sheep and lambs were killed by predators in 2019. This is the most up-to-date tally of predator deaths of domestic sheep and over 50% of the predators were coyotes.
- According to the American Sheep Industry Association, the average fleece from the U.S weighs 7.2lbs.