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Domestic sheep

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Domestic sheep
Flock of sheep.jpg
Scientific Classification

Ovis aries

The domestic sheep (Ovis aries), the most common species of the sheep genus (Ovis), is a woolly ruminant quadruped which probably descends from the wild mouflon of Middle East. Sheep breeders refer to female sheep as ewes, intact males as rams, castrated males as wethers, yearlings as hoggets, and younger sheep as lambs. In sheep husbandry, a group of sheep is called a herd, flock or mob. See other specialised vocabulary below.

History and Domestication

The first mention of the domestication of Sheep is written in Genesis 4:1-3 in the account of Cain and Abel.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

The Bible states that Abel was the first shepherd. Domestic sheep are descended from the mouflon that is found from the mountains of Turkey to southern Iran. It has been found by DNA analysis to be one of two ancestors of domestic sheep. Although the second ancestor has not been identified, both the urial and argali have been ruled out. The urial (O. vignei) is found from northeastern Iran to northwestern India. It has a higher number of chromosomes (58) than domestic sheep (54) which makes it an unlikely ancestor of the latter, but it interbreeds with the mouflon. The argali sheep (O. ammon) of inner Asia (Tibet, Himalayas, Altay Mountains, Tien-Shan and Pamir) has 56 chromosomes and the Siberian snow sheep (Ovis nivicola) has 52 chromosomes.

Evidence of early domesticated sheep has been found in Jericho and Zawi Chemi Shanidar. Breeds, like the Scottish Soay sheep have to be plucked (a process called rooing), instead of sheared, as the kemps are still longer than the soft fleece, or the fleece must be collected from the field after it falls out. The European mouflon (O. musimon) found on Corsica and Sardinia as well as the Cretan and the extinct Cypriot wild sheep are possibly descended from early domestic sheep that turned feral.

Cultural significance

For centuries, sheep have had associations with many cultures, especially in the Mediterranean area and Wales, where they form the most common type of livestock in pastoralism. Selective breeding of sheep has frequently occurred, though only with other sheep, naturally.

A wide symbology relates to sheep in ancient art, traditions and culture. Judaism uses many sheep references including the Passover lamb. Christianity uses sheep-related images, such as: Christ as the good shepherd; the bishop's Pastoral; the lion lying down with the lamb. Greek Easter celebrations traditionally feature a meal of Paschal lamb. Sheep also have considerable importance in Arab culture; Eid ul-Adha is a major annual festival in Islam in which a sheep is sacrificed.

Herding sheep plays an important historico-symbolic part in the Jewish and Christian faiths, since Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and King David all worked as shepherds.


See Also