Eight Fun Facts About Sheep

Published on Thu, 03/02/2017 - 11:12am

Fun Facts About Sheep AcreageLife

Sheep and humans have a long history together; one only needs to examine the Bible or ancient works such as the Odyssey to see the close connection between shepherds and sheep that has existed for thousands of years. Today, sheep remain one of the world’s most important types of livestock, whether kept for fiber or meat. In light of this longtime shared history, it’s no surprise that sheep and sheep lore have “woven” their way into our culture. For a look at some of these “sheepish” facts, check out our fun list!

1. Sheep have grazed the lawns of the White House

In 1918, in a war effort gesture, President Woodrow Wilson purchased a herd of eighteen sheep to graze the White House lawns as a method of keeping them mowed and a visual symbol of freeing up manpower and saving money on the homefront. The herd eventually grew to over forty head, and the fleeces of these Presidential sheep were later sold at auctions; one of these auctions benefited the Red Cross and raised $52,823. Wilson’s ram was named “Old Ike.”

Thomas Jefferson also kept a flock at The White House, including a feisty ram with a reportedly “difficult” attitude!

2. A sheep was the first animal to be cloned

Of course we must include mention of “Dolly,” one of the most famous individual sheep ever, as she was the first mammal to be cloned from a process involving an adult somatic cell, proving that such cloning techniques were viable for creating healthy individuals. Born on July 5th 1996, Dolly became something of a celebrity when the details of her unique birth were announced several months later. During her seven years of life, Dolly had six lambs and lived at the Roslin Institute of Edinburgh. 

3. Sheep milk cheese is tasty!

You may be more familiar with cheese made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk, but fancy cheeses made from sheep’s milk are also popular, though not as widely used. Many sheep milk cheeses originate from locations where keeping other livestock might be challenging. Bonus fact: the fat, mineral, solids, and vitamin contents are higher in sheep milk cheese.    

Italy’s Pecorino Romano cheese, comes from sheep.  How do we know?  Pecore is the Italian word for “sheep”

4. Sheep occur frequently in children’s literature

Little Bo Peep hasn’t lost her pigs, you know. Sheep are a long-time standard of children’s literature, whether they appear in Mother Goose-type nursery rhymes or longer book-length works. A few “sheepish” titles that you may be familiar with include:

•     Baa Baa Black Sheep, English traditional rhyme

•     Little Bo Peep, English traditional rhyme

•     Mary Had a Little Lamb, Early American rhyme

•     Babe, The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith (also a 1995 motion picture)

•     Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw

5. There are a lot of sheep in the world!

A brief search on Google will immediately acquaint you with the fact that there are (reportedly) over one billion sheep in the world! This number sounds rather like an exaggerated estimate, but the statistics do support this figure. But geographically speaking, which areas are home to the most number of sheep? In the United States, the states with highest sheep populations are:

1.   Texas, about 700,000 head

2.   California, about 575,000 head

3.   Colorado about 435,000 head

4.   Wyoming, about 355,000 head

5.   Utah, about 285,000 head

Worldwide, the countries with the highest sheep populations include:

1.   China, about 140,000,000 head

2.   Australia, about 100,000,000 head

3.   India, about 62,000,000 head

4.   Iran, about 51,800,000 head

5.   Sudan, about 47,000,000 head

6. Some sheep breeds are more common than others

There may be one billion sheep, but that doesn’t mean they are distributed equally among the many breeds. Some commonly seen sheep breeds include:

•     Merino

•     Dorset

•     Dorper

•     Hampshire

•     Suffolk

•     Jacob

•     Border Leicester

Some less common (in the U.S) breeds of sheep include:

•     Florida Cracker

•     Gulf Coast or Gulf Coast Native

•     Hog Island

•     Romeldale / CVM

•     Santa Cruz

•     Black Welsh Mountain

•     Clun Forest

•     Cotswold

•     Dorset Horn

•     Jacob - American

•     Karakul - American

•     Leicester Longwool

•     Lincoln Longwool

•     Navajo-Churro

•     St. Croix

7. Not all wools are the same

Different sheep breeds have different wool types that make them suitable for different uses. Sheep’s wool can be broken down into a few categories:

•     Fine – Popular for spinning and suitable for clothing worn directly against the skin; particularly popular for clothing for infants. Fine wools possess a great deal of elasticity. The Merino sheep is a great example of a fine wool breed.

•     Medium – Medium wools are also good for spinning, and are more often used for knitting and crocheting garments that won’t be directly on the skin (coarser wool is itchier!). Breeds with medium wools include Jacob sheep and Border Leicester.

•     Long – Long wools are very strong, but not elastic. They are quite coarse and therefore suitable for outerwear (coats, for instance). The Lincoln Longwool is a good example.

8. Sheep phrases abound in the English language

With so many sheep in the world, it’s no surprise that these animals have also invaded our language. A few common sheep-related phrases include:

•     “Counting sheep”

•     “Sheep’s eyes”

•     “Separate the sheep from the goats”

•     “A wolf in sheep’s clothing”

•     “In two shakes of a lamb’s tail”

•     “Gentle as a lamb”

•     “Like a sheep among wolves”

•     “The month of March: in like a lion, out like a lamb”

“Sheep” is one of the few English language words that can be either singular or plural.  Others are “deer,” “fish,” “species,” and (curiously) “aircraft.”

 A Sheep’s Vital Stats and Other Information

Normal body temperature: 102°-103° F

Heart rate: about 60-110 beats per minute

Respiration: 12-20 breaths per minute

Average gestation period: 147 days

Average lifespan: 10-12 years

SIDEBAR: For Your Bookshelf

Looking for some wonderful sheep-related books for your home library? Check out this list of books! Ewe will be glad you did! 

•     Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep by Paula Simmons and Carol Ekarius

•     Adventures in Yarn Farming: Four Seasons on a New England Fiber Farm by Barbara Parry

•     How to Raise Sheep: Everything You Need to Know by Philip Hasheider

•     Sheep: Small Scale Sheep Keeping by Sue Weaver

•     Sylvia's Farm: The Journal of an Improbable Shepherd by Sylvia Jorrin

•     The Improbable Shepherd: More Stories from Sylvia's Farm by Sylvia Jorrin and Joshua Kilmer-Purcell