Make sheep and goats love to be petted

Ovis ammon sheep

The proverbial sheep


What do sheep look like?

Sheep are mammals and, like goats, cattle and antelopes, belong to the horned family.

European wild sheep (also called mouflons) measure around 110 to 130 centimeters from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail, grow to be 65 to 80 centimeters tall and weigh 25 to 55 kilograms. The sheep kept with us also descend from them.

The males are called rams and are much larger and stronger than the female sheep. Castrated, i.e. sterile males, are called mutton. They are much more peaceful than rams and put on more meat.

The young sheep up to one year old are called lambs.

Many sheep have horns:

In the wild sheep they are either curved in a snail shape, long and spirally wound or short and only slightly curved. They become 50 to 190 centimeters long.

The horns of the females are smaller and some domestic sheep often have no horns at all, depending on the breed.

A typical characteristic of the sheep is their fur, which is processed into wool. It can be white, gray, brown, black or patterned and consists of the dense, curled undercoat and the thicker hair above it.

The finer and more curled the wool, the more valuable it is.

The sheep's wool feels really greasy.

This comes from lanolin, a fat produced by the skin glands. It protects the wool from moisture.

Even in the heaviest rain, the sheep's undercoat stays warm and dry.

Where do sheep live?

The European wild sheep used to be found from Hungary to southern Germany and throughout the Mediterranean region. Today there are only a few hundred animals left on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. The domestic sheep that are bred live almost everywhere in the world because they were taken to all other continents by the Europeans.

Most sheep today live in Asia, Australia, Argentina and South West Africa. In Europe, on the other hand, only a few flocks of sheep roam the pastures because sheep keeping is hardly worthwhile here.

Whether steppes, heathland or plateaus - sheep can be found almost everywhere and get along in almost every habitat because they are not very picky about what they eat.

Depending on the breed, they are well adapted to the different climatic zones of the earth.

There are sheep even in tropical countries.

What kinds of sheep are there?

There are between 500 and 600 different species of sheep around the world. Among the wild sheep, the European wild sheep are among the best known. The up to two meters long Argali from the mountains in Central Asia and the bighorn sheep in Northeast Siberia and North America are still known.

The first sheep were kept as pets in Asia Minor around 9000 years ago. Today there are many different breeds, for example merino sheep, mountain sheep or heather sheep.

The Heidschnucken are very well known to us, especially in northern Germany, and their appearance is reminiscent of wild sheep:

Both males and females have horns, those of the females are crescent-shaped and curved backwards, those of the males are snail-shaped.

Their fur is long and dense and colored silver-gray to dark gray. On the other hand, the fur on the head and legs is short and black.

The lambs of the Heidschnucken are born with black curly fur. During the first year of life, the fur changes color and turns gray.

Heidschnucken are an old breed of sheep and not only provide wool, but also meat.

They are also used to maintain the landscape because they keep the grass short in the heather and ensure that the heather is preserved. Today heidschnucken are endangered. There are relatively few animals left.

In Northern Germany, Skudden sheep take care of the landscape. They are an old domestic sheep breed that originated in the Baltic States and East Prussia. Skudden sheep grow to a maximum of 60 centimeters. Their fur is either white, brown, black, or piebald. Skudden sheep are known for their fine wool.

The Valais black-nosed sheep are also good suppliers of wool. The males bring up to 4.5 kilograms of wool per year, the females up to four kilograms.

This ancient breed, which originated in the Swiss canton of Valais, has probably been around since the 15th century.

The coloring is particularly noticeable:

The animals are black around the mouth and nose and around the eyes. Because they are a little reminiscent of panda bears with this eye-catching "face mask", they are also called panda sheep. The ears are also black and have black spots on the hocks, front knees and feet.

The females also have a black spot on their tail. The relatively long, spirally twisted horns are also striking.

The breed is very robust and well adapted to the harsh mountain climate.

The four-horned sheep, which are very rare here, are particularly noticeable.

This ancient race is believed to come from Asia Minor and is already mentioned in the Bible. They are also called Jacob's sheep. They came with the Arabs via North Africa to Spain and from there to Central and Western Europe.

This breed belongs to the woolly sheep family and is the only one to have four, sometimes even six horns. She is very undemanding and can live outdoors all year round.

How old do sheep get?

Sheep are usually between ten and twelve years old, at most 20 years. Ewes only live five to six years.


How do sheep live?

A sheep alone - there is no such thing! Sheep are pure herd animals and do not like being alone at all. They only feel safe and secure together with their fellow species.

Small groups of related females form within the herd. However, there is no strict hierarchy.

The rams are kept separate from the flock and are only allowed to go to the sheep during the mating season.

At this time, the rams show how spirited they can be: When fighting for the females, they bump their horns against each other again and again with a crash.

But that sounds worse than it is. The animals hardly ever get injured in the process.

When the mating season is over, the herd is calm again: the sheep spend the day mainly grazing. At night they sleep close together in the shelter of the herd.

And because they are peaceful and patient animals, they can also be kept well with horses or cattle.

Sheep have very good eyesight. They need them to spot enemies in time. Wild sheep can recognize an enemy from a distance of several hundred meters.

They also have a fine nose that allows them to smell predators from afar, for example.

Domestic sheep are divided into four different groups - depending on what the individual breeds were bred for:

Wool sheep primarily provide wool, meat sheep are kept for their meat, milk sheep give milk and country sheep have only one task:

They serve as living "lawnmowers" and keep the grass short on the heath, on mountain meadows and on dikes and prevent too many bushes and trees from growing.

Friends and enemies of the sheep

Wolf, lynx, fox and eagle can be particularly dangerous to the lambs of wild sheep.

How do sheep reproduce?

A sheep grows up at around two years of age and can then have young every year. Mating season is in autumn. Five months later, the sheep gives birth to one to four lambs in February or March. Immediately after the birth, the mother licks the lambs off, memorizing their scent; he is the identification mark for the mother.

Conversely, the little lamb remembers exactly how the mother bleats. By this call the lamb will later recognize its mother among the many sheep in the flock.

After the lambs are born, everything has to happen very quickly: They try to stand up on their long, thin legs in order to drink from their mother's udder.

This is important because the lambs get a lot of antibodies with their mother's first milk. They need these to stay healthy.

In the first few hours the lambs are still quite wobbly on their feet, but a little later they follow their mother to the pasture.

How do sheep communicate?

Everyone knows the typical call of the sheep: "Mäh". But they can also bleat and complain. Wild sheep warn their flock with a whistle when there is danger.


What do sheep eat?

Sheep are not picky about what they eat. Every grass and herb that comes under their muzzle is plucked and eaten.

Of course, they like lush grass best, but they can also be fed up on a meager pasture high up in the mountains.

Like cows, sheep are ruminants: they choke up the feed a few hours after eating and chew it again thoroughly before it is finally digested in the intestines.

Keeping sheep

Sheep can be kept in three different ways: In moving sheep keeping, a shepherd moves with his dog and the herd from pasture to pasture. When keeping the hats, the sheep graze in a nearby pasture. In paddock and single sheep farming, the animals eat the grass briefly on a fenced pasture. Neither a shepherd nor a dog have to watch out for the animals because the pasture is surrounded by a fence.

Sheep mostly spend the winter in the barn.

You can only stay outside in the cold season only in very mild areas, where there is little snow and hardly freezes.

In any case, they must be fed with hay and straw during this time.

Sheep care plan

When it comes to migratory sheep farming, the shepherd ensures that the herd moves to a new pasture in good time so that they always have enough feed.

He gives the lambs a medicine every six weeks to prevent them from developing worms and regularly checks the large sheep to see whether they are healthy.

And of course the shepherd pays special attention to the sheep that are having young.

When sheep do not travel long distances, the hooves need to be trimmed regularly because they do not wear out enough.

The sheep are sheared every year between April and June.

On average, a sheep provides around three and a half kilograms of wool - that's enough for around three sweaters.