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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.

  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension - (301) 432-2767 x343

Sheep flock

Polypay ewes

Sheep in Virginia
Sheep in Virginia

Sheep in Texas
Sheep in Texas

Maryland shepherd
Maryland shepherd

Sheep in Montana
Sheep in Montana

Fall sheep grazing in Vermont
Sheep in Vermont

 Sheep in Mexico
Sheep in Mexico



    Dollars and cents

  • U.S. Sheep Industry
    According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, there are 84,134 sheep farms in the United States. Large sheep operations, which own 80 percent of the sheep, are located primarily in the Western United States. Texas and California have the most sheep. Small producers, those owning less than 100 sheep, comprise the majority of sheep operations, but own only 17 percent of the sheep.

    2009 U.S. Sheep and Lamb Inventory
    Number of head
     South Dakota
    Source: USDA NASS Sheep and Goat Report, January 30, 2009

  • A small industry
    Compared to other animal and agricultural industries, the sheep industry is very small, accounting for less than 1% of total U.S. livestock receipts.

    2008 U.S. Livestock Slaughter
    1,000 head
    Avg. live weight
    50.4 billion tons
    Source: USDA NASS Livestock Slaughter 2008 Summary, March 2009

    Over the past 200 years, the U.S. sheep population has come full circle. From 7 million head in the early 1800's, sheep numbers peaked at 56 million in 1945, then declined to less than 7 million head on January 1, 2003. At the same time, industry emphasis has changed from wool to meat. Sheep numbers increased slightly in 2005 and 2006, the first time since 1990.

  • Home on the range
    Sheep in the Western United States are often raised under traditional range conditions, where flocks graze unfenced pastures under the watchful eye of shepherds or sheepherders. Some range flocks graze public lands (for a fee), while others graze privately owned land. A range "band" consists of 1,000 ewes and their lambs. Wool production is still important in the range sheep industry. Fine wool breeding predominates. Most range ewes have Rambouillet blood.

  • Lamb feeding industry
    Colorado is the most concentrated lamb feeding area in the United States. Other states that feed out a lot of lambs include Texas, California, Iowa, and Oregon. Lamb feeders purchase 60 to 90 pound lambs for finishing in feed lots. Sometimes, lambs are grazed on alfalfa fields.

    The lamb feed lot industry has struggled in recent times due to high feed costs and higher feeder lamb prices, brought about by the increased demand for light weight slaughter lambs by the ethnic trade, primarily Halal (Muslim).

  • Small farms
    While the U.S. sheep industry is still dominated by small numbers of large operations, these operations continue to decline for various reasons. At the same time, small flocks are increasing, especially in the eastern half of the United States, where the majority of lamb is consumed. To be profitable, small flocks must be efficient and have access to excellent markets. Sheep are especially popular on small farms where sustainable farming practices are favored, such as pasture-finishing of lambs.

  • Making money with sheep
    As with other agricultural enterprises, sheep farming is not a "get-rich-quick" scheme. The profit margins are narrow. To make money raising sheep, you would need at least several hundred ewes, probably more than 500. While there are some farmers who make a majority of their income from sheep farming, sheep raising is more often a part-time or secondary enterprise of a farm. For some, it is a hobby, retirement activity, or 4-H project.

    Sheep farmers derive their income from the sales of lambs and wool and related products. Though it varies by state and farm, the vast majority income comes from the sale of lambs. Dairy sheep farmers have three sources of income: lambs, wool, and milk (or cheese). Some farmers receive income by leasing their sheep out for grazing. Some sheep are raised for bio-medical purposes (research, blood, etc.).

  • World sheep
    There are more than one billion sheep world wide. Sheep production is increasing in some countries; declining in others. While China has the most sheep, Australia and New Zealand dominate world markets for lamb and wool. The United States is not a major sheep-producing country and is a net importer of lamb and wool.

    2007 World Sheep Inventory
    Number of head
     New Zealand
     United Kingdom
     South Africa
    Source: FAOSTAT 2007


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Last updated 12-May-2009
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