The Home Stores
  • 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

Lamb group
Market lambs

Lamb carcasses
Lamb carcasses

Bags of wool

Lamb pelts
Lamb skins

Sheep milk cheese
Sheep milk cheese

sheep grazing
Sheep grazing

    This little lamb went to market

  • Meat
    The most important product we get from sheep is meat. Meat is an important component of our diets, and lamb and mutton supply us with many of the vital vitamins and proteins we need for healthy living. Lamb is the meat (flesh) from a sheep that is less than one year old. Mutton is the meat from a sheep that is over one year of age.

    World meat consumption
    40 percent
    32 percent
    22 percent
      Lamb and mutton
    6 percent

    While sheep meat only accounts for 6 percent of the world's meat consumption, it is the principle meat in regions of North Africa, the Middle East, India, and parts of Europe. The European Union is the largest lamb consumer and number one importer of lamb, whereas 99 percent of the lamb imported originates from Australia and New Zealand.

  • Wool
    Wool is the product for which sheep are best known. Wool is widely used in clothing from knitwear such as socks and jumpers to cloth used for suits and costumes. It is used in the furniture trade both for making chair covers and for upholstery. Many of the better carpets produced traditionally and today are made from wool. Wool is used to fill mattresses. It is used in diverse products, such as tennis ball covers, pool table baize, and hanging basket liners.

    Alternative uses of wool are increasing. Wool is a very useful product when oil spills occur. Pads made from wool can be used to soak up the oil. In 1999 when an oil spill occurred near Phillip Island, Australia, the Phillip Island penguins were fitted with wool sweaters. The sweaters helped maintain the tiny penguin's body heat and prevented them from being poisoned by the oil. Wool mulch overs many advantages over commercial mulches.

    Learn about the qualities of wool =>

  • Lanolin
    Raw wool contains 10 to 25 percent grease or "lanolin," which is recovered during the scouring process. Lanolin consists of a highly complex mixture of esters, alcohols, and fatty acids and is used in adhesive tape, printing inks, motor oils, and auto lubrication. Lanolin is also used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Virtually all cosmetics and beauty aids, such as lipsticks, mascara, lotions, shampoos, and hair conditioners, contain lanolin.

  • Skins
    Sheep skins are removed from the carcasses after slaughter. They are treated in a process called tanning and made into soft leather. Sheep skin is commonly used for making the chamois cloth that you wash your car with. A small number of skins are preserved as sold as sheepskins, with the wool still attached.

    The skins from hair sheep produce the highest quality leather. This is because the numerous fine wool fibers, as compared to the lesser number of coarse fibers of the hair sheep, cause the skin to be more open and loose in texture.

  • Persian lambskin
    One of the main reasons for keeping Karakul sheep commercially is for the production of Karakul lambskin, the skin of a newborn lamb, 1 to 3 days old. Newly born lambs have tightly-curled, shiny, black fur. Karakul lambskin is also known as Persian lambskin or Astrakhan. It is typically used in full-fur garments, such as coats and skirts, and as trimming, edging, lining, and for accessories.

    Karakul lamb fur accounts for almost 12 percent of the world's fur trade, second only to mink. Karakul sheep are raised mostly in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Namibia, where they are the only animals that can survive the harsh environmental conditions, while providing both a food source and income to local people.

  • Dairy
    Sheep cheese comprises about 1.3 percent of the world's cheese production. Some of the world's most famous cheeses were originally made from sheep's milk: Roquefort, Feta, Ricotta, and Pecorina Romano. Sheep's milk is also made into yogurt, butter, and ice cream. The United States is a large importer of sheep milk cheeses.

  • Science and medicine
    Sheep make many contributions to the fields of science and medicine. They are used as research models to study disease and perfect surgical techniques. They are used in stem cell research. Their blood is the ideal medium for culturing bacteria. Sheep are used to produce pharmaceuticals in the blood and milk.

  • Landscape management
    While sheep are been use for centuries to control unwanted vegetation, grazing as a fee-service is a relatively new phenomenon. Along with goats, sheep are the best livestock to use to control unwanted vegetation, such as fuel breaks, noxious weeds, and invasive plants.