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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

Livestock guardian dog

Livestock guardian dog

 Motherly nudge
Katahdin ewe and lamb

11 year old Katahdin ewe
11 year old Katahdin ewe

8 year old mouth
8 year old mouth

 Lamb group
Group of lambs


    Basic information about sheep

  • Taxonomy.
    Taxonomy is the classification of organisms into groups based on similarities of origin, structure, etc. Sheep are closely related to other farm livestock, especially goats.

    Taxonomy of sheep
     Kingdom Animalia Animal
     Phylum Chordata Vertabrae
    (has spinal cord)
     Sub-phylum Vertibrata
     Class Mammalia Mammal
    (nurses young)
     Order Ungulata Hoofed animal
     Sub-order Artiodactyla Even toed
     Family Bovidae Hollow horns
     Sub-family Caprinae Sheep and goats
     Genus Ovis Sheep
     Species Aries Domestic sheep

  • Early domestication
    Domestication is when an organism is trained or adapted to live with people. Domestication often changes the appearance and behavior of the organism. While dogs were the first animal to be domesticated, sheep and goats are tied for second. It is not known which one was domesticated first.

  • Life expectancy
    Life expectancy is how long an organism is expected to live. Typically, the life expectancy of an animal increases with size. For example, cows usually live longer than sheep. The life expectancy of sheep is similar to large breeds of dogs, 10 to 20 years. The average is 10 to 12 years. However, the length of a sheep's productive lifetime tends to be much less. This is because a ewe's productivity is usually highest between 3 and 6 years of age and usually begins to decline after the age of 7. As a result, most ewes are removed from a flock before they would reach their natural life expectancy. It is also necessary to get rid of older ewes in order to make room for younger ones.

    In harsher environments (e.g. where forage is sparse), ewes are usually culled at a younger age because once their teeth start to wear and break down, it is difficult for them to maintain their body condition. It is possible for a ewe to be productive past 10 years of age, if she is well-fed and managed and stays healthy and sound.

  • Aging sheep
    The approximate age of a sheep can be determined by examining upper incisor teeth. At birth, lambs have eight baby (or milk) teeth or temporary incisors arranged on their lower jaw. They don't have any teeth on their top jaw, only a dental pad.

    At approximately one year of age, the central pair of baby teeth is replaced by a pair of permanent incisors. At age 2, the second pair is replaced by permanent incisors. At 3 and 4 years, the third and fourth pairs of baby teeth are replaced.

    At approximately four years of age, a sheep has a full mouth of teeth. As she ages past four, her incisor teeth will start to spread, wear, and eventually break. When she's lost some of her teeth, she's called a "broken mouth" ewe. When she's lost all her teeth, she's called a "gummer."

  • Cast sheep
    A sheep that has rolled over onto its back is called a "cast" sheep. It may not be able to get up without assistance. It happens most commonly with short, stocky sheep with full fleeces on flat terrain. Heavily pregnant ewes are most prone. Cast sheep can become distressed and die within a short period of time if they are not rolled back into a normal position. When back on their feet, they may need supported for a few minutes to ensure they are steady.

  • A sheep's vital signs can help determine if it is sick.

     Sign Range
     Body temperature 102-103°F
     Heart rate 60-90 beats/minute
     Respiration 12-20 breaths/minute

    Learn about normal sheep behavior=>


Last updated 12-Dec-2009
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