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The origin of sheep

The history of the domesticated sheep goes back to between 11000 and 9000 BC. Sheep are among the first animals to have been domesticated by humans. Despite their gentle nature and capacity to suffer as any other animal, sheep are not protected by the same laws as are cats and dogs. They are now one of the most used and abused animals in the animal agriculture business with billions being slaughtered annually around the world. 

Sheep terminology

Lambs are aged less than one year and sheep are aged more than one year. Female sheep are called ewes, male sheep who are not desexed are called rams but those who are desexed are called wethers. Sheep are herbivorous ruminants – animals who have 4 stomachs

Sheep vision

Sheep have a wide angle of vision up to 300 degrees. This means that they can see almost everything around them, except for what’s directly behind them, without having to turn their heads. They have excellent distance vision, but relatively weak eye muscles that make it difficult for them to focus quickly on close objects.  

Sheep have a blind spotdirectly below their muzzle and will slow or stop if they see changes on the ground ahead. They are sensitive to sudden movements and to anything that has a high contrast of light and dark. 

The importance of a flock

Sheep are flock animals and naturally live in highly coordinated family or bachelor groups.  When threatened, sheep will form tight groups and move away. Because of their flocking nature, sheep are calmer when they have body contact with other sheep.

Sheep, particularly Merinos, develop relationships and subgroups within a flock. They like to maintain visual contact with each other and readily follow a leader. Sheep move within and between their familiar paddocks on well-defined tracks. They usually have a regular daily program of grazing and resting at set times and locations within their home paddock. Ewes and lambs will become distressed if separated. 

Teeth

In sheep, incisor teeth are present in the bottom jaw, but not the upper jaw. Sheep have a hard fibrous pad on the upper jaw, instead of incisors. The incisors are used for grazing close to the ground. Molar teeth in the upper and lower jaws, toward the back of the mouth, are used for chewing.

Telling the age of a sheep by their teeth

The age of a sheep can be determined by the number of teeth they have. 

8 small teeth – 0 – 12months

2 adult teeth – 1 – 1 ½ years

4 adult teeth – 1 ½  – 2 years

6 adult teeth – 2 – 3 years

8 adult teeth –  2 ½  – 4 years

 

Other sheep facts

Sheep can recognise faces of other sheep and other animals (ie humans and dogs). Sheep have great memories and can recognize up to 50 other sheep faces, and remember them for two years. They can also recognize human faces. Sheep are capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions, just as humans do. 

 

The Sheep  Industry

Meat and Livestock Australia estimated that 21.2 million lambs would be sent to slaughter in Australia in 2019. Despite the industry wanting us to believe in a “humane” slaughter method this is far from the truth. The animals suffer and die a terrible death. For the truth about what happens in a slaughterhouse please visit www.lambchoices.com