Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: sheep from Philip's Encyclopedia

Ruminants of the genus Ovis, and those of the less numerous genera Pseudois and Ammotragus. Domestic sheep, O. aries, are now bred for wool, fur (karakul), and meat. Wild species are found in the mountains of Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. All are of the Family Bovidae.

Summary Article: sheep
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

common name for many species of wild and domesticated ruminant mammals of the genus Ovis of the Bovidae, or cattle, family. The male is called a ram (if castrated it is a wether), the female is called a ewe, and their offspring is a lamb. Wild sheep, found in mountainous parts of Asia, North America, and the Mediterranean region, are agile rock climbers with large, spiraling horns. They do not bear wool. Among those species are the Asian argali, the Barbary sheep, or aoudad, of North Africa, and the North American bighorn, or Rocky Mountain sheep, found from SW Canada to N Mexico.

Sheep were first domesticated c.7,000 years ago, and the first use of their fleeces for wool is dated at c.4000 B.C. Descendants of Roman flocks figured in the evolution of the Merino type in Spain. The present-day breeds of domesticated sheep—which vary greatly because they were developed for different purposes and environments—are all thought to be derived chiefly from the wild mouflon of Sardinia and Corsica and from the urial of Asia. Sheep are bred for their wool, meat (mutton or lamb, according to age), skins, and, in certain parts of Europe and the Middle East, their milk, from which cheese is made. They are found mostly in temperate climates and thrive on roughages. Most sheep mate in the fall, and the lambs, born five months later, are called spring lambs. Among the important breeds are the Columbia, Cotswold, Dorset, Hampshire, Karakul, Leicester, Lincoln, Merino, Oxford, Rambouillet, Shropshire, Southdown, and Suffolk sheep.

Sheep are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Bovidae.

  • See Ensminger, M. E. , Sheep and Wool Science (4th ed. 1970);.
  • May, N. D. , The Anatomy of the Sheep (3d ed. 1970); publications of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Grazing
Green Food: An A-to-Z Guide

These Colorado ranchers have brought a herd of cattle to graze on a healthy pasture (at right) while avoiding the overgrazed land on the...

Full text Article sheep
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A hoofed ruminant mammal belonging to the genus Ovis (7 species), native to mountainous regions of Eurasia and North America. Related to...

Full text Article Sheep
The Encyclopedia of Farm Animal Nutrition

Sheep belong to the order Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates), suborder Ruminantia, family Bovidae, subfamily Caprinae, genus Ovis. There are...

See more from Credo