What is a sheep

Sheep farm

How man came to the sheep

In Germany, traveling and sheep farming has lost much of its former importance. The sheep are one of the oldest farm animals in the world. His presence has strongly shaped our landscape through centuries of free-range husbandry.

Even if the wild ancestors of today's sheep have been around for around seven million years, humans did not come to sheep until 9000 BC in Asia Minor. Being resilient, frugal and easily tamed, it was an ideal supplier of meat and natural fertilizer.

In addition, the skin or the fur was used - because at the beginning the sheep did not have classic wool. Even if the domestication of sheep and their import to Europe and Germany have not been clarified beyond doubt, it is now assumed that all domestic sheep are descended from the oriental mouflon.

After the Ice Ages, the first people settled in the eastern Mediterranean and began to keep livestock in their settlements. From there the people and their sheep came to Europe around 6000 BC, and the animals were of central importance as a source of meat.

The first sheep breeds emerged early on through targeted selection and breeding. As early as 3000 BC there were different types, such as hairy, woolly and fat-tailed sheep - depending on their habitat and needs.

Around 2000 BC, five main races were distinguished in Mesopotamia. Over time and through breeding, their appearance has changed significantly.

From meat supplier to wool breeding

In addition to its importance as a cult object, the sheep could at some point render people a service that the equally important livestock such as cattle and pigs were unable to do: the wool sheep brought the raw material for clothing.

While the original, wild sheep still had hair and only developed fine, curly and at the same time warming hair in the winter, which it then lost again in the spring, the tame representatives were provided with a permanent woolen dress through breeding, which has now continued for so long grew until it was sheared by human hands at some point.

From then on, literally no sheep got away with it. Thus wool became the primary textile fiber in Central Europe more than 4,000 years ago, although at that time it was not nearly as fine and dense as in the more modern breeds.

Sheep breeds

There are now countless domestic sheep breeds that have been bred primarily for their use and their ability to adapt to their surroundings. Well over 600 different races can be found almost everywhere in the world. There are more than 50 domestic sheep breeds in Germany alone.

The best known are probably the merino sheep, to which 40 percent belong in Germany. Numerous sheep breeds that used to be widespread in Germany are now threatened with extinction again.

There is also a so-called red list for farm animal breeds, which was published by the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food (BLE). It lists 19 native sheep breeds as endangered and two as not endangered. In order to save these old breeds of livestock from extinction, there are now isolated re-breeding programs.