Isn’t taking wool from a sheep a good thing? I thought they were kind of like dogs.. they need to be groomed then we use the wool.

Any animal with hair, fur, wool, etc., benefits from grooming – including humans1.

There are primarily two kinds of sheep, one hair (kemp) and one which produces a woolly undercoat in winter. Hair sheep have been domesticated primarily for milk and secondarily for meat. Wool sheep were domesticated for primarily for wool production, and secondarily milk and meat. There are still wild sheep of both hair and wool varieties. The wild wool sheep and some domesticated primitive wool sheep still shed their woolly undercoat in spring2,3, but the majority of domesticated wool sheep need to be sheared annually as the shedding genes have been bred out.

The majority of domesticated sheep are now kept for meat and milk, and have poor quality fleeces which are often unfit for any use – though some can be used as a natural home insulation. It costs the farmer to have such sheep sheared, and the farmer then has disposal costs. As a result there’s a trend towards breeding natural shedding back into some breeds, such as the Wiltshire Horn:

So yes, whether natural shedders like the Soay, or shearing sheep like Merino, sheep need to get rid of their winter undercoat, and we would use the cast-off or sheared fleece either way. Wool is strong, insulating, water-repellent, breathable, anti-microbial, hypoallergenic, non-flammable, renewable, and (if you buy locally) low carbon-footprint4,5, unlike synthetic substitutes. Its processing is non-polluting and very easy on the environment (sheep graze otherwise unusable land, and improve it), compared with many plant-based substitutes[6]. Accept no substitutes!


[1] What does it feel like for a sheep after it gets sheared?

[2] How do sheep get rid of their wool naturally?

[3] Do wild sheep exist anymore?

[4] Characteristics of Wool Fabrics | Properties of Wool Fabrics

[5] 7 Properties of Wool That Might Surprise You

[6] 7 Eco-Friendly Fabrics That Will Green Your Wardrobe

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Why are animals of the cooler region able to produce wool?

Some, not all, animals (including some birds) in cooler regions have a seasonal requirement for a warm undercoat. In warmer weather, that undercoat is usually shed or moulted: you will notice your pet cat or dog doing so in spring.

In domesticated (but not wild) sheep, the shedding function has been eliminated wholly or partially by selective breeding.

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What are the potential problems with having a sheep as a pet in a home with a fenced backyard?

As others have mentioned, keeping “a” sheep is unkind to the sheep. They need companionship.

The second issue is the backyard. To me, a backyard is asphalt, concrete, brick, flagstones, something like that. Not a field or lawn:

This would be like keeping a sheep in a shed all the time. That means carrying fodder and water to the sheep, and shovelling its manure away – probably through the house. This is acceptable in particularly bad winters for lowland, warm-climate sheep, but many breeds are perfectly adapted to outdoor living all year round. Keeping them “indoors” is cruel.

The type of field a sheep lives in is important. They are not naturally grass-eaters. They prefer ‘forbs’, that is flowering plants – what would be considered weeds in grassland. They’re very useful for clearing grass of forbs, and will only eat grass when the forbs are gone. Smart farmers round my way put sheep in their meadows in the spring to eat the forbs, moving them on before the grass comes in for silage- and hay-making. If your backyard is a grass lawn, consider seeding it with clover and other meadow weeds before investing in sheep.

Contrary to popular opinion, sheep are lively and curious creatures. They enjoy exploring their environment, and can be quite athletic. This means they should have a varied environment in which to live: objects to climb and jump on or off, baskets of hay suspended from trees, scratching posts, hidey-holes, etc. They should also have access to free running water, and a shed: not necessarily anything too elaborate, just somewhere they can retreat to in the heat of the day, or heavy rain or snow. It doesn’t even need to have four walls or a shuttable door, as their combined body heat should keep them adequately warm.

They also require a degree of veterinary care. Worming, drenches, hoof inspection, etc. This may mean you need a ‘crush’, a narrow passage that the sheep cannot turn round in, where treatments and inspections can be conducted. Some farmers build their own semi-permanent structures, some hire them.

Home-made crush, using gates.

Mobile crush-for-hire.

And unless you take on a primitive breed, you’ll need to shear them! Many government agricultural departments offer shearing courses for those interested – and courses in animal care generally, which are well worth looking into. Alternatively, you can contact a local sheep farmer who may be prepared to shear your sheep with their own for a fee, or they could put you in touch with a shearer.

Originally appeared on Quora.

Do wild sheep exist anymore?

Oh yes.

The St Kilda archipelago was evacuated in 1930, leaving two varieties of primitive sheep behind. A small Neolithic breed on Soay island, and an Iron Age type on the island of Boreray, they became feral in the absence of humans, and have only recently been re-introduced as domestic sheep out of concern for their rarity. Both are extremely low-maintenance: the naturally shed their fleece, lamb easily, and are immune (or at least not prone) to many of the common diseases of domestic sheep, such as foot rot and flystrike. They are becoming very popular with small-holders and people looking for cheap lawnmowers.

Boreray ram, standing approximately 55cm, with the usual pale cream fleece (other colours are rare). Originally raised for mutton and wool, its fleece is in demand from fibre crafters despite often being rather coarse.

From Pinterest: Soay sheep in the dark brown, light brown, and blonde colours. Black is also common, white is rare, and some piebalds occur too. They can reach 60cm at the shoulder. The fleece is very soft, but quite short.

On another Scottish island, North Ronaldsay in the Orkneys, lives another feral sheep from the Iron Age: the seaweed eating North Ronaldsay. I’m told the meat is orgasmically delicious, because of this diet, but have not the funds to investigate. They have probably the biggest range of natural colours, from a pure white, creamy yellow, light and dark shades of grey and brown, black,

From Country Life. If my Photoshop skills were any good (and I could afford Photoshop), I’d change the seaweed to intestines and use this pic for the cover of my book about zombie sheep of the apocalypse…

and, unusually, a red (right):

At Carlinskerry B&B, Orkney. North Ronaldsay sheep are only 40cm tall, and OMG THEY’RE SO DINKY I’LL TAKE A DOZEN*!!!

These are the wild sheep I’m most familiar with. There are others, but most are hair sheep so I find them less interesting. These sheep in goats’ clothing include the American Bighorn, the Siberian Snow Sheep, the Argali, the UrialDall sheep, the Mouflon, and their numerous subspecies.

* – When I retire by the sea. They eat very little apart from seaweed.

Originally appeared on Quora.

How much does a sheep cost?

If I wasn’t fussy, I could pick up a pet lamb for free. Locally, too.

After that, it depends on breed, sex, ‘intactness’, age, etc. I’ve seen pedigree Jacobs starting around £150,

and Valais Blacknose over £1,500:

Critically endangered Boreray for as little as £90:

And small flocks of rare Soay (half a dozen sheep including a ram) for under £100 all in:

You may as well ask how long is a piece of wool…

Which is the better pet: a goat or a sheep, and why?


They shouldn’t be pets, and sheep in particular are better served in flocks. Goats too, but I’ve known some goats kept singly or in pairs that don’t suffer.

Personally, I prefer sheep, because, wool. Also, regularly handled, they’re tremendously affectionate, like dogs:

Goats eat and wreck everything and will knock you over as soon as look at you.

Originally appeared on Quora.

What does it feel like for a sheep after it gets sheared?

I suffer terribly with the cold. From September/October to May/June/July, I am bundled up in thick layers of thermal underwear, light under-layer, jumper and corduroy or tweed trousers, two pairs of socks, felted slippers/fur-lined boots, and often a hat, shawl/blanket and glove combo on top. That’s me sitting in front of the fire. There’s more insulation needed to get me out of the house.

However, for a few days between May/June/July and September/October, it is toasty and warm outside. On those days, I skip outside in a single layer of cotton or linen. Barefoot! Bare-headed! I feel so light that I might float away like a dandelion clock, young and giddy. I am occasionally tempted to dance, but I keep that to my back garden for fear of scaring the neighbours and livestock.

Thus it is with our woolly friends. They are denuded of their heavy, uncomfortable winter attire, and frolic sky-clad in the sun:

Shearing is usually conducted in spring. Sometimes, the weather is still a little chilly, so shepherds will house shorn sheep or give them little coats to wear while they adjust:

NB: in case you don’t get it, the lady speaking was being sarcastic about the cruelty of shearing.

Shearing is expensive. An experienced UK shearer can earn around £400 (€450/US$550/AU$730) a day: £50 per hour, shearing 25–30 sheep an hour. That’s a massive outlay for a farmer who may have had next to no regular income since the previous autumn. You don’t waste that money shearing an animal for slaughter. Far better to send the sheep unshorn for slaughter, and possibly have a sheepskin to sell to the tanning industry. I’m not well up on the prices realised by untanned sheepskin, but after processing a sheepskin can command upwards of £100 each.

In the UK, the Wool Marketing Board is the only buyer of fleeces from most herds*. They will pay as little as £0.50 per fleece – a fleece that cost around £2 to shear. There is no incentive to farm for fleece: some have been known to throw it away.

OTOH, there’s no incentive to mistreat animals if you do farm for fleece. An ill-treated animal will be skittish and unmanageable at the next shearing – and will probably recognise a bad shearer again, too.

* – Hobby farms with up to 4 sheep, and some rarebreed protection farms are exempt, as are Shetland farms. Some hobby farmers and rarebreed farmers sell their fleeces to handspinners. Depending on the breed, in the grease prices can be anywhere from £5 to £30 per fleece, while scoured fleece runs from about £10 upwards. Fully prepped tops, ready for spinning, can be anywhere from £4 per 100g to WHAT THE EVER LIVING FUCK!?!?!

(Actually, Hilltop Cloud isn’t that expensive – it’s just where I did my most recent fibre purchase. Try vicuna.)

How do sheep get rid of their wool naturally?

Only some primitive breeds still retain natural wool* shedding.

Some, like the Wiltshire Horn, are primarily milk or meat animals. Their wool is short, kempy (full of hair) and usually of poor quality. The Wiltshire Horn has become more popular recently because their shedding saves farmers a lot of money on shearing and disposing of the wool – yes, it costs money to get rid of wool that’s not useful! Here are some WHs mid-shed:

The rams have glorious horns:

But otherwise I always feel they look like they have a skin disease…

Most of the rest are semi-feral Scottish breeds. There’s Soay, a rare-breed becoming popular as lawnmowers:

They’re tiny sheep, with decent enough fleece for spinning and knitting. Look at the weeness!

And the cootness!

They have mental horns too – any number, any shape.

Whoo thay fock are ye gleekin at, Jimmy?

Then there’s the Boreray:

Well, it’s either a Boreray ram, or the first sighting of a live haggis in the wild. Their wool has been described as a bit kempy, short and coarse, but handspinners I know who’ve worked with it RAVE about it. Some is next-to-the-skin soft, and it can have a pretty good staple of around 6″ or so – hardly short! The Boreray is critically endangered: there may be no more than 300 left in the world.

Some other Scottish breeds still have fleece-shedding genes that pop up in individual sheep, or in partial shedding. These include the rare-breed North Ronaldsay or Orkney (a seaweed forager):

The Shetland, which has probably best fleece for hand-knitting, in a wide range of natural colours:

Yarn spun from their fleece is widely used by Fair Isle knitters, and is one of my personal favourites. My birthday’s in September, gift vouchers are welcome.

Then there’s the Hebridean:

All hail our Dark Lord! These unfairly-disregarded lovelies have one of the densest natural black fleeces in the sheep world, their only competitor being first-shearing Zwartbles. This, of course, means the fleece is useless for dyeing – and many people don’t like to spin or knit with black yarn. I do, though, and it has a good sturdy hand.

Sometimes a shedding sheep will need some help to get rid of their fleece. It’s not necessary to call in a shearer, though: you can just tug the wool off, in a process called ‘rooing’:

* – I’m going to ignore hair-sheep, which shed naturally, because they don’t produce much wool.

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