Domestic sheep

A flock of sheep (More)
A flock of sheep

The domestic sheep (Ovis aries), the most common species of the sheep genus (Ovis), is a woolly ruminant quadruped which probably descends from the wild mouflon of south-central and south-west Asia. Sheep breeders refer to female sheep as ewes, intact males as rams, castrated males as wethers, yearlings as hoggets, and younger sheep as lambs. In sheep husbandry, a group of sheep is called a flock or mob.


Modern English "sheep" comes from Old English "sceap", ultimately from Common West Germanic "*skæpan", and within the Indo-European languages, unique to West Germanic languages. North and East Germanic languages use word with a different root, and most Indo-European languages use a term related to "ewe" for "sheep".

Cultural significance

Sheep have had associations with many cultures, especially in the Mediterranean area and Britain, where they form the most common type of livestock in pastoralism. Selective breeding of sheep has frequently occurred and in Egyptian Mythology the ram was the symbol of Heryshaf.

A wide symbology relates to sheep in ancient art, traditions and culture. Judaism uses many sheep references including the Passover lamb. Christianity uses sheep-related images, such as: Christ as the good shepherd, or as the sacrificed Lamb of God (Agnus Dei); the bishop's Pastoral; the lion lying down with the lamb. Greek Easter celebrations traditionally feature a meal of Paschal lamb. Sheep also have considerable importance in Arab culture, with Eid ul-Adha being a major festival in Islam when a sheep is sacrificed yearly.

Herding sheep plays an important historico-symbolic part in the Jewish and Christian faiths, since Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and King David all worked as shepherds.

Australian Sheep
Australian Sheep

A Swaledale sheep on a limestone pavement in the Yorkshire Dales, UK.
A Swaledale sheep on a limestone pavement in the Yorkshire Dales, UK.

The ram is the first sign of the Western zodiac, in which it is known as Aries. The sheep (or goat) also forms one of the animals associated with the 12-year cycle of in the Chinese zodiac, related to the Chinese calendar. Chinese tradition associates each animal with certain personality traits.

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