Sheep Facts: More To Ovis Aries Than Meets The Eye 

From globe-trotting origins to really interesting eye structure, these fascinating sheep facts show there's plenty to learn about the barnyard staple.

by Jana Wilson
PHOTO: Armands Brants/Unsplash

I’ve had sheep now for four years, and I am constantly learning new things from either reading about sheep or just watching my own livestock. 

Lambing, of course, is fascinating … even when it doesn’t always go according to how you’ve planned it. But there are a lot of other interesting things I have learned that you may be interested in. You can learn a lot about sheep from just observing your own flock and watching the individual interactions in your pasture.  

Still, here are some interesting facts about the sheep on your farm: 

Look Ewe in the Eyes

I’ve often noticed that sheep have rectangular pupils. According to a blog from Hadlow College in Kent, UK, a sheep’s rectangular pupil allows them to have a 270 to 320 degree field of vision. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. 

Sheep are pretty, and they always need to be watching for predators. They can see all the way around except directly behind them–which is useful for us if you need to get up close to a sheep. 

Wild & Wooly

I also learned that wool sheep never stop growing wool. (This is why they must be sheared once or twice a year.)

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I also learned that 1 pound of wool equals 10 miles of yarn. Depending on the breed, you can get between 2 and 30 pounds of wool a year. That’s a lot of knitting! 

Read more: Learn the fundamentals of fiber animals.

Back Trouble

If you see a sheep lying on its back … help it up or get someone to help you. The sheep is probably pregnant, overweight or possibly has too much wool to get back up on its own.

A sheep in this position is called a “cast sheep” Check out this video of a sheep being helped to get up when it was “cast.” 

Ancient Animals

Sheep were among the first of all animals to be domesticated somewhere between 11,000 and 9,000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia. They were originally used for milk and meat. Around 6,000 B.C., humans started developing the wool sheep to add to their usefulness.

Interestingly, ancient Egyptians thought sheep were sacred, some sheep were even mummified at their death.


When Columbus sailed the ocean blue for the second time, in 1493, he brought sheep to Cuba. And later, (in the early 1500s) Cortes introduced descendants of those sheep to Mexico and western America.

Historians believe that the uniquely American sheep breed, the Navajo Churro, comes from these lines. 

Underrated Intelligence

I know many people think sheep are not very smart … but I disagree. They probably are labeled that way because they are flock animals and do not act independently.

But sheep are far from stupid. And now a Cambridge University study shows that sheep have similar face recognition abilities to primates like monkeys, apes … and even humans, 

So there you have some fascinating facts about the complex and fascinating world of the Ovis aries (sheep). Next time you walk out to feed your flock, take a new look at this interesting animal in your own barnyard.

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