What’s on : Lectures

A Sheep is a Sheep is a Sheep…. Or is it?

27 Mar 2018
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Prof Agnes Winter

Event Information

A Sheep is a Sheep is a Sheep…. Or is it?

Sheep (and goats) were, after dogs, the next species to be domesticated by humans so have a long history of interaction with people. In this country sheep made the landscape, their wool brought great wealth in the Middle Ages and their meat fed the growing population during the Industrial Revolution. Today in the UK there are over 60 native breeds, which were mainly developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, together with a variety of imported breeds. All have different characteristics and fit in some way into the varying aspects of sheep keeping. Meat production dominates with about 16 million breeding ewes, consisting of pure breeds and various crosses, producing about the same number of lambs annually. Financially, wool production currently contributes little or even negatively to most sheep keeping enterprises.

Professor Agnes Winter, formerly head of the Clinical Department at the University of Liverpool Veterinary School, is a veterinary surgeon who has specialised in sheep health and disease. She will give an overview of the importance of sheep, breed development, the differing physical characteristics of the various breeds, and the structure of sheep farming in the UK and will touch briefly on a few health issues of general interest.

Member’s report

Sheep are thought to have first been domesticated in SW Asia some 10,000 years ago before spreading into Europe. From three primitive types we now have as many as 90 breeds in this country, including over 60 native ones. Although at a distance “all sheep look the same”, we heard of the many variations in size, weight, colour, fleece and horns, according to how they were crossed and the nature of their local environment. We learned things many of us hadn’t known: that sheep are mentioned over 500 times in the Bible, that their tails always hang down whilst goats’ tails point up, and that they suffer like us in old age from arthritis and tooth loss. We were also reminded that, for all the huge wealth this country derived from wool in the Middle Ages, meat production is what drives sheep farming now: a fleece may be more valuable for lanolin than for the wool itself.

Bob Hale