Sheep entered the African continent not long after their domestication in western Asia. A minority of historians once posited a contentious African theory of origin for Ovis aries. This theory is based primarily on rock art interpretations, and osteological evidence from Barbary sheep. The first sheep entered North Africa via Sinai, and were present in ancient Egyptian society between eight and seven thousand years ago. Sheep have always been part of subsistence farming in Africa, but today the only country that keeps an influential number of commercial sheep is South Africa. South African sheep producers, in an attempt to deal with the numerous predators of Africa, invented the livestock protection collar, which holds poison at the jugular to sicken or kill predators.
Excavations show that In about 6000 B.C., during the Neolithic period of prehistory, the Castelnovien people, living around Chateauneuf-les-Martigues near present-day Marseille in the south of France, were among the first in Europe to domesticate wild sheep..
Sheep husbandry spread quickly in Europe. Practically from its inception, ancient Greek civilization relied on sheep as primary livestock, and were even said to name individual animals. Scandinavian sheep of a type seen today — with short tails and multi-colored fleece — were also present early on. Later, the Roman Empire kept sheep on a wide scale, and the Romans were an important agent in the spread of sheep raising throughout the continent. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History (Naturalis Historia), speaks at length about sheep and wool. Declaring "Many thanks, too, do we owe to the sheep, both for appeasing the gods, and for giving us the use of its fleece.", he goes on to detail the breeds of ancient sheep and the many colors, lengths and qualities of wool. Romans also pioneered the practice of blanketing sheep, in which a fitted coat (today usually of nylon) is placed over the sheep to improve the cleanliness and luster of its wool.
During the Roman occupation of the British Isles, a large wool processing factory was established in Winchester, England in about 50 AD. By 1000 AD, England and Spain were recognized as the twin centers of sheep production in the Western world. As the original breeders of the fine-wooled merino sheep that have historically dominated the wool trade, the Spanish gained great wealth. Wool money largely financed Spanish rulers and thus the voyages to the New World by conquistadors. The powerful Mesta (its full title was Honrado Concejo de la Mesta, the Honorable Council of the Mesta) was a corporation of sheep owners mostly drawn from Spain's wealthy merchants, Catholic clergy and nobility that controlled the merino flocks. By the 17th century, the Mesta held in upwards of two million head of merino sheep.
Mesta flocks followed a seasonal pattern of transhumance across Spain. In the spring, they left the winter pastures (invernaderos) in Extremadura and Andalusia to graze on their summer pastures (agostaderos) in Castile, returning again in the autumn. Spanish rulers eager to increase wool profits gave extensive legal rights to the Mesta, often to the detriment of local peasantry. The huge merino flocks had a lawful right of way for their migratory routes (cañadas). Towns and villages were obliged by law to let the flocks graze on their common land, and the Mesta had its own sheriffs that could summon offending individuals to its own tribunals.
Exportation of merinos without royal permission was also a punishable offense, thus ensuring a near-absolute monopoly on the breed until the mid-18th century. After the breaking of the export ban, fine wool sheep began to be distributed worldwide. The export to Rambouillet by Louis XVI in 1786 formed the basis for the modern Rambouillet (or French Merino) breed. After the Napoleonic Wars and the global distribution of the once-exclusive Spanish stocks of Merinos, sheep raising in Spain reverted to hardy coarse-wooled breeds such as the Churra, and was no longer of international economic significance.
The sheep industry in Spain was an instance of migratory flock management, with large homogenous flocks ranging over the entire nation. The management model used in England was quite different but had a similar importance to economy of the British Empire. Up until the early 20th century, owling (the smuggling of sheep or wool out of the country) was a punishable offense, and to this day the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords sits on a cushion known as the Woolsack.
The high concentration and more sedentary nature of shepherding in the UK allowed sheep especially adapted to their particular purpose and region to be raised, thereby giving rise to an exceptional variety of breeds in relation to the land mass of the country. This greater variety of breeds also produced a valuable variety of products to compete with the superfine wool of Spanish sheep. By the time of Elizabeth I's rule, sheep and wool trade was the primary source of tax revenue to the Crown of England and the country was a major influence in the development and spread of sheep husbandry.
An important event not only in the history of domestic sheep, but of all livestock, was the work of Robert Bakewell in the 1700s. Before his time, breeding for desirable traits was often based on chance, with no scientific process for selection of breeding stock. Bakewell established the principles of selective breeding—especially line breeding—in his work with sheep, horses and cattle; his work later influenced Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin. His most important contribution to sheep was the development of the Leicester Longwool, a quick-maturing breed of blocky conformation that formed the basis for many vital modern breeds. Today, the sheep industry in the UK has diminished significantly, though pedigreed rams can still fetch around 100,000 Pounds sterling at auction.
In the Americas
No ovine species native to the Americas has ever been domesticated, despite being closer genetically to domestic sheep than many Asian and European species. The first domestic sheep in North America—most likely of the Churra breed—arrived with Christopher Columbus' second voyage in 1493. The next transatlantic shipment to arrive was with Hernán Cortés in 1519, landing in Mexico. No export of wool or animals is known to have occurred from these populations, but flocks did disseminate throughout what is now Mexico and the Southwest United States with Spanish colonists. Churras were also introduced to the Navajo tribe of Native Americans, and became a key part of their livelihood and culture. The modern presence of the Navajo-Churro breed is a result of this heritage.
The next transport of sheep to North America was not until 1607, with the voyage of the HMS Susan Conant to Virginia. However, the sheep that arrived in that year were all slaughtered because of a famine, and a permanent flock was not to reach the colony until two years later in 1609. In two decades time, the colonists had expanded their flock to a total of 400 head. By the 1640s there were about 100,000 head of sheep in the 13 colonies, and in 1662, a woolen mill was built in Watertown, Massachusetts. Especially during the periods of political unrest and civil war in Britain spanning the 1640s and 50s which disrupted maritime trade, the colonists found it pressing to produce wool for clothing. Many islands off the coast were cleared of predators and set aside for sheep: Nantucket, Long Island, Martha's Vineyard and small islands in Boston Harbor were notable examples. There remain some rare breeds of American sheep—such as the Hog Island sheep—that were the result of island flocks. Placing semi-feral sheep and goats on islands was common practice in colonization during this period. Early on, the British government banned further export of sheep to the Americas, or wool from it, in an attempt to stifle any threat to the wool trade in the British Isles. One of many restrictive trade measures that precipitated the American Revolution, the sheep industry in the Northeast grew despite the bans.
Gradually, beginning in the 1800s, sheep production in the U.S. moved westward. Today, the vast majority of flocks reside on Western range lands. During this westward migration of the industry, competition between sheep (sometime called "range maggots") and cattle operations grew more heated, eventually erupting into range wars. Other than simple competition for grazing and water rights, cattlemen believed that the secretions of the foot glands of sheep made cattle unwilling to graze on places where sheep had stepped. As sheep production centered on the U.S. western ranges, it became associated with other parts of Western culture, such as the rodeo. In modern America, a minor event in rodeos is mutton busting, in which children compete to see who can stay atop a sheep the longest before falling off. Another effect of the westward movement of sheep flocks in North America was the decline of wild species such as Bighorn sheep (O. canadesis). Most diseases of domestic sheep are transmittable to wild ovines, and such diseases, along with overgrazing and habitat loss, are named as primary factors in the plummeting numbers of wild sheep. Sheep production peaked in North America during 1940s and 50s at more than 55 million head. Henceforth and continuing today, the number of sheep in North America has steadily declined with wool prices and the lessening American demand for sheep meat.
In South America, especially in Patagonia, there is an active modern sheep industry. Sheep keeping was largely introduced through immigration to the continent by Spanish and British peoples, for whom sheep were a major industry during the period. South America has a large number of sheep, but the highest-producing nation (Brazil) kept only just over 15 million head in 2004, far fewer than most centers of sheep husbandry. The primary challenges to the sheep industry in South America are the phenomenal drop in wool prices in the late 20th century and the loss of habitat through logging and overgrazing. The most influential region internationally is that of Patagonia, which has been the first to rebound from the fall in wool prices. With few predators and almost no grazing competition (the only large native grazing mammal is the guanaco), the region is prime land for sheep raising. The most exceptional area of production is surrounding the La Plata river in the Pampas region. Sheep production in Patagonia peaked in 1952 at more than 21 million head, but has steadily fallen to fewer than ten today. Most operations focus on wool production for export from Merino and Corriedale sheep; the economic sustainability of wool flocks has fallen with the drop in prices, while the cattle industry continues to grow.
In Australia and New Zealand
Main articles: Agriculture in Australia and Agriculture in New Zealand
Further information: 1891 Australian shearers' strike
Australia and New Zealand are crucial players in the contemporary sheep industry, and sheep are an iconic part of both countries' culture and economy. New Zealand has the highest density of sheep per capita (sheep outnumber the human population 12 to 1), and Australia is the world's indisputably largest exporter of sheep and cattle. In 2007, New Zealand even declared 15 February their official National Lamb Day to celebrate the country's history of sheep production.
The First Fleet brought the initial population of 70 sheep from the Cape of Good Hope to Australia in 1788. The next shipment was of 30 sheep from Calcutta and Ireland in 1793. All of the early sheep brought to Australia were exclusively used for the dietary needs of the penal colonies. The beginnings of the Australian wool industry were due to the efforts of Captain John Macarthur. At Macarthur's urging 16 Spanish merinos were imported in 1797, effectively beginning the Australian sheep industry. By 1801 Macarthur had 1,000 head of sheep, and in 1803 he exported 111 kilograms (245 lb) of wool to England. Today, Macarthur is generally thought of as the father of the Australian sheep industry.
The growth of the sheep industry in Australia was explosive. In 1820, the continent held 100,000 sheep, a decade later it had one million. By 1840, New South Wales alone kept 4 million sheep; flock numbers grew to 13 million in a decade. While much of the growth in both nations was due to the active support of Britain in its desire for wool, both worked independently to develop new high-production breeds: the Corriedale, Coolalee, Coopworth, Perendale, Polwarth, Booroola Merino, Peppin Merino, and Poll Merino were all created in New Zealand or Australia. Wool production was a fitting industry for colonies far from their home nations. Before the advent of fast air and maritime shipping, wool was one of the few viable products that was not subject to spoiling on the long passage back to British ports. The abundant new land and milder winter weather of the region also aided the growth of the Australian and New Zealand sheep industries.
Flocks in Australia have always been largely range bands on fenced land, and are aimed at production of medium to superfine wool for clothing and other products as well as meat. New Zealand flocks are kept in a fashion similar to English ones, in fenced holdings without shepherds. Although wool was once the primary income source for New Zealand sheep owners (especially during the New Zealand wool boom), today it has shifted to meat production for export.
Animal welfare concerns
The Australian sheep industry is the only sector of the industry to receive international criticism for its practices. Sheep stations in Australia are cited in Animal Liberation, the seminal book of the animal rights movement, as the author's primary evidence in his argument against retaining sheep as a part of animal agriculture. The practice of mulesing, in which skin is cut away from an animal's perineal area to prevent cases of the fatal condition flystrike, has been condemned by PETA as being painful and unnecessary. In response, a program of phasing out mulesing is currently being implemented, and some mulesing operations are being carried out with the use of anaesthetic. The Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture Code of recommendations and minimum standards for the welfare of Sheep, considers mulesing a "special technique" which is performed on some Merino sheep at a small number of farms in New Zealand.
Most of the sheep meat exported from Australia is either frozen carcases to the UK or is live export to the Middle East. Shipped on livestock carriers in what has been called crowded, unsafe conditions by critics, live sheep are desired by Middle Eastern nations to meet the requirements of ritual halal slaughter. Opponents of the export—such as PETA—say that sheep exported to countries outside the jurisdiction of Australia's animal cruelty laws are treated with horrendous brutality and that halal facilities exist in Australia to make export of live animals redundant. A few celebrities and companies have pledged to boycott all Australian sheep products in protest.
Main article: Agricultural economics
Global sheep stocks
New Zealand 34.1
United Kingdom 33.1
World Total 1,078.2
UN Food & Agriculture Organisation
Sheep are an important part of the global agricultural economy. However, their once-vital status has been largely replaced by other livestock species, especially the pig, chicken, and cow. China, Australia, India, and Iran have the largest modern flocks, and serve both local and exportation needs for wool and mutton. Other countries such as New Zealand have smaller flocks but retain a large international economic impact due to their export of sheep products. Sheep also play a major role in many local economies, which may be niche markets focused on organic or sustainable agriculture and local food customers. Especially in developing countries, such flocks may be a part of subsistence agriculture rather than a system of trade. Sheep themselves may be a medium of trade in barter economies.
Domestic sheep provide a wide array of raw materials. Wool was one of the first textiles, although in the late 20th century wool prices began to fall dramatically as the result of the popularity and cheap prices for synthetic fabrics. For many sheep owners, the cost of shearing is greater than the possible profit from the fleece, making subsisting on wool production alone practically impossible without farm subsidies. Fleeces are used as material in making alternative products such as wool insulation. In the 21st century, the sale of meat is the most profitable enterprise in the sheep industry, even though far less sheep meat is consumed than chicken, pork or beef.
Sheepskin is likewise used for making clothes, footwear, rugs, and other products. Byproducts from the slaughter of sheep are also of value: sheep tallow can be used in candle and soap making, sheep bone and cartilage has been used to furnish carved items such as dice and buttons as well as rendered glue and gelatin. Sheep intestine can be formed into sausage casings, and lamb intestine has been formed into surgical sutures, as well as strings for musical instruments and tennis rackets. Sheep droppings, which are high in cellulose, have even been sterilized and mixed with traditional pulp materials to make paper. Of all sheep byproducts, perhaps the most valuable is lanolin: the water-proof, fatty substance found naturally in sheep's wool and used as a base for innumerable cosmetics and other products.
Some farmers who keep sheep also make a profit from live sheep. Providing lambs for youth programs such as 4-H and competition at agricultural shows is often a dependable avenue for the sale of sheep. Farmers may also choose to focus on a particular breed of sheep in order to sell registered purebred animals, as well as provide a ram rental service for breeding. The most valuable sheep ever sold to date was a purebred Texel ram that fetched £231,000 at auction. The previous record holder was a Merino ram sold for £205,000 in 1989. A new option for deriving profit from live sheep is the rental of flocks for grazing; these "mowing services" are hired in order to keep unwanted vegetation down in public spaces and to lessen fire hazard.
Despite the falling demand and price for sheep products in many markets, sheep have distinct economic advantages when compared with other livestock. They do not require the expensive housing, such as that used in the intensive farming of chickens or pigs. They are an efficient use of land; roughly six sheep can be kept on the amount that would suffice for a single cow or horse. Sheep can also consume plants, such as noxious weeds, that most other animals will not touch, and produce more young at a faster rate. Also, in contrast to most livestock species, the cost of raising sheep is not necessarily tied to the price of feed crops such as grain, soybeans and corn. Combined with the lower cost of quality sheep, all these factors combine to equal a lower overhead for sheep producers, thus entailing a higher profitability potential for the small farmer. Sheep are especially beneficial for independent producers, including family farms with limited resources, as the sheep industry is one of the few types of animal agriculture that has not been vertically integrated by agribusiness.
Sheep have had a strong presence in many cultures, especially in areas where they form the most common type of livestock. In the English language, to call someone a sheep or ovine may allude that they are timid and easily led, if not outright stupid. In contradiction to this image, male sheep are often used as symbols of virility and power, such as for the St. Louis Rams and the Dodge Ram. Sheep are key symbols in fables and nursery rhymes like The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, Little Bo Peep, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Novels such as George Orwell's Animal Farm, Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase, Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd and Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story utilize sheep as characters or plot devices. Poems like William Blake's "The Lamb", songs such as Pink Floyd's Sheep and Bach's aria Sheep may safely graze (Schafe können sicher weiden) use sheep for metaphorical purposes. In more recent popular culture, the 2007 film Black Sheep exploits sheep for horror and comedic effect, ironically turning them into blood-thirsty killers.
Counting sheep is popularly said to be an aid to sleep, and some ancient systems of counting sheep persist today. Sheep also enter in colloquial sayings and idiom frequently with such phrases as "black sheep". To call an individual a black sheep implies that they are an odd or disreputable member of a group. This usage derives from the recessive trait that causes an occasional black lamb to be born in to an entirely white flock. These black sheep were considered undesirable by shepherds, as black wool is not as commercially viable as white wool. Citizens who accept overbearing governments have been referred to by the Portmanteau neologism of sheeple. Somewhat differently, the adjective "sheepish" is also used to describe embarrassment.
In religion and folklore
In antiquity, symbolism involving sheep cropped up in religions in the ancient Near East, the Mideast, and the Mediterranean area: Çatalhöyük, ancient Egyptian religion, the Cana'anite and Phoenician tradition, Judaism, Greek religion, and others. Religious symbolism and ritual involving sheep began with some of the first known faiths: skulls of rams (along with bulls) occupied central placement in shrines at the Çatalhöyük settlement in 8,000 BCE. In Ancient Egyptian religion, the ram was the symbol of several gods: Khnum, Heryshaf and Amun (in his incarnation as a god of fertility). Other deities occasionally shown with ram features include: the goddess Ishtar, the Phoenician god Baal-Hamon, and the Babylonian god Ea-Oannes. In Madagascar, sheep were not eaten as they were believed to be incarnations of the souls of ancestors.
There are also many ancient Greek references to sheep: that of Chrysomallos, the golden-fleeced ram, continuing to be told through into the modern era. Astrologically, Aries, the ram, is the first sign of the classical Greek zodiac and the sheep is also the eighth of the twelve animals associated with the 12-year cycle of in the Chinese zodiac, related to the Chinese calendar. In Mongolia, shagai are an ancient form of dice made from the cuboid bones of sheep that are often used for fortunetelling purposes.
Sheep play an important role in all the Abrahamic faiths; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David and the Islamic prophet Muhammad were all shepherds. According to the Biblical story of the Binding of Isaac, a ram is sacrificed as a substitute for Isaac after an angel stays Abraham's hand (in the Islamic tradition, Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael). Eid al-Adha is a major annual festival in Islam in which sheep (or other animals) are sacrificed in remembrance of this act. Sheep are also occasionally sacrificed to commemorate important secular events in Islamic cultures. Greeks and Romans also sacrificed sheep regularly in religious practice, and Judaism also once sacrificed sheep as a Korban (sacrifice), such as the Passover lamb . Ovine symbols—such as the ceremonial blowing of a shofar—still find a presence in modern Judaic traditions. Followers of Christianity are collectively often referred to as a flock, with Christ as the Good Shepherd, and sheep are an element in the Christian iconography of the birth of Jesus. Some Christian saints are considered patrons of shepherds, and even of sheep themselves. Christ is also portrayed as the Sacrificial lamb of God (Agnus Dei) and Easter celebrations in Greece and Romania traditionally feature a meal of Paschal lamb.
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Da Wikipedia, l'enciclopedia libera.
La pecora (Ovis aries, Linnaeus 1758) è un mammifero, della famiglia dei bovidi, genere Ovis.
Si tratta di un animale addomesticato in epoca antichissima, diffuso attualmente in ogni continente. Vive principalmente in greggi, per gestire i quali l'uomo si affida spesso a cani pastore.
Il nome pecora (lat. pecorino "bestiame di piccolo taglio" passato poi ad identificare un singolo animale) è riservato all'adulto femmina, il maschio della specie si chiama ariete o montone, mentre il piccolo è denominato agnello o pecorino fino ad un anno di età.
L'età di una pecora si stabilisce dai denti, collocati solo lungo l'arcata inferiore (l'arcata superiore è costituita da una formazione ossea continua). Gli agnelli, alla nascita, hanno otto denti da latte provvisori. Ad un anno i due incisivi frontali sono sostituiti da quelli permanenti; all'età di due anni si aggiungono altri due incisivi permanenti e fra i 3-4 anni si completa la dentizione permanente per arrivare intorno al quarto anno d'età agli otto incisivi definitivi (detta pecora zoppa).
La pecora, a causa del suo bizzarro sviluppo encefalico, è di carattere molto timido ma, al contrario di quanto si possa pensare, è molto intelligente e dotata di molta memoria e facilità di apprendimento. Generalmente il vello delle pecore è marcatamente folto e fitto, estremamente riscaldante e di rapida crescita; è solitamente di colore bianco, biancastro, bianco sporco, talvolta anche nocciola. Spesso nei neonati e nei piccoli agnelli, il pelo, non ancora lanoso, può essere transitoriamente molto scuro, quasi nero.
* 1 Dimensioni
* 2 I prodotti
* 3 Links
* 4 Altri progetti
In media, una pecora adulta è lunga tra gli 85 e i 125 cm e pesa tra i 21 e i 32 kg. Appena nata, la pecora non supera i 1000 g di peso ed è lunga circa 20 cm. Le misure sono comunque approssimative, perché la sovente quantità ingente di lana rende difficoltosi questi test fisici. Le misure sono invece molto più chiare se l' animale è stato sottoposto alla tosatura. In linea di massima, la pecora raggiunge la massima lunghezza ad un terzo circa della sua età (può vivere anche 16-19 anni), poco dopo essere maturata sessualmente, e quindi ingrassata, e giunge al peso massimo a 10-12 anni di vita, quando invecchia rapidamente e sfiora i 35-42 kg.
I prodotti [modifica]
La pecora viene allevata per il latte, per la carne e per la lana.
La lana, il pelo della pecora, è utilizzata fin dall'antichità come fibra tessile, il suo vello, che viene tosato ogni anno all'inizio dell'estate, fornisce lana di qualità differente a seconda della razza dell'animale e della parte del corpo da cui proviene. Sicuramente, le più pregiate sono la merinos (presente in Spagna, che primeggia per il vello particolarmente lungo e per la sua rarità), la Disheley Leicester (a lana lunga e molto soffice) e le Lincoln e Doron (rare e a lana corta). La lana viene accuratamente filata e lavorata con metodi piuttosto complessi, per venire poi utilizzata per fabbricare indumenti caldi, cuscini e materassi.
Il latte come bevanda è molto meno diffuso di quello di bovino, ma è largamente impiegato nell'industria casearia per la produzione di formaggio pecorino e ricotta. In particolare, il latte di pecora è più ricco in grassi e i suoi prodotti presentano un aroma spiccato molto apprezzato.
Gli agnelli vengono allevati principalmente per la carne, solo una parte viene infatti allevata per essere destinata alla riproduzione. È tradizione diffusa in molte zone d'Italia mangiare carne d'agnello nel giorno di Pasqua, l'agnello è del resto l'animale sacrificale per eccellenza nelle culture che si affacciano sul bacino del Mediterraneo. La carne di pecora ha un sapore caratteristico, gradevole, soprattutto se l' agnello è molto giovane e di media costituzione.
In molte zone dell'Italia centrale l'agnello da latte, cioè con poco più di un mese di vita, da molti preferito per la carne tenera, è chiamato abbacchio. L' industria legata a questi animali occupa un ruolo primario in Sardegna, ma è rilevante anche in Abruzzo, Molise, Lazio, Sicilia, Toscana, Campania, Basilicata, Marche e Calabria. Nel mondo, l' allevamento delle pecore è molto famoso in Australia (dove l' importazione della qualità merinos ha stravolto in meglio il commercio dei prodotti degli ovini), in Nuova Zelanda (che ha importato moltissime specie americane), in Argentina (con però un commercio indirizzato quasi solo in Europa) e in Sudafrica (con il commercio della carne delle specie locali).