Sheep, Shetland

Shetland Sheep at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Jamie Pham

Scientific Name: Ovis aries

Each year adult sheep produce between 8 to 18 pounds of fleece, with 35-55% of that being usable. Each different breed of sheep produces a different quality of fleece, and humans use each kind for different things.

More Than Wool

Sheep provide many resources and benefits to humans and to the environment. They act as pest control to invasive plant species that no other animals will eat, provide humans with nourishment through their meat and milk (which can be turned into butter, yoghurt, and cheese), lanolin (which is used in cosmetics, creams, soap and beauty products) and of course wool. There are many facets that go into wool and how it is produced. Not only is wool versatile, but it is also eco-friendly. It is a naturally reoccurring resource as sheep shed and grow their coats every year, it is more flame-retardant then most artificial fabrics, and it is biodegradable. While many countries around the world produce wool, the top five are Australia, China, New Zealand, Russia, and Argentina.

The Shetland sheep is currently unlisted by the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Having lived on the Shetland Islands of Scotland for over 1000 years, Shetland sheep are accustomed to cold, wet, and harsh climates.

Our sheep eat a mix of timothy hay and sheep pellets. Timothy hay, also known as timothy grass, is a common hay used for feeding ungulates (animals with hooves), and sometimes small pets like guinea pigs and rabbits. The sheep at the Zoo also love to eat carrots.

Shetlands are one of the smallest breeds, rams weighing 90-125 pounds, and ewes weighing between 75-100 pounds. They are well known for their colorful wool, and come in many different colors ranging from whites, reds, browns, grays and blacks. Shetland sheep are also known for their distinctive markings. There are 30 known markings, a handful of these are Mirkface; which is used to describe brownish spots and splotches upon the face, Katmoget; dark underside from tail to muzzle, Gulmoget; light underside, and Islet; describing a sheep that, when seen from a distance, appears blue. This happens when a dark colored sheep has numerous white fibers in its fur.

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