Fundamental Sheep Biology Information

Raising sheep is a fun and rewarding way of life, and it can also be quite lucrative. If you are interested in obtaining rams and dams for sheep breeding, it is important that you learn all aspects of sheep farming. This includes procurement, breeding, insemination, lambing, nutrition, feeding, and much more. All of this educational obligation can be a little overwhelming at first, so starting with basic sheep biology is a good way to go. Continue reading to learn about sheep taxonomy, domestication, life expectancy, vital signs, and more.

Sheep Classification

Sheep are classified as their own species of livestock; however, they are most similar to goats in terms of origin, structure, and more. Aside from being closely related to goats, sheep retain the following taxonomy:

Kingdom = Animalia

Phylum = Chordata

Sub-Phylum = Vertibrata

Class = Mammalia

Order = Ungulata

Sub-Order = Artiodactyla

Family = Bovidae

Sub-Family = Caprinae

Genus = Ovis

Species = Aries


Like dogs and cats, sheep too can be domesticated, but for agricultural purposes and not companionship. In fact, sheep were one of the earliest animals to be domesticated for agricultural purposes, which began over 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic and Mesolithic eras.

Life Expectancy

If cared for properly and never subjected to predators in the wild, sheep can live a very long time. On average, sheep life expectancy ranges between 10 and 12 years. This is similar to the average life expectancy of large breed canines. The oldest sheep to date is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was a Merino sheep that lived to be 23 years old. Interestingly, cows live longer than sheep!

Productivity Expectancy

As for productivity (lambing, wool, milk, etc.), sheep have a sooner expiration date. Sheep usually begin to decline in productivity after 6 or 7 years. This is when they are usually removed from flocks. Younger sheep and lambs are genetically superior to older sheep. You can determine the age of a sheep by checking their incisor teeth. Their teeth placement and growth changes distinctively with each age cycle.

Vital Signs

Sheep vital signs are how breeders can measure their biological and physiological statistics. This helps determine the condition of health and whether or not the sheep is experiencing distress. The common vital signs used to do this include body temperature, heart rate, and respiration. Average body temperatures are between 102-103 degrees Fahrenheit, average heart rates are between 60 and 90 beats per minute, and average respiration readings are between 12 to 20 breaths per minute. If the vitals are within these averages, sheep are healthy.