4-H: All about the sheep

March 25, 2014 

I am Suzanna Gonzalez and I am one of the proud members of the Coarsegold 4-H Sheep Project.The 4-H sheep program is part of the University's Animal Science Project. The program helps you learn about the selection, production, management, marketing and health of sheep. A sheep project is very well adapted to the rural family home with a small plot of land or even to homes with large yards in suburban areas that permit animals. Anyone can raise a sheep.

Sheep come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be separated by their primary purpose such as meat, wool, or milk. They can also be separated by the type of fibers they grow - fine, medium, long, carpet wool, or hair, and by the color of their faces - black, white, red, or mottled.

Sheep like to eat grass, clover, forbs, and other pasture plants. They also love alfalfa, sweet grains, and hay. When grazing in the pasture, they especially love forbs. For those who don't know a forb is a broad-leaf plant other than grass. It is a flowering plant that is very nutritious. At our ranch, we feed our lambs sweet grains, alfalfa, and/or hay.

Are sheep smart? Absolutley. Many people think that sheep are "stupid" animals, but that is not true at all. A study of sheep psychology has found that sheep can remember the faces of more than 50 other sheep for up to two years. They can even recognize a familiar human face. Scientists at the University of Cambridge say, "Sheep form individual friendships with one another, which may last for a few weeks. It is possible they may think about a face even when it's not there." The scientists also found female sheep had a definite opinion about what made a ram's face attractive. Now that's smart.

Sheep can be used for either their meat, their wool, or their milk. Their byproducts are also very useful. The skin of a sheep is used for making clothes, footwear, rugs, and other products. Sheep's tallow can be used in candle and soap making. Sheep's bones and cartilage have been used to furnish carved items such as dice and buttons as well as being made into glue and gelatin. Sheep's intestines 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. Of all sheep byproducts, the most valuable is lanolin. Lanolin is the waterproof, fatty substance found naturally in sheep's wool and is used as a base for lots of cosmetics and other products.

As you can see, sheep are a wonderful breed of animal. They are easy to raise, fun to be around, and they taste delicious too. If you or someone you know might be interested in learning more, or in raising a sheep, please contact our great Sheep Leader, Mrs. Karl Hussey at 559-641-2781. She's always happy to help.

Madera County 4-H Youth Program is a non-profit organization for youth who are 9 years old or who have had completed third grade and up to 19 years of age. All youth and adults in Madera County are invited to participate in the 4-H Program regardless of race, creed, religion, color, national origin, sex, mental or physical handicap.

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