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Painted Sheep

IMG_7723When traveling with my groups around Ireland, Scotland and Wales I am often asked why the sheep have patches of color painted on their wool.

Most often farmers “paint” their sheep for identification.  When traveling around Ireland you’ll notice wide open fields blanketed in deep green grass and dotted with sheep.  These pastures are usually enclosed by stone walls or wire fences and are shared by multiple farmers.  When it comes time to claim ownership of the animals roaming around hundreds of acres, a customized painted sheep is easy to identify.

Also, during the mating season, a ram will be fitted with a bag of dye around its neck and chest.  When the ram mounts the ewe a bit of dye will be deposited on the ewe’s upper back.  This way, the farmer knows which ewes have been impregnated and moves them on to another field away from the ram.

 

 

 

 


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Ireland Sheep Statics:

The top five counties in terms of sheep numbers are: Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Kerry and Wicklow.  Each of these counties are located in hilly mountainous areas of the country.

Half of Ireland’s sheep flocks have 50 ewes or fewer.  This is quite small compared to international standards. For example, Scotland averages 200 ewes per flock and the world largest exporter, New Zealand, averages 1400.

Ireland only “keeps” 30% of it sheep for human consumption.  The remaining meat is exported mostly to the UK and France.

According to the 2012 Irish livestock census, the island had 3.4 million sheep, 6.2 million cows, and 1.4 million pigs.  With all that bacon showing up on the breakfast table this fact is going to require a little more investigation!

The population of the Republic of Ireland is 4.58 million people.

God intended sheep to mate in the fall and give birth in the spring when the weather would be more favorable for their survival.  Sheep are therefore considered “short day” breeders.  When the days become shorter (in the fall) this activates a hormone in the ewe’s brain that triggers the reproductive system into action.

During their fertile period ewes come into heat every 17 days or until the fertility period is over.  When in heat, the ewe flirts with the ram by wagging her tail, nudging, or cuddling.

When detecting a ewe in heat, a ram’s characteristic response is to lift his head in the air and curl his upper lip.  Then… I suppose he goes for it!

A mature ram can mate with 100 or more ewes during the mating season.

The gestation period is about five months, give or take a week.

Ewes usually give birth (known as lambing) to one to three lambs.

Lambs go to “market” when they are less than 1 year old and their meat is referred to as “lamb”.  Mutton is the meat from lambs that are 1 year or older.

Wool, lanolin, and sheep skins are also products of sheep.

Finally, just to leave a good taste in your mouth… about 1.3% of the world’s cheeses are products of sheep’s milk.  So, the next time you try a piece of Roquefort, Feta, Ricotta, or Pecorino Romano, think about all these sheep stats!!

Want to know more?  I found a lot of this information at http://www.sheep101.info/index.html

 

About the Author

David McGuffin established David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.

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