Merino Sheep

[Ovis aeries]

A sheep’s body is covered with wool and needs to be cut at least once a year. Females have no horns, are called “ewes” and weigh from 100 to to 120 pounds. One sheep produces from 14-18 pounds of fleece per season. Males have spiral horns, are called “rams” and weigh from 160 to 180 pounds. The young are called “lambs” and on average weigh about 5 to 8 pounds. Their faces, legs wool are white. Merino sheep see in color, have a “270 degree field of vision” and do not have to turn their head to see behind them. They have excellent hearing and a highly developed sense of smell. There are no teeth in the upper front jaw, but rather lower front teeth that press against an upper palette. The upper lip is split which allows them to select their favorite leaves from a plant. The have hooved hooved feet. Sheep are ruminants with four stomach chambers. Merino Sheep were bred mainly for the wool they produce and are still regarded as having some of the finest and softest wool of any sheep. The Merino breed originated in Southwestern Iberia (Spain), but the modern Merino sheep was domesticated in New Zealand and Australia.

Location: Off Exhibit

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Range
Merino and Merino derived sheep breeds are dispersed worldwide. Numbers vary in each area.
Habitat
Merino sheep particularly like grasslands, tend toward high plains, but are able to subsist wherever they can find food.
Gestation
Merino sheep have a gestation period of 145 to 156 days.
Litter
Sheep give birth to 1 to 3 lambs, once of twice a year. The lambs have a high degree of independence at birth (precoial)
Behavior
Sheep are social animals and live in flocks, but the most important reason for living in flocks is protection.
Reproduction
The age of puberty of ewe lambs varies greatly from 5 to 12 months of age, with breeding usually taking place in the fall and births in the spring.
Wild Diet
They are herbivores and eat leaves, grass, hay and fern.
Zoo Diet


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