Sheep: The Adaptable Companions.
Sheep (Ovis aries) are good ruminants. The world count of sheep is over one billion roaming vast areas and transforming pastures, shrubs, harvest aftermath, weeds, and everything in between to valuable products for humankind. They were the first domesticated animals for agricultural purposes throughout history. Their wool is the most widely used animal fiber.
Sheep have horizontal slit-shaped pupils with good peripheral vision and visual fields of 270 ْ. to 320 ْ . This trait enables them to see behind themselves without turning their heads. They have good hearing but have poor depth perception. They can live for 10 to 12 years with some sheep making it to 20 years. The optimum use of pastures occurs up to 5 years of age.
Sheep have an excellent sense of smell . They have scent glands in front of their eyes that play a role in reproduction and inter digitally on the foot that secrete a scent maker or a waste product to help lost sheep locate their flock.
Rams don`t acquire a strong odor during the mating season as buck goats do.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN had identified 1229 breeds of sheep as of 2006. But the important breeds run about 200. The diversity of breeds is due to the fact that sheep are multi-purpose animals. Sheep are herbivorous animals preferring to graze grass, stubble and short roughage as opposed to goats that prefer the taller woody parts of plants. They use their tongues and lips in selecting the parts of plants that is more nutritious or easier to digest.
Ruminants including the sheep have a complex digestive system to break down the cellulose from hay, seeds hulls, stems and leaves to simple carbohydrates. The chewed vegetation is passed to the rumen where the feed is fermented. The fermentation organisms include bacteria, fungi and protozoa. For additional salivation and chewing the cud is regurgitated back to the mouth. After fermentation is complete, the feed passes into the reticulum and omasum to the abomasum(the true stomach)for final digestion then to be processed by the intestines.
In Syria Awassi sheep is the predominant breed. It adapted well to the harsh environmental conditions and poor pastures over of thousand of year of domestication. This fat-tail sheep uses the stored fat during the scarce winter months if the pastures are rare and scanty. Their mothering ability is excellent. They are used to walk long distances for pastures. They are multi-purpose animals but here they are bred primarily for their milk. They produce up to 300 kg of high fat milk(between 5% to 7% fat content) during the lactation season.
Milk is used by the new born lambs since all ewes nurse their lambs. Only what is left over is milked. We use the milk to make cheese, yogurt, ghee, kishk(see my story:https://medium.com/@ibrahimaloua/the-3-ingredients-instant-syrian-soup-2722eecbbc2f) and shanklish(the Syrian blue cheese, another upcoming post) as well as drinking fresh milk on the farm. The milk makes the most delicious and intensely flavored ice cream you can think of.(I should write another post on my way of making this one).
But sheep can play a good role in eliminating weeds which make them ideal for conservation grazing. Research trials in Imperial county, California indicated that lamb grazing was just as effective as herbicides in controlling weeds in seedling alfalfa fields. Entomologists also proved that lamb were as effective as insecticides in providing insect control. I tried this method with my sheep and it proved so rightful. I would let sheep graze under my trees and they will clear the ground barren.
During the winter months and on rainy and snowy days(not very common) we provide additional feeding. Otherwise all we did is using the grown pastures or the unwanted weeds and grasses under the trees. We provide salt blocks that contains the minerals for the sheep to lick. New mothers enjoy a break from going to pastures for a week. In the hot summer they relish the shades under the trees while resting and chewing their cuds.
They are the adaptable companions. They are calm and docile to deal with and with their herding and flocking instincts they made it through time to accompany nomadic societies across the Middle East as well as established rural farms and newly irrigated fields. With the introduction of cotton and sugar beet farming they use the after math very efficiently. Since cotton picking is completely manual in this region, herders will rent the cotton aftermath for their sheep. First round the sheep will race towards the leftover cotton balls and leaves, afterward they will munch on the soft twigs and weeds in the field. If nothing else is available they will eat the stalks to the ground. Total recycling in my opinion.