Other Organisms Enjoying Sheep

HumansHerding Sheep--by Stephen Ausmus, USDA/ARS

     The domestication of sheep by humans began about 11,000 years ago. Everything from the horns to the meaty insides was made good use of by the early humans. Today, sheep play a significant role in the economy as well.

Sheep pelts and wool can be made into clothes and


             Lamb and mutton are both types of meat derived
         from sheep.

        People drink sheep milk or use it to make cheese.

        In the past, sheep horns were made into knife
         handles, spoons, and even hair

               More recently, humans have been using sheep in experiments to
         further knowledge in the fields of health and science.

External Parasites

Tick--Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

             Sheep ked, also known as Melophagus ovinus, are
       parasites the size of house flies that reside in the wool
       of sheep. These parasites suck the blood of sheep and
       cause them irritation.

             Sheep are also known to get lice in their wool. Unlike
      sheep ked, lice are harder to spot because they are
      much smaller. The most common lice found in sheep
      have a pale buff color.


Internal Parasites

•      Bacteria: There are many types of bacteria that are mutualistic to sheep. For example, a variety of bacteria help break down food in the intestines of sheep. Sometimes conditions change and mutualistic bacteria turn parasitic in sheep.

      Fusobacterium necrophorum is a bacterium that normally resides in the digestive tract of sheep. However, when a sheep becomes infected by another bacterium called Bacteroides nodosa, the two bacteria together cause foot rot in sheep. Foot rot causes damage to the soft tissue of the foot. Sheep will often limp or fall to their knees due to the pain caused by these bacteria.

      Fusobacterium necrophorum also becomes parasitic when the bacterium Corynebacterium pyogenis finds its way into sheep. These two bacteria cause pus to develop above the hoofs of sheep.

             Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that causes a disease known as listeriosis. The bacterium makes a neurotoxin in sheep that causes tClostridium perfringens--Courtesy of Wikimedia Commonshem to walk around in circles with their heads to the side. Fever and drooling are other symptoms caused by this disease.

      Clostridium perfringens is the most dreaded bacterium of the sheep. C. perfringens is one of the factors that causes the most fatalities in lambs and yearlings.

•      Worms: It is almost impossible to rid a pasture completely of worms. First, sheep ingest plants that are infected with worms, introducing the worms to the sheep's digestive tract. There, the worms lay their eggs, and eventually the sheep defecate the eggs back out onto the pasture where the worms infect more plants. Sheep with worms will often get diarrhea, lose weight, become depressed, or lose their appetite. Severe worm infections pale the skin beneath a sheep's eyelid or gums due to anemia.


     Who would want to harm creatures as adorable as sheep?! There are actually quite a few animals that hunt sheep. The following creatures all prey on sheep.

Coyote--Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons       Coyotes






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