Domestic sheep are extremely diverse, raised for meat, wool, milk, and sometimes all three. A number of very unique and distinctive breeds of sheep have been bred for specific purposes and climates. In all cases, domestic sheep breeds are all the same species: Ovis aries, distinct from several species of wild sheep which can be found in some corners of the world.
Humans have been breeding sheep for thousands of years. These animals are extremely flexible residents of the farm, as they can yield raw wool for textiles, along with edible meat, with some species being bred for especially rich, flavorful milk. Sheep are also relatively easy to raise and handle, being rather small in comparison to cattle and horses, and their famous herding tendency makes it easy to control a very large flock with limited resources.
Domestic sheep breeds are broken up into several categories. Dual-purpose sheep are sheep which are raised for their wool and meat, with farmers typically slaughtering some lambs young while allowing other sheep to mature to yield several years of wool before they are slaughtered for mutton. Mutton type or hair sheep are sheep which are raised specifically for meat, while triple-purpose sheep are raised for their milk, wool, and meat.
Some examples of sheep breeds in the dual-purpose category include: Bond, Cormo, California Red, Romney, South Dorset, Polypay, Finnsheep, Soay, Merino, and Suffolk. These sheep breeds all yield soft, usable wool in black, white, and brown, along with flavorful meat. Their wool is typically harvested through shearing, although some farmers also comb their sheep. You may be familiar with the Merino breed, as it is a rather famous wool producer.
Icelandic sheep are probably the most well-known of the triple-purpose sheep breeds, while Blackhead Persians, Royal Whites, St. Croix Sheep, Somalis, and Katahdin are all hair type sheep breeds. Hair sheep tend to he more muscular and heavyset, reflecting their primary purpose, which is to produce meat.
All domestic sheep breeds are known, somewhat unfairly, for being extremely docile. In fact, sheep can give other farm animals a run for their money. Rams in particular can be rather nasty, especially when they have a herd of ewes to protect, and some of the larger sheep breeds can be difficult to handle. Sheep also have astoundingly sharp hooves, and they are not afraid to use them in self-defense if they deem it necessary.