It’s lambing time here at the ranch so it’s no surprise that this post is all about sheep and how important they are to our everyday living! Behind that cute, wooly face is a utility that is very multi-faceted; providing wool, meat, milk, and other products for our world. Not only do sheep provide us with food and clothing, but they have a large economic impact as well. There is so much information that can be shared, but I am going to just skim the top with this post. Let’s break down the benefits of sheep:
Wool- Wool is an amazing renewable, environmentally friendly, economical, and sustainable product that comes from sheep. Wool is primarily made of keratin, a protein also found in human hair. One sheep can provide anywhere from 2-30 pounds of wool each year. Then it grows back for next year!
Some properties of wool include:
- Balanced thermal insulator
- Moisture wicking
- Resists soils, snags, tears, wrinkles, and pilling
- Natural moisturizer
- Extremely durable
- Ounce for ounce, wool is stronger than steel!!
- Completely fire resistant
- Retains its shape
- Absorbs harmful pollutants
- Dust mites don’t like wool
- Naturally anti-static
There is so much more to learn about the benefits of wool. Keep watching for an upcoming post all about wool where we can dive into more detail!
Meat- Meat is one of the primary sheep products and is it ever packed full of nutrition! Mutton is meat from an adult sheep (over 1 year) and lamb is the meat of young sheep (under 1 year). For the purpose of this post, I will refer to sheep meat as lamb.
Lamb is a great, high-quality protein source. Lean cooked lamb contains between 25-30 grams of protein per 100 grams. Lamb provides your body with the 9 essential amino acids necessary for proper growth and maintenance. Lamb is one of limited foods that contain high levels of L-Carnosine. In 100 grams of lamb, approximately 400 mg of L-carnosine can be found. This is slightly higher than the levels found in beef.
Lamb is rich in many vitamins and minerals such as B12, Selenium, Zinc, Niacin, Phosphorus, and Iron.
Lamb fat contains equal parts of saturated and monounsaturated fats. When comparing to other meats, lamb contains higher levels of omega-3, a healthy fat. Lamb is arguably the richest source of meat for conjugated linoleic acid. It contains 4-19 mg per gram of fat compared to beef’s 1.2-4mg and pork and poultry’s less than 1mg.
Other beneficial nutrients of lamb include creatine, glutathione, carnosine, and taurine. Lamb contains between 300-500mg per 100 grams of creatine.
Not only is lamb extremely healthy, but it is quite tasty! There are lots of great ways to prepare lamb dishes.
Milk- While all sheep produce milk, there are certain breeds that produce milk on a large enough scale to create products such as gourmet cheeses, ice cream, yogurt, and even soap! Sheep milk is extremely nutritious and people with lactose intolerance find that sheep milk is often easier to digest than regular cow milk. Sheep milk is packed full of nutrition. It contains a 1/3 more energy and double the protein, vitamin c, and further essential vitamins than either cow or goat milk contain. It is particularly high in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin, amino acids, and zinc. It also contains folic acid, is rich in healthy fats, and has small fat globules making the milk more homogeneous and easier to digest.
Manure- What goes in must come out, right? Well lucky enough, what comes out is very beneficial to the environment. Sheep manure contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients; all of which plants and forages require for proper nutrition and growth. When manure is applied to the soil, there is an increase of soil carbon, reduction of atmospheric carbon levels, reduction in soil erosion and runoff, reduction in nitrate leaching, and a reduction in energy demands for natural gas-intensive nitrogen fertilizers.
Weed control/grazing– Like many other types of livestock, sheep have the amazing ability to convert plants to a high-quality protein source. Sheep are very adaptable and able to graze in a wide variety of environments. Sheep aren’t picky eaters like other livestock, so they are excellent to use for weed control-turning waste into a profit. They will eat most types of weeds and due to their size and build, they are able to graze in otherwise hard to get to places. They rarely cause damage to trees (unlike goats). Sheep are often hired for custom grazing jobs. Sheep grazing is a natural, environmentally friendly way to manage landscapes.
By-products– There are so many everyday products that you use thanks to sheep. Skins and hides from sheep are tanned and made into soft leather. These items may include gloves, clothing, drumheads, chamois cloths, baseballs, and anything leather.
Lanolin is found in wool and is recovered during the scouring process. Lanolin is found in almost all cosmetics and beauty products including lotions, creams, conditioners, shampoos, lipsticks, soaps, and mascara to name a few. You may also find lanolin in products such as adhesive tape, motor oils, auto lubricants, and printing inks.
There are lots of clothing, yarn, blankets, pillows, mattresses, socks, insulation, carpet, and other items made from wool. Other by-products from sheep include luggage, artist brushes, paints, explosives, and gum.
As you can see, the by-products of sheep are endless!
Economic impact- While sheep provide us with many products and uses, they are very important to our economy as well. In the American Sheep Industry Association’s 2017 Economic Impact Study, their findings showed that in 2016 there was a total economic impact from sheep of $5.8 billion. This is thanks to America’s 88,000 sheep producers. The sheep industry in America is responsible for contributing more than $2 billion to the US economy. For the producer, sheep provide several sources of income throughout the year in wool, meat, and other sales. Besides the farmer and farm employees, the sheep industry creates thousands of jobs such as sheep shearing, feedlot caretakers, wool mill employees, custom grazing, retail, food service, packing plants, research, bioscience, veterinarians, weavers/knitters and more. Just think, what would we do without sheep?!
There is so much more that can be shared on this broad topic of sheep, but for our purpose, this will do. If you have any questions about sheep or agriculture in general, PLEASE reach out to us or a local industry professional and get honest answers to your questions.
After learning all about sheep, you can now go to sleep counting sheep and all the benefits they provide in our daily lives!
“Know that the LORD is God. It is He who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3
Written by Tienna Canen