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Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom


Sheep and Wool

Sheep and Wool

Sheep are very gentle animals and are easily frightened. They flock together for protection because they can't really protect themselves. Sheep have many natural predators, animals that hunt and kill sheep for food. They include coyotes, wolves and domestic dogs. Sometimes larger animals, like mules or llamas, are kept in the pastures with the sheep to scare off possible predators.

The people who raise and care for sheep are called shepherds. Sometimes, shepherds have dogs to help take care of the sheep. The dog learns to round up the sheep, and when one wanders from the flock, the dog brings it back.

There are many different breeds of sheep. Some are raised for meat, and others primarily for their wool. Sheep are valuable because they often graze land that other livestock cannot. Sheep eat grass and hay. Oklahoma is a good place for raising sheep because it is one of only a few states that has year-round forage production.

Sheep were some of the first animals to be domesticated by ancient people. They have been providing meat and clothing to people for over 10,000 years. Spinning wool into thread began about 5,000 years ago.

Wool is a special natural fiber. It always feels warm and soft. It is very good at keeping out the cold and at warming your skin. Even if your wool sweater gets wet from snow or rain, it will still keep you warm. Wool also wears well and lasts for a long time. One of the best things about wool fabric is that it is flame resistant, so it is safer to wear than some other fabrics.

One sheep produces eight to ten pounds of wool per year, enough to make a man's suit. One pound of wool can make ten miles of yarn.

Wool straight from the sheep is called raw wool. Raw wool may go through more than 70 processing steps to assure that fabrics made from the wool are of the highest quality.

Oklahoma's sheep and lamb inventory on January 1, 2016, was 746,000 head. Wool produced from Oklahoma sheep in 2016 was 95,000 pounds.

Wool can have a wide range of natural colors and textures, depending on which animal produced the fleece. To help consumers and spinners identify pure wool, the wool industry designed a trademark symbol. The wool symbol can only be used on products made from pure new wool. The wool symbol is used and recognized all over the world.

Wool can also be made from the hair or fur of goats, rabbits, llamas, alpaca, and even a semi-wild animal from the Andes mountains called a vicuna.

Learning Activities

Wet and Wooly
Science, Grades 6-8
Students will experiment with some of the properties of wool and compare and contrast them with synthetic fibers, practice vocabulary related to sheep and wool and create art with wool yarn.
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Counting Sheep or People? Census 2020
Math, World Languages, Grades PreK-2
Students will use one-to-one correspondence and count popcorn to represent sheep by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s. Students will use tally marks to record the number of "sheep" they have. Students will use counting words from other languages to count popcorn, which represents sheep. Students learn about the Census of 2020 by taking a census of their class and creating a class graph.
How to Sneak Up on a Sheep
Students learn about a sheep's vision in relation to angles and degrees of a circle.
The Cutest Camelid
ELA, Science, Grades K-3
Students will read about alpacas. Students will create fact sheets about alpacas. Students will create flip book showing alpaca needs. Students will compare and contrast alpaca fiber with sheep and goat fiber.
Photo When Woodrow Wilson was President, the First Lady had sheep graze on the White House lawn to keep it neat and well-trimmed.

Additional Resources

Shepherd With a Flock of Sheep Shepherd With a Flock of Sheep, 1884> by Vincent Van Gogh