Sheep (genus Ovis) have the widest distribution of all horn-carriers. Approximately 40 shapes have been described. All sheep are now considered to be races of a single species with 2 subgroups:

  • the Eurasian mouflon (wild sheep) and
  • the North American bighorn sheep,

since all members of this race group can be crossed with each other without restriction and the differences are based only on different body sizes and horns of the males. The goat is mankind’s first farm animal and was probably domesticated 13,000 years ago. Sheep followed at least 10,000 years ago. Sheep and goats are among the oldest farm animals due to their diverse uses. The domestic sheep developed from the Eurasian wild sheep breeds.

World sheep population in millions (1999)

World 1.000
Asia 378
Africa 240
Oceania 166
European Union 114
South America 81
Central America and the Caribbean 7

Source: Developing Countries Studies / ed. by Margarete Payer. / compiled by Alois Payer

The sheep has spread rapidly in the tropical and subtropical regions due to its great adaptability to the most diverse climatic and geographical conditions. In rainy countries, meat sheep are more common, in less rainy wool sheep. Sheep are frugal. They can graze on steppe and bush areas, especially on plateaus, with little effort.

Top ten global sheep population (2019)

China 163.489.800
India 74.260.615
Australia 65.755.408
Iran 41.303.611
Sudan 40.896.000
Turkey 35.194.972
Great Britain 33.580.000
Pakistan 30.859.000
New Zealand 26.821.846
South Africa 22.085.207


The male animal is called a buck, after castration one speaks of a mutton; the female animal is the ewe (mother sheep) and the young animal is the (buck or mother) lamb up to the age of 1. You can tell the age by the teeth. Life expectancy depends on the amount of wear and tear on the teeth, a maximum of 10 to 12 years, and an average of 5 to 6 years for ewes. European sheep breeding, especially in Germany, has lost much of its importance in recent times.

While the sheep and much more the goat today play a subordinate role in German agriculture, they are of great economic importance worldwide. Sheep are used as a meat supplier and for the production of wool. There is also a market for milk from small ruminants. By grazing on grassland, ruminants utilize nutrients that cannot be used by humans due to their properties. These nutrients become available to humans through meat and milk.

Sheep population in the European Union in millions (2019)

Great Britain 22.756,60
Spain 15.478,62
Romania 10.358,70
Greece 8.427,00
France 7.105,00
Italy 7.000,88
Ireland 3.809,37
Portugal 2.131,96
Albania 1.758,33
Serbia 1.642,00
Germany 1.556,50
Bulgaria 1.280,98
Hungary 1.061,00
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1.013,00

Source: Eurostat last update: 12/01/2021

Federal Statistical Office: “The sheep population in Germany was around 1.48 million sheep on the survey date of 3 November 2020. This is a decrease of 77,700 animals (- 5.0%) compared to November 2019. Since 3 November 2018, the herd has fallen by 91,100 sheep or 5.8%. By contrast, in 1900 the sheep population in Germany was 9.69 million. The number of holdings with sheep farming, the largest number of which is found in Bavaria (nearly 2000), fell by 3.6% to around 9500 holdings.

As reported by the Bavarian State Office for Statistics, according to the preliminary results of the sheep population survey as of November 3, 2020, the number of sheep fell by 4.4 percent (-11,600 animals) to 250,600 animals compared to the previous year. Around 2,000 farms were counted, the number of sheep farmers has increased by 1.8 percent. On average, the farms kept 124 animals, eight fewer than in the previous year.

The State Statistical Office of Baden-Wuerttemberg counted 207,600 animals at the beginning of November. These were distributed over a total of 1,200 farms. That is 6,900 fewer sheep than at the same time last year. The inventory has thus decreased by 3.2 percent. According to the state statistical office, the sheep population in Baden-Württemberg has never been so low since 2011.

Sheep farmers in the European Union have continued to reduce their flocks over the past year. According to provisional data from the Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat), in December 2019, a total of 82.54 million sheep were kept in the 19 countries with the livestock survey, which was 1.59 million head or 1.9 percent less than 12 months earlier. Similarly, the number of ewes over one year of age also fell by two percent to 60.54 million.

Today, the nomads in Iran continue to raise and raise sheep as they have since ancient times. Not much has changed to this day. Although they make up only 3-4% of Iran’s population, the livestock industry is still largely in the hands of nomads and semi-nomads.

The exceptionally good conditions that can be found in Iran and that hardly any other country offers, produce particularly high-quality sheep intestines. With a size of 1,648,000 km² (in comparison: Germany 365,974 km²), Iran is a country that encompasses the most diverse types of terrain, from lush green meadows to stone, sand or salt deserts.

Mountains and high, desert-like basins are the dominant landscape elements. Iran is also a country of climatic contrasts. In contrast to Europe, all climate zones can be found there all year round. These prerequisites, as well as unspoiled nature, but also rough weather conditions are the basis for the free-living rearing of large, healthy flocks of sheep.

Meat-and-bone meal and concentrated feed are not fed and are unknown in Iran. The Islamic religion forbids the use of meat-and-bone meal because the animal becomes contaminated and can no longer be used for human nutrition. For these reasons, the Iranian sheep intestines can be described as high-quality organic products that are free from any additives.