Shepherd's Glossary of Terms
Everyone is a beginner at some point in time…and the new
words that come flying at us are confusing and at times
overwhelming. I found that when I first learned to sail…why
can't they just call it the right side of the boat instead of
starboard! Raising sheep can be easier if you know what everyone
else, including your veterinarian, is talking about. I will start
with the basics:
EWE- a mature female sheep
RAM- a male sheep that has not been castrated, also called a
LAMB- a baby sheep; a sheep under a year old, i.e. a ewe lamb
or ram lamb, a term for the meat of sheep, generally under 18 months
old, preferably under 12 months old;
the term used for the birth of a baby sheep, i.e. The ewes are due
to lamb in the spring.
YEARLING-a ewe or ram between 1 and 2 years old
WETHER-a castrated ram, also used to describe the act of
castrating a ram.
SHEPHERD-one who tends to the every need of the sheep, loves
them and worries over them and reaps the rewards of sheepkeeping!
BREEDING & LAMBING TERMS
BRED EWE-a ewe that is pregnant
A.I.-artificial insemination, a procedure done to a ewe by
a trained person in which fresh or frozen sheep semen is introduced
into the ewe to produce a pregnancy with that particular ram as
SIRE-father of a lamb
DAM-mother of a lamb
BREEDING GROUP-a group ewes placed with a particular ram
for the purpose producing pregnancy in the ewes.
CLEAN-UP-the ram used for the next session of breeding after
the original ram is removed from the breeding group to insure that
all of the ewes are bred.
FLUSHING-The practice of increasing the body weight and condition
of ewes prior to and after breeding to increase ovulation and conception.
HEAT- estrus, a term used to describe the period in the ewe's
life when she is able to be bred, which last about 30 hours. Ewes
will have a heat or estrus cycle every 14-20 days, at the end of
which they are ovulating and are receptive to being bred. Some sheep
breeds cycle year round are able to be anytime during the year,
while others, like Icelandic sheep, are very seasonal and only cycle
in the fall and winter months. The first cycle generally occurs
when the ewe is about 6 months old, though some may be younger.
GESTATION-the period between breeding and lambing, usually
142-147 days in Icelandic sheep, a few days longer in many other
S-T-Tr: Shorthand for Single, Twin, or Triplet, usually seen
in listings of lambs for sale, telling the buyer if the lamb was
one of one... or one of several.
UDDER-milk producing gland of the sheep, a bag like structure
under the ewe between the rear legs that fills with milk at the
end of pregnancy. The udder has two primary nipples or teats for
the lambs to suck to get the milk.
LACTATION-the period of time when the ewe is producing milk.
JUG-a small pen used for just one ewe and her newborn lambs
soon after they are born, used to keep an eye on the new family.
PASTURE LAMB- a system of lambing in which the ewes are left
out in the pasture to have their lambs, rather than in a barn.
BUMMER/BOTTLE BABY-term used for a lamb that must be fed
by the shepherd with a bottle and nipple because the dam is unable
to feed the lamb, sometimes a bummer is a lamb that sneaks up behind
an unrelated ewe and steals milk.
GENERAL ICELANDIC SHEEP TERMS
Probably the most confusing terms and concepts surrounding the
Icelandic Sheep is the various colors and markings.
COLOR-refers to the color of the sheep, in Icelandic Sheep
the color is always brown (moorit) or black. White is technically
not a color, but a pattern: the pattern gene for "no pattern"
turns off the color gene of brown or black to create "no color"
or... white. That said, "color" can range from a deep
black to a "rusty" black, Moorit (brown) can range from
a light tan to a deep royal chocolate.
PATTERN-In Icelandic sheep, the pattern is one of 6 possibilities,
white, grey, solid, badgerface, mouflon, or grey-mouflon. The Icelandic
Sheep gets its fleece color from three genes: the basic color gene,
the pattern gene, and the spotting gene. Making a total of 6 genes,
inheriting 1 set of three from each parent. Color "coding"
an Icelandic Sheep makes for some very complicated reading. The
pattern "grey" for example is actually
a colored overcoat (black or brown) with a white undercoat, creating
"grey" which can be a black grey or "moorit,"
meaning brown, grey. "Solid" is black
on black or brown on brown, over and undercoat, creating a "solid"
sheep. To achieve "solid" you need two copies of both
the colored gene, and the "solid" pattern gene. The "Badgerface"
pattern gene turns the back, sides, neck, face, and ears to a light
tan or white... making the sheep's face resemble a "badger."
The color of the sheep shows on the face and neck, the belly, and
under the tail, creating either a "black" or "brown"
badgerface. "Mouflon" is the opposite
of badgerface.. so instead of the color being under the sheep, on
the neck and belly, it is on the top of the sheep... creating a
mirror image of the badgerface. We will also see a "Grey
Badgerface" and a "Grey Mouflon"
this is the two genes co-expressing in one sheep. There
is a rare single gene, "Grey-mouflon"
which is, as far as we know, not available in the United States.
It is a unique gene which creates a sheep that looks like a combination
of "grey" and "mouflon" having a more more pronounced
marking pattern than either the grey or the mouflon, distinctly
unique to itself.
The pattern "White" (absence of pattern) is dominant
over "Grey," "Badgerface" or "Mouflon".
"Solid" is recessive... it takes two solid parents to
produce a solid black or moorit lamb. Remember "absence of
pattern" means the white sheep IS still carrying two colored
genes under the "wrapper" of the pattern "white."
So a white ewe bred to a solid moorit ram (who must carry the two
recessive moorit color genes) who produces a black lamb, is carrying
the color black. If she produces a moorit lamb, she carries moorit,
if she produces a white lamb the best we can say is that her lamb
carries moorit. We don't know if she is carrying two dominant white
pattern genes (and therefore overriding the recessive gene for "solid")
or if the throw of the dice just popped up the pattern "white"
again. Remember, you can never breed two sheep who are not white,
and produces a white. Never, ever. If you want white sheep, you
need to have a white sheep!
SPOTTING-The third gene to influence the appearance
of the sheep is the spotting gene. All Icelandics carry either spotting,
or no spotting. If a sheep inherits spotting genes from sire and
dam it will have random white spots within its overall pattern,
since not spotted is dominant over spotted...
Confused? Join the club! ISBONA publishes a pdf file "coding
the color/pattern genes for registration." If you look
it over you'll be able to decypher the cryptic genetics of the registered
Icelandic you're looking at.
BROWSE-brush or woody plants that can be eaten, i.e. sapling
trees, wild raspberries, wild roses etc.
CREEP-an area for feeding lambs with an entrance designed to
allow lambs in but keep adult sheep out
CUD- a mouthful of regurgitated food rechewed and swallowed
by the ruminant. The stuff that sheep are chewing while they are
Happy healthy sheep spend a good portion of the day and night chewing
cud, breaking it down so that the bacteria in the rumen part of
the stomach can get the nutrients out of the feed.
CULL-to remove an animal from the breeding flock because
it does not meet the needs of that breeding program. It may fit
well in another flock, unless cull for health reasons. Also, refers
to an animal that has been culled.
DOCK- the procedure of cutting the long tails of newborn
sheep to a short length. Unnecessary in naturally short-tailed sheep
like Icelandics and Shetlands
FORAGE- the green edible part of the pasture eaten while
grazing, the stuff hay is made of.
ROTATIONAL GRAZING- The practice of intensely grazing one
area of pasture before moving the animals onto fresh graze, allowing
the first pasture to recover before it is re-grazed. Increasingly
popular, it allows for very efficient use of available pasture.
OPP-Ovine Progressive Pneumonia, is a slowly progressing
viral disease, similar to the AIDS virus in humans. It is not transferable
to humans. It slowly causes progressive lung damage, weakness, udder
damage. There is no cure, but animals can be tested for the virus
and culled. A negative OPP test, done by a reliable laboratory,
means that on that date the animal was negative for OPP. OPP is
a "purchased " disease. Be sure to request that an animal
is tested and quarantined before it enters your flock.
OVINE -referring to sheep
POLLED- naturally hornless. When shopping for lambs you may
see a listing P-H-Sc. This stands for Polled, Horned, or Scurs,
and describes what is on top of the lamb's head!
PUREBRED-an animal with 100% of the bloodline is from the
REGISTERED- an animal that is purebred and meets the breeds
standards and guidelines, and is officially recorded with an association
RUMEN- the part of the sheep's stomach where bacteria, yeast,
fungi and protozoans breakdown the feed through fermentation. It
has a 5-10 gallon capacity. Keeping the inhabitants of the rumen
happy and healthy is a key part of the shepherd's job
RUMINANT-animals that have a 4 compartment stomach such as
sheep goats and cows, an animal that chews cud.
SCRAPIE- a TSE disease (transmissible spongiform encephalopathy),caused
by a prion, similar to "mad cow disease" . Scrapie has
been recognized for 200 years. So far it is not believed to be transferred
SCUR-a small horn, often misshapen, not firmly rooted in
SPOTTING-a lack of pigment in the coat of the sheep that
produces a "white spot" or absence of color.
VSFCP- Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program, a voluntary
program managed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)
for the surveillance of flocks to ensure the absence of Scrapie
in the sheep. A federal veterinarian will annually inspect an enrolled
flock. Each state has a VSFCP board and a procedure for enrollment.
In order to AI breed or purchase AI bred Icelandic sheep, the flock
must be enrolled. There is no fee for the enrollment or inspection
other than the ID tags.
WOOL AND WOOL PRODUCTS
WOOL-A protein fiber produced by the follicles in the skin
of the sheep.
DUAL-COAT-refers to the type of wool produced by Icelandic
sheep and some other primitive breeds. Two distinct true wool fibers
are produced simultaneously. In Icelandic sheep this is a long coarser
outer coat called TOG, and a fine soft downy undercoat called THEL.
LANOLIN-the natural grease that occurs on wool
SECOND CUTS- undesirable short pieces of wool produced when
shearing by going back over already sheared areas.
FLEECE-the wool sheared from one sheep
RAW WOOL-unwashed wool, also called wool "in the grease"
WOOL BREAK- In Icelandic sheep a naturally occurring actual
break in the wool in the spring followed by a shedding process and
regrowth of the new wool. "like spring break but different"
ROOING or ROOING OFF- when a sheep's fleece starts
coming off on its own. Usually in patches, usually your rams, and
usually by rubbing it off on fences, trees, etc. A ram rooing
off his fleece can end up dragging a great patch of felted wool
until it finally tears free, or you cut it off.
SKIRT- to remove from the sheared fleece the parts that are
unusable or undesirable for spinning, i.e. vegetation, manure, urine
stained areas, felted areas
TAGS-wool locks that are contaminated with manure
ROVING-wool that is washed and carded into a form ready to
CLOUD- a washed fluffy form of carded wool ready to be spun
LACEWEIGHT- a form of yarn that is used for knitting fine,
ultra-light weight pieces. 1500-3000 yards/pound
SPORTWEIGHT-a form of yarn for knitting light to medium weight
garments, ideal for hats, socks, mittens, and sweaters. 1000-1200
yards per pound
DK/WORSTED WEIGHT- a form of yarn for knitting medium to
heavy weight garments, approximately 800-900yards /pound
PLY- the number of strands combined to make one strand of
yarn, i.e. single ply, 2 ply etc.
BATT-a carded form of wool, generally rectangular, used for
spinning, felting or quilting
LOPI-a commercial brand of single ply Icelandic wool that
has been commercially washed and dyed
SPRING CLIP-the winter wool sheared from the Icelandic sheep,
often better suited to felting than spinning, usually shorter in
FALL CLIP-the premium fall fleece sheared from the Icelandic
sheep, used for spinning and yarn
LAMB FLEECE-the first shearing of the lamb, usually in the
fall. The premium spinning and yarn wool, the softest and often
Additional Reading: in addition to
our own articles (see below) we recommend:
back to the resource pages
back to the barn!
Bookshelf: helpful books on sheep