For some 12,000 years the sheep was a wild animal roaming the countryside and continues to do so in some parts of the world, then man and the sheep developed a symbiotic relationship - man protected the sheep from predators, while the sheep provided man with food and clothing.

Sheep first evolved in Eurasia in the early Pleistocene period around 1,000,000 years ago. Domestication of the sheep took place in South West Asia at the foothills of the Zargos Mountains as early as 9,000 B.C.

There are still 4 types of wild sheep running around today: the Urial in South-West Asia, the Argali in Central Asia, the Mouflon in the central islands of the Mediterranean and the Bighorn in the Rocky Mountains of North America.

The ancient Egyptians regarded their rams as sacred and through a series of stages mummified them.

The first archaeological remains of domestic sheep were discovered in Swiss lake dwellings belonging to the New Stone Age (ie. 2000 years B.C.) in 1861.

In the Middle Ages the Spanish regarded their Merino sheep as prizes or gifts which rarely left the country and were jealously guarded from other countries.

The first sheep reached the United Kingdom about 3000 B.C. when the Stone Age settlers were crossing the English Channel.

Various regions had native sheep which gradually developed in particular breeds, but it was not until the 18th Century there were definite breed descriptions and illustrations.

By 1800 there were approximately 20 different breeds from which nearly double that number has grown today.

According to the Domesday Survey, made following the Norman Conquest in 1066, showed there were more sheep in the country than all other livestock put together. Their function was to provide the people with milk, wool, manure, meat and by-products.

During the early Bronze Age period the sheep lost the pigment in its face and coat.

The first fat-tail sheep was depicted as early as 2000 B.C. The first fat-tailed sheep into Australia arrived in 1788 with the First Fleet, while the first merino arrived in 1797 with only 13 sheep being purchased from the Spanish.

Some of these sheep were sold to John Macarthur and Samuel Marsden, two notable pioneers of the wool industry. They began selective breeding by crossing their Merinos with other breeds in the colony.

On his arrival in 1800, Governor King saw the potential and benefit to the colony in producing wool. His vision led to the establishment of a textile industry with the setting up of the first wool mill at Parramatta.

The Australian Sheep Flock
The Australian rural landscape is uniquely suited to sheep, with our relatively mild climate extending over vast areas of natural grassland. Wool production is this country's largest and most important form of land use, with some 70,000 woolgrowing properties spread in a continuous crescent from the north of Queensland to the mid-north of Western Australia and including Tasmania and the Islands of Bass Strait.

Individual flocks range from a few hundred to as many as 100,000 or more animals, with some three quarters of all sheep run in flocks of 3,000 or more.

The Australian sheep flock now numbers 115.8 million head (at 2000). Other significant sheep flocks are found in China (131 million), New Zealand (45 Million) South Africa (30 million) and Turkey (28 million).

Apart from its size, the outstanding feature of the Australian sheep flock is the overwhelming influence of a single breed - the Australian Merino - which is grazed primarily for its heavy fleeces of fine quality wool. More than 80 percent of all Australian sheep are pure Merino with most of the remainder at least part Merino blood.

Though the Australian Merino derives its name and basic appearance from the famed Royal Flocks of Spain, it is in every way a distinct breed in its own right, developed and adapted in Australia to the specific conditions of this country.