The Contribution Of Sheep

Sheep were domesticated about 12,000 years ago in Asia. Since then, sheep have been selected to fit the attributes of human husbandry systems and local environments, and to yield products deemed important. Although modern tools have improved sheep breeders' abilities to make genetic change, these basic goals have changed little over time.

Sheep contribute significantly to world needs for food, particularly meat. Grasslands account for over 30% of the global land surface and sheep provide high-quality foods from such lands that are largely unsuitable for crop production. With human populations expected to increase by one-third in the next 20 years, the contribution of sheep to food supply will need to grow.[1] Many breeds of sheep produce wool and, historically, fiber production was their primary product. However, with the important exceptions of Australia and parts of South America, wool as a commodity for trade has declined substantially. Improving the efficiency of lamb meat production is thus the aim of most sheep breeding programs.

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