The domesticated sheep most likely descends from the wild mouflon of Asia and Europe. They are raised for wool, meat and milk, and are one of the earliest domesticated animals with an agricultural purpose. Sheep are important in many aspects of the human culture, such as religion and mythology. There is an extensive and highly specialized vocabulary around sheep rearing. Sheep and goats belong to the same subfamily and they sometimes mate, but the offsprings are always infertile. Sheep used to play a very important role in the world agriculture, but have been replaced as livestock species, by pig, chicken and cattle in many countries. In the developing world they are still an important part of subsistence agriculture and represent wealth in many societies.
The largest sheep herds are kept in Asia (42%), Africa (27%) and Europe (12%). Sudan has the largest stocks in SSA (22%) and ranks 5th in the World, Nigeria (15% in SSA, 7th in the World), and South Africa and Ethiopia (each 11% in SSA and 11th and 12th in the World) follow in sequence. These countries are also the largest sheep meat producers in SSA, although Sudan ranks with 19% much closer to Nigeria with 18%. Except for South Africa, all other countries have seen a stedy increase in sheep meat production since the late 1980s. In a worldwide context, China produces the most sheep meat, followed by Australia and New Zealand. Sudan ranks 12th. The top sheep milk production rankings are slightly different: they start with Sudan (35%), Somalia (31%), Mali (10%), Niger (8%) and Mauritania (7%). Sudan ranks 8th in the world for sheep milk production, the first is again China, followed by Greece, Turkey and Syria. Sheep exports constitute 22% of Mauritania’s agricultural exports. In the other countries it only represents around 5%.
Reference to numbers/statistics are from FAOSTAT 2010 for the year 2008