Sheep Raising

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sheep Raising


the branch of livestock raising concerned with the raising of sheep. It produces valuable raw materials for light industry (wool, sheepskins, and lambskins) and yields important food products (meat, mutton tallow, and milk).

Of all the products obtained from sheep, wool is of the greatest significance to the national economy. Owing to its strength, elasticity, hygroscopicity, and felting ability, wool is valuable in the manufacture of fabrics, knitwear, carpets, and felt products. Sheep pelts are used in the production of sheepskin, while the pelts of newborn lambs of lambskin breeds are used in the manufacture of fur articles. Cheese is made from the milk of coarse-wooled sheep.

Between 1935 and 1939, the world sheep population was 740 million. By 1972 this number had grow to 1.056 billion (23 percent fine-wooled, 23 percent meat-wool semifine-wooled, and 45 percent coarse-wooled). From 1936 through 1972, wool production increased from 970,000 tons to 2.65 million tons (41 percent fine wool, 38 percent semifine crossbred wool, and 21 percent coarse carpet wool). Crossbred-wool (basically blended) production has developed particularly rapidly. World production of mutton was 5.9 million tons in 1965 and 7.1 million tons in 1972.

Sheep raising started in prehistoric times. As sheep were domesticated, man began to use their products. Gradually the primitive unproductive sheep with very coarse wool were fundamentally changed and improved. In Asia Minor several centuries before the Common Era, the first fine-wooled sheep were developed. The Karakul, a lambskin breed, was also developed at this time in Middle Asia. In Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, highly productive breeds of early maturing sheep with homogeneous wool were developed. The development of such breeds marked the start of modern semifine-wooled sheep raising for meat and wool.

In prerevolutionary Russia, principally coarse-wooled sheep were raised. Fine-wooled breeds were raised chiefly in southern Russia on individual landowner farms. In 1916 the total number of sheep in Russia was 89.7 million, including approximately 6 percent fine-wooled breeds. The gross wool clip in 1913 was 192,000 tons, including about 12 percent fine and semifine wool.

A fundamental reorganization of sheep raising was begun in 1919, when a decree on the development of fine fleeced sheep raising was issued. Large specialized sheep-raising farms, state breeding nurseries, and breeding sovkhozes were set up. Artificial insemination of sheep was developed and introduced. On the basis of state plans, the absorbed crossing of low-producing ewes with rams of high-producing breeds was carried out. Feeding and maintenance conditions were also improved. These measures helped to increase significantly the number of head, to improve the breeding of sheep, to raise productivity, and to develop new sheep-raising regions. The basic sheep-raising regions of the USSR are the Volga Region, the Northern Caucasus, Middle Asia, and the Kazakh SSR; sheep raising has also been developing rapidly in many regions of Siberia (see Table 1). In 1950, the USSR had 77.6 million head of sheep; in 1960, 136.1 million; and in 1973, 139 million. Wool production was 180,000 tons in 1950, 357,000 tons in 1960, 429,000 tons in 1971, and 420,100 tons in 1972 (including 66 percent fine, 11 percent semifine, 9 percent semicoarse, and 14 percent coarse).

The principal wool suppliers are kolkhozes and sovkhozes; approximately 80 percent of the country’s sheep population is on these farms. The average annual wool clip per sheep on the kolkhozes, sovkhozes, and other state farms was 2.2 kg in 1950, 2.6 kg in 1960, and 3 kg in 1972. The cost of 1 ton of wool in 1971 was 3,861 rubles on the kolkhozes, 3,585 rubles on the sovkhozes, and significantly less on the specialized farms. By 1972, the most labor-intensive process in sheep raising, shearing, had been 95 percent mechanized.

Sheep farms may raise fine-wooled, semifine-wooled, semi-coarse-wooled, or coarse-wooled breeds. The last includes sheep raised for lambskin; sheepskin; meat and tallow; meat and wool; or meat, wool, and milk. In the USSR, the state plan for breed zoning determines what kind of sheep should be raised in a particular region. The needs of the national economy for sheep products, the geographical features of the regions, and the particular characteristics of the various breeds are taken into consideration in making such decisions.

Fine-wooled sheep are raised predominantly in the Northern Caucasus, the southern Volga Region, Siberia, the Kazakh SSR, and the Kirghiz SSR. Semifine-wooled sheep are raised mainly in the central chernozem and nonchernozem zones of the RSFSR, the Middle Volga Region, and the Ukrainian SSR; the raising of semifine-wooled crossbred sheep is developed in the Kazakh SSR, Siberia, and the Ukrainian SSR. Semicoarse-wooled breeds are raised in the Turkmen SSR, in Transcaucasia, and in the semidesert and mountainous regions of the Kazakh SSR. The raising of lambskin and meat-tallow breeds is concentrated in Middle Asia and the Kazakh SSR; sheepskin breeds are raised in the central nonchernozem zone and the northeastern regions of the RSFSR, as well as in the Urals. The raising of coarse-wooled sheep for meat and wool is concentrated predominantly in the central regions of the European RSFSR; sheep bred for meat, wool, and milk are raised in the mountain regions of the Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasia, as well as in the Baltic Region and Siberia.

Approximately 70 breeds and breed groups of sheep are raised in the USSR, including 24 fine-wooled and 22 semifine-wooled breeds. The most common breeds are the Soviet Merino, As-kaniia, Caucasian fine-wooled, Altai, Précoce, Karakul, Tsigai, and Edil’baev. Breeding work is done at special breeding farms, which provide commercial farms with sheep to improve their herds.

The future development of sheep raising has been outlined in the decree of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR On Measures to Further Improve Production and Product Quality of Sheep Raising (1972). There is to be an increase in the number of sheep and their productivity. Breed composition is also to be improved. Measures have been worked out and are being implemented to improve production processes and to create a reliable feed supply (to increase pasture productivity, to set up emergency feed supplies, to increase the output of granulated coarse feed enriched with concentrates). Sheep-raising farms are becoming more specialized. A larger

Table 1. Principal sheep-raising regions and republics in the USSR (1971)
  Wool production   
Regions and republics
Number of sheep on Jan. 1, 1972 (millions)Total (thousand tons)Kg per 100 hectaresPercentage of fine wool (procurement 1971)Percentage of semifine wool (procurement 1971)Meat production in dressed weight (thousand tons)
Central Chernozem....3.568.462432626.2
Northern Caucasus16.6571.627092585.2
Western Siberia.....6.5718.351721451.8
Eastern Siberia.....9.5728.9128851047.3
Kazakh SSR..........32.0394.151628232.2
Kirghiz SSR..........9.3228.32928.9953.4
Ukrainian SSR..........8.7525.159622951.1
Uzbek SSR......7.5221.9882260.5
Azerbaijan SSR..........4.307.6190382325.9
Turkmen SSR..........4.2413.7441 28.4
Tadzhik SSR............2.254.81179721.2
Georgian SSR.........1.875.11704412.3

number of animals are kept at each enterprise, and fully mechanized farms are under construction.

Research on sheep raising is being carried out by such research institutions as the Institute of Sheep Raising and Goat Raising, the Institute of Karakul Sheep Raising, and the Kazakh Research Institute of Karakul Sheep Raising. Work is also being done at institutes for agriculture and livestock raising. Scientists and specialists are working out and introducing methods for breeding work on both breeding and commercial farms, for artificial insemination, and for raising fecundity. More efficient production methods are being introduced in industry. As an academic discipline, sheep raising is being taught in agricultural, zootechnical, and veterinary schools, at both the secondary and higher school levels.

Outside the USSR, the raising of fine-wooled sheep is developed in those countries having an arid climate and a large number of steppe and semisteppe pastures. The raising of semifine-wooled breeds for meat and wool is common in regions with more moisture and a milder climate. Most of the world’s sheep are concentrated in Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Uruguay, the United States, and the Republic of South Africa. These countries are responsible for more than 50 percent of the total world production of wool. Australia has more sheep than any other country in the world (in 1972, 162.9 million head) and ranks first in wool production (917,000 tons). Australia predominantly raises fine-wooled and semifine-wooled meat-wool breeds; the raising of crossbred breeds is also developed. New Zealand, where virtually all the sheep are semifine-wooled meat-wool breeds, exports more mutton than any other country and produces the highest grade crossbred wool. Argentina raises semifine-wooled sheep, basically English long-wooled and crossbred breeds and a small number of fine-wooled breeds. Uruguay produces basically crossbred sheep, the United States raises sheep of the English short-wooled type, and the Republic of South Africa breeds Merinos imported from Australia. In Europe, primarily semifine-wooled breeds (Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and Bulgaria) and fine-wooled breeds (France, Rumania, Hungary) are raised. In China and Mongolia, mostly coarse-wooled breeds are raised. Karakul sheep raising has developed in Afghanistan and southern Africa.


Ivanov, M. F. Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 4, Moscow, 1964.
Rukovodstvo po razvedeniiu zhivotnykh, vol. 3. Moscow 1965. (Translated from German).
Ovtsevodstvo, vols. 1–2. Edited by G. R. Litovchenko and P. A. Esaulov. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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