Pet Of The Week: The Southdown sheep

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The Independent Online

We've embraced the urban chicken and the micro pig... now it's time to consider the domestic sheep. OK, so it's probably not suited to a one-bed city flat, but, with sheep numbers having halved in the UK in the past 20 years – due in part to us using less wool – it's about time we gave them some attention.

Mind the grass

Sheep are such an integral part of our countryside, munching their way through grass, and keeping everything ship-shape in the hills and dales, so much so that farmers historically referred to them as "The Golden Hoof". So if you plan to invest, you'll need a bit of grassy space.

Getting fleeced

Last week was Campaign for Wool week (see, a chance to big up sheep and the wonders of using their snug coats to clothe us, and insulate and carpet our homes. But with wool prices at rock bottom, this sustainable, versatile, biodegradable material often goes to waste.

Little lambs

"Sheep are patient, diligent parents," says Mike. "They even recognise me when I hop into their field." Mike has about 30 sheep and breeds lambs as well: "For me, few things equal the pleasure of seeing a ewe mothering-up her two newly-born lambs."

Two's company

OK, sheep are not exactly a household pet, but thousands of people keep them for purposes other than rearing lambs, as they rub along well with each other and other animals. Keep at least two sheep together, as they like company, and for this they would need no less than an acre of pasture.

Your good health

Keeping sheep can be a hobby, but it must be a serious one. They need looking over once a day to check for signs of foot rot (dodgy toenails) and fly strike, but on the whole they are not prone to illness.

All heart

So, you've decided to start a flock. Well done. According to Mike Pavia, a sheep farmer in West Sussex, "They are good-natured, intelligent animals." Smaller breeds, such as the Southdown, above, are more manageable and have a chunky coat, so you should get plenty of wool to work with, should you wish to shear.