some sheep and wool numbers


Herdwick Sheep at the Royal Berkshire County Show, photographed by Felicity Ford

As some of you have requested further information on the situation of WOOL today, I decided to consult Alan Butler’s SHEEP book* and round up some of the facts he cites concerning the global situation re: sheep & WOOL. I have interspersed these facts with quotes from the book, and photographs taken at the Royal Berkshire County Show by me, earlier this Summer.

Did you know…

  • There are presently just over 1,000,000,000,000 sheep in the world, which represents 1 sheep per 6 people
  • The world’s sheep population – put nose-to-tail in a continuous line – would encircle the Earth 25 times


Greyface Dartmoor Sheep, photographed by Felicity Ford

WOOL: the ultimate sustainable textile

Despite the fact that woollen textile production has been hit hard by the creation of manmade fibres, such as nylon, rayon and the like, wool remains extremely important as a renewable and natural resource. The production of manmade fibres constantly depletes our store of oil and coal reserves and their production adds significantly to greenhouse gases and ultimately to global warming. The same is not true in the case of wool.

- Alan Butler, SHEEP – the remarkable story of the humble animal that built the modern world


shorn Sheep at the Royal Berkshire County Show, photographed by Felicity Ford

Sheep populations the world over

I would be extremely grateful if anyone reading this has numbers for any of the countries which Alan Butler left out of his round-up chapter. If you leave the number of sheep in your country plus a link to your info source in the comments, I will add them to the list for a fully global perspective.

  • Global sheep population: 1,000,000,000,000 or approx 1 sheep per 6 people
  • Chinese sheep population: 139,200,000
  • Australian sheep population: 98,000,000
  • Iranian sheep population: 53,000,000
  • States of the former Soviet Union sheep population: 51,900,000
  • Indian sheep population: 42,000,000
  • New Zealand sheep population: 46,000,000
  • United Kingdom sheep population: 25,000,000


Sheep at the Royal Berkshire County Show, photographed by Felicity Ford

The world’s top wool-producing countries

  • Chinese WOOL: 302,000 tonnes
  • Australian WOOL: 302,000 tonnes
  • New Zealand WOOL: 200,000 tonnes


Galway Sheep at the Royal Berkshire County Show, photographed by Felicity Ford

The UK sheep:people ratio

With a population of 59,600,000, the UK maintains a sheep to people ratio of one sheep for every 2.3 people. At present the vast majority of British Wool, in fact around 70%, does not find its way into clothing.

- Alan Butler, SHEEP – the remarkable story of the humble animal that built the modern world


Sheep at the Royal Berkshire County Show, photographed by Felicity Ford

The intelligence of sheep is scientifically proven

My favourite sheep fact of the day (italics mine):

As far as their reputation for stupidity is concerned it turns out that sheep are not half so dumb as we have always assumed. Recent experiments have shown that sheep are really quite bright. They have the ability to recognise their shepherds and each other. Nor do sheep have a short attention span. It was proved that sheep could remember the faces of their shepherds and other sheep amongst whom they had lived for up to two years. Some sheep have also learned to roll across cattle grids on their backs and new measures may have to be taken in order to keep them penned in because it has also been shown that they can teach each other this naughty trick.

- Alan Butler, SHEEP – the remarkable story of the humble animal that built the modern world


Jacob Sheep at the Royal Berkshire County Show, photographed by Felicity Ford

*all quotes and factoids here taken from SHEEP, The remarkable story of the humble animal that built the modern world by Alan Butler, 2006, O Books

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This entry was posted by Felicity Ford.

6 thoughts on “some sheep and wool numbers

  1. Fascinating. Especially the bit about sheep per person in this country. And only someone who really loves sheep could have taken those stunning pictures.

  2. German Wikipedia speaks of less than 2 million sheep in Germany. The Federal Office of Statistics ‘counted’ 2,4 million in 2009. Sheep are mostly kept for their meat and for taking care of heaths and moors of which there aren’t very many. Wool is not a common market here, as keeping sheep for this purpose is no longer economical. It’s a crying shame.

  3. Thanks for your comments! Yes, it’s interesting to me that Iran is so high in the list for sheep numbers, and yet not amongst the top WOOL producing Nations. The situation here is a little depressing – with 70% of wool produced NOT ending up in garments – and from what you say, Joanne, that’s quite similar to in Germany. Most of our sheep are reared for meat and not WOOL.

    Thanks Joanna for your nice comments on my photos. I did really enjoy photographing those sheep at the Royal Berkshire County Show, and I love watching the way the sheep behave! The Greyface Dartmoors were playfully headbutting each other the whole time and I have a lovely photo somewhere of a ram who was clearly finding it hard to stay awake. I like their bright eyes and the Galway sheep have the most BEAUTIFUL eyes and very, very soft fleeces… It was SO NOISY in the sheep tent though, that last sheep in this post was really getting something off his chest. I think that is the only photo I have of him where he doesn’t have his mouth wide open, doing sheepy shouts!

    BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

  4. Yes your photos are truly lovely and enjoyed the woolly facts. I wonder where most of the wool is milled? So many mills have left the US as well as sheep production. However-I am doing my part to increase production as I gaze out on my little shetland flock typing with fingers softened by lanolin from spinning this morning.

  5. I’m learning so much about sheep and wool, thank you. The photos are fab, could this become a set of limited edition prints?

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