Sheep

The domesticated sheep is descended from the wild sheep. A number of different types of this wild sheep live in an area that extends from the Middle East to Asia, as well as in the eastern parts of North America. Starting from the Middle East, domesticated sheep gradually spread out over large parts of the globe. In the Netherlands people started keeping sheep in around 5000 BC. These sheep may have looked something like our (horned) Drenthe heath sheep today.

Over the centuries a number of different breeds developed from this type of sheep due to natural selection (adaptation to different living environments, such as soil type and climate) and human selection (breeding). Depending on their use and living environment, Dutch breeds are divided into heath sheep, which originated on land low in nutrients, and grassland sheep, which developed on nutrient-rich land. 


Heath sheep
In the 19th century large flocks of heath sheep were allowed to roam extensive areas of rugged terrain. This was mainly because the animals produced dung. During the day the sheep fed on the vegetation and were put into sheepfolds at night, where they left their dung. The shepherds mixed this dung with peat sods and spread the mixture over the fields, which had poor-quality soil. With the advent of artificial fertilisers heath sheep became redundant. Their numbers declined sharply and they were threatened with extinction.

You can see the following breeds of heath sheep at various locations around the museum: the Schoonebeeker, Veluwe heath sheep and Drenthe heath sheep.