Sheep were the first animal domesticated by humans and this happened around 11,000 years ago. Modern sheep have been changed so much by selective breeding that
most breeds would be unable to survive without human support. The bible has more references to sheep than any other animal. Sheep can recognise individual humans
and they are thought to have good memories.
The first merino sheep brought to Australia from the cape of Good Hope in 1793. It was a small a flock of around 30 animals. Less than 100 years later there were
60 million sheep in the country and by the late 20th century there were more than 180 million. Australia produces about 70% of all wool spun for clothing in the
Sheep were a major contributor to the development of the state and were initially used as much in the North West as in the south. Where today cattle are the major
stock, sheep used to dominate the Pilbara. In 1863 there were less than 1000 sheep in the Pilbara but by 1890 there were over 2.5 million. Unfortunately for the
pastoralists nature can be fickle and a succession of droughts killed of at least 1 million sheep in the next few years.
Today there are an estimated 25 sheep for every person in W.A. Wool and meat are the main products.
At one time it was said that Australia 'rode on the sheep's back', (the sheep got tired of carrying round such a big country) and although the sheep industry is
still extensive, it is no longer regarded as the prime export dollar earner.
During the early days when shepherds were employed to look after the flocks it was common practice to put bells on the sheep so that the shepherd could keep track
of the flock.
As a lone shepherd would usually look after around 1000 sheep, the bells were a great help. There were 6 different sizes of bell each with a different tone and
2 each of sizes 1 to 5 were used with a single large bell used on the leading ewe. (Hence the name bell wether). The medium sized bells were used on sheep that
liked moving on the wings of the flock and the smallest bells were used on those that liked travelling at the tail end. Usually there was 1 sheep in 100 that had
a bell attached. Any disturbance was easy for the shepherd to detect.
A shepherd would spend most of the year working alone with one or two dogs. It was only at lambing time that he would need an assistant.