A shepherd is a person who tends to, feeds, or guards sheep, especially in flocks. The word may also refer to one who provides religious guidance, as a pastor.


Shepherding is one of the oldest professions, beginning some 6,000 years ago in Asia Minor. Sheep were kept for their milk, meat, and especially their wool. Over the next millennia sheep and shepherding spread throughout Eurasia.

Some sheep were integrated in the family farm along with other animals such as pigs and chickens. To maintain a large herd, however, the sheep must be able to move from pasture to pasture, this required the development of a profession separate from that of the farmer. The duty of shepherds was to keep their flock intact and protect it from wolves and other predators. The shepherd was also to supervise the migration of the flock and ensured they made it to market areas in time for shearing. In ancient times shepherds also commonly milked their sheep, and made cheese from this milk; only some shepherds still do this today.

In many societies shepherds were an important part of the economy. Unlike farmers, shepherds were often wage earners, being paid to watch the sheep of others.Shepherds also lived apart from society, being largely nomadic. It was mainly a job of solitary males without children, and new shepherds thus needed to be recruited externally. Shepherds were most often the younger sons of farming peasants who did not inherit any land. Still in other societies, each family would have a family member to shepherd its flock, often a child, youth or an elder who couldn't help much with harder work; these shepherds were fully integrated in society.

Shepherds would normally work in groups either looking after one large flock, or each bringing their own and merging their responsibilities. They would live in small cabins, often shared with their sheep and would buy food from local communities. Less often shepherds lived in covered wagons that traveled with their flocks.

Shepherding developed only in certain areas. In the lowlands and river valleys, it was far more efficient to grow grains and cereals than to allow sheep to graze, thus the raising of sheep was confined to rugged and mountainous areas. In the pre-modern times shepherding was thus centred on regions such as the Land of Israel, Greece, the Pyrenees, the Carpathian Mountains, and Scotland.

The shepherd's work in modern times

In modern times shepherding has changed dramatically. The abolition of common lands in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth century moved shepherding from independent nomads to employees of massive estates. European expansion spread sheep around the world, and shepherding became especially important in Australia and New Zealand where flocks of 4000, or more, were tended by one person. While originally shepherding in those countries was done on unfenced land, many shepherds left to try their luck on the goldfields. Shepherds are no longer used in Australia and New Zealand. Some families in Africa and Asia have their wealth in sheep, so a young son is sent out to guard them while the rest of the family tend to other chores.

Wages are higher than was the case in the past. Keeping a shepherd in constant attendance can be costly. Also, the eradication of sheep predators in parts of the world have lessened the need for shepherds. In countries like Britain, hardy breeds of sheep are frequently left alone without a shepherd for long periods of time. More productive breeds of sheep can be left in fields and moved periodically to fresh pasture when necessary. Hardier breeds of sheep can be left on hillsides. The sheep farmer will attend to the sheep when necessary at times like lambing or shearing.

hepherds in religion


Metaphorically, the term is used for God, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition (e.g. Psalm 23), and in Christianity especially Jesus, who calls Himself Good Shepherd. The Ancient Israelites were a pastoral people and there were many shepherds among them. It may also be worth noting that many Biblical heroes were shepherds, among them the Old Testament prophet Amos, who was a shepherd in the rugged area around Tekoa, as well as the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, the twelve tribes, the prophet Moses, and King David. In the New Testament angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds.

The same metaphor is also applied to priests, with Roman Catholic and Church of England bishops having the shepherd's crook among their insignia (see also "Lycidas"). In both cases, the implication is that the faithful are the "flock" who have to be tended. This is in part inspired by Jesus's injunctions to Peter, "Feed my sheep," which is the source of the pastoral image in "Lycidas".

The Great Shepherd is one of the thrusts of Biblical scripture. This illustration encompasses many ideas, including God's care for his people, His discipline to correct the wandering sheep, as well as the tendency of humans to put themselves into danger's way and their inability to guide and take care of themselves apart from the direct power and leading of God. []

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, prided himself in being part of a rich tradition of prophets who found their means of livelihood as being shepherds.

Sikhism also has many mentions of shepherds tales and many passages written, such as "We are the cattle, God almighty is our shepherd".

This concept has also been used frequently by critics of organized religion to present an unflattering portrayal.

See also "Pashupati", "Dhangar", "Kuruba".

hepherd in popular culture

The shepherd, with other such figures as the goatherd, is the inhabitant of idealized Arcadia, which is an idyllic and natural countryside. These works are, indeed, called pastoral, after the term for herding. The first surviving instances are the "Idylls" of Theocritus, and the "Eclogues" of Virgil, both of which inspired many imitators such as Edmund Spenser's "The Shepheardes Calender". The shepherds of the pastoral are often heavily conventional and bear little relation to the actual work of shepherds.

Shepherds and shepherdesses have been frequently immortalised in art and sculpture. Among the best known is the neoclassical Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen's "Shepherd Boy with Dog".Fact|date=May 2007

The shepherd, in such works, appears as a virtuous soul because of his living close to nature, uncorrupted by the temptations of the city. So Edmund Spenser writes in his "Colin Clouts Come home againe" of a shepherd who went to the city, saw its wickedness, and returned home wiser, and in "The Faerie Queen" makes the shepherds the only people to whom the Blatant Beast is unknown.

Many tales involving foundlings portray them being rescued by shepherds: Oedipus, Romulus and Remus, the title characters of Longus's "Daphnis and Chloe", and "The Winter's Tale" by William Shakespeare. These characters are often of much higher social status than the characters who save and raise them, the shepherds themselves being secondary characters. Similarly, the heroes and heroines of fairy tales written by the précieuses often appeared as shepherds and shepherdesses in pastoral settings, but these figures were royal or noble, and their simple setting does not cloud their innate nobility. [Lewis Seifert, "The Marvelous in Context: The Place of the Contes de Fées in Late Seventeenth Century France", Jack Zipes, ed., The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 920-1, ISBN 0-393-97636-X] In Hans Christian Andersen's "The Shepherdess and the Sweep" (1845), the porcelain shepherdess carries a gilt crook and wears shoes of gilt as well. Her lover is a porcelain chimney sweep with a princely face "as fair and rosy as a girl's", completely unsmudged with soot.

"The Shepherd" by Frederick Forsyth is the story of a flight from Germany to England undertaken by a young Vampire pilot one Christmas Eve.

hepherd communities

The Tirthap community which is basically found in the north Maharashtra (Khandesh), i.e. Dhule, Jalgaon are also Dhangars they are said to originated from the Ahirs of Northern India. Shepherds are found in the name of Kurubas in South India mainly in Karnataka

ee also

* Animal husbandry
* Camel herding
* Dhangar community
* Goatherd
* Llama herding
* Kuruba Hindu community
* Reindeer herding
* Robene and Makyne pastourelle
* Sheepdog
* sheepskin
* Swineherd
* Trailing of the Sheep
* Transhumance
* Yak herding


* [ A Beginner's Guide to Raising Sheep]
* [ A Shepherds Songbook]
* [ American Karakul Sheep Registry]
* [ American Livestock Breeds Conservancy]
* [ Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand]
* [ Scottish Blackface Sheep Breeders Association]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Shepherd — Shep herd, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Shepherded}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Shepherding}.] To tend as a shepherd; to guard, herd, lead, or drive, as a shepherd. [Poetic] [1913 Webster] White, fleecy clouds . . . [1913 Webster] Shepherded by the slow, unwilling …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Shepherd, MI — U.S. village in Michigan Population (2000): 1536 Housing Units (2000): 641 Land area (2000): 0.968059 sq. miles (2.507260 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.968059 sq. miles (2.507260 sq. km) FIPS …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Shepherd, MT — U.S. Census Designated Place in Montana Population (2000): 193 Housing Units (2000): 79 Land area (2000): 1.066378 sq. miles (2.761905 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.066378 sq. miles (2.761905 …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Shepherd, TX — U.S. city in Texas Population (2000): 2029 Housing Units (2000): 853 Land area (2000): 6.114229 sq. miles (15.835781 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.008915 sq. miles (0.023089 sq. km) Total area (2000): 6.123144 sq. miles (15.858870 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • shepherd — [shep′ərd] n. [ME shephirde < OE sceaphyrde: see SHEEP & HERD2] 1. a person who herds and takes care of sheep 2. a leader of a group; esp., a minister 3. GERMAN SHEPHERD vt. to tend, herd, guard, or lead as or like a …   English World dictionary

  • shepherd — (n.) O.E. sceaphierde, from sceap sheep + hierde herder, from heord a herd (see HERD (Cf. herd)). Cf. M.L.G., M.Du. schaphirde, M.H.G. schafhirte, German dialectal schafhirt. Shepherds customarily were buried with a tuft of wool in hand, to prove …   Etymology dictionary

  • Shepherd — (spr. Schepperd), Inselgruppe des Heiligengeistsarchipelagus (Südwestliches Polynesien) …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

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