- For other uses, see Shepherd (disambiguation).
In a draw in a mountainous region, a shepherd guides a flock of about 20 sheep amidst scrub and olive trees.
A shepherd is someone or something who takes care of sheep, usually in flocks in the fields. Shepherding is one of the oldest professions, beginning some 10,000 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 the shepherd was to keep their flock intact and protect it from predators, such as wolves. 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 often milked their sheep, and made cheese from this milk. This duty of guiding and care for their flock is an important metaphor in Christianity where Christ is often compared to a shepherd.
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. Shepherds were most often the younger sons of farming peasants who did not inherit any land. Shepherding was mainly a job of solitary males without children, and new shepherds thus needed to be recruited externally.
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 that 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 Palestine, Greece, the Pyrenees, and Scotland.
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. While originally shepherding in those countries was done on the wide and open frontiers, in modern times it has become dominated by agribusiness.