Early man soon realised that to kill a sheep for its meat alone was a waste; sheep could be milked and its fleece could be spun and woven into cloth. So with the help of his friend the dog, (probably the only animal to be domesticated before the sheep) he became a shepherd.
Before 10,000 BC wool cloth was being spun and woven. By the time the Romans invaded these islands in 55 BC the Britons had developed a wool industry. By the twelfth century, wool was becoming England's greatest national asset and cloth making was widespread.
The first half of the fourteenth century was a time of prosperity for English wool farmers. Despite setbacks, raw wool exporting expanded, and so also did manufacturing of wool fabrics. This was becoming both specialized and localized. The West Country had three advantages - extensive sheep pastures, a supply of soft water for washing, scouring and dyeing, and water-power to drive milling machinery. Similarly, the Pennine districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire had soft water, and water power from steeply graded streams.
Cloth from English looms quickly achieved an international reputation. From being primarily a raw wool exporter, England became a manufacturer and exporter of cloth. At the end of the fifteenth century England was largely a nation of sheep farmers and cloth manufacturers.
Radical changes lay ahead. The Industrial Revolution of 1750-1850 caused upheaval, it ushered in new inventions to mechanize and dramatically speed up the processes of spinning and weaving. The younger industry jumped ahead and never lost its lead - manufacturing centres developed in Scotland, famed for its tweeds; and in the West Country which specialized in production of high quality woven carpets.
There are now nearly one thousand million sheep in the world and some thirty million are in the United Kingdom. British breeds produce mostly coarser quality wool - not to be regarded as inferior to fine wool but merely different. It is ideally suited for certain products such as carpets, tweeds and knitting yarns. Sheep can adapt themselves to an extraordinarily wide range of environment. In this country there are more than 60 different breeds, suited to the varieties of climate, soil, herbage and terrain encountered here.