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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A shepherd (pronounced /ˈʃɛpərd/) 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.

Shepherd in Valdunquillo, Spain.




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 chickens and pigs. 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.

"A Sleeping Nymph Watched by a Shepherd" by Angelica Kauffman, about 1780, V&A Museum no. 23-1886

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 centered on regions such as the Land of Israel, Greece, the Pyrenees, the Carpathian Mountains, and Scotland.

In modern times

Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana, August 1942.

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. 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. In the USA, many sheep herds are flocked over public BLM lands.

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.

By country

In Australia and New Zealand

Shepherd's watch box.

European exploration lead to the spread of sheep around the world, and shepherding became especially important in Australia and New Zealand where there was great pastoral expansion. In Australia squatters spread beyond the Nineteen Counties of New South Wales to take over vast holdings elsewhere. Sheep overlanded to these large unfenced runs created problems for the squatters as they needed constant supervision.[1]

Shepherds were employed to keep the sheep from straying too far, to keep the mobs as healthy as possible and to prevent attacks from dingoes and wedge-tailed eagles. Lambing time further increased the shepherd’s responsibilities.

Shepherding was an isolated, lonely job that was firstly given to assigned convict servants. The accommodation was usually poor and the food was lacking in nutrition leading to dysentery and scurvy. When free labour was more readily available others took up this occupation. Some shepherds were additionally brought to Australia on the ships that carried sheep and were contracted to caring for them on their arrival in the colony. Sheep owners complained about the inefficiency of shepherds and the shepherds’ fears of getting lost in the bush.[2]

Typically shepherds were responsible for the sheep during the day, while a hut-keeper watched them during the nights. The sheep were taken out to graze before sunrise by the shepherd and returned them to brush-timber yards at sunset. The hut-keeper usually slept in a movable shepherd’s watch box placed near the yard in order to deter attacks on the sheep. Dogs were also often chained close by to warn of any impending danger to the sheep or shepherd by dingoes or natives.

In 1839 the usual wage for a shepherd was about AU₤50 per annum, with full rations of 12 lb. meat, 10 lb. flour, 2 lb. sugar and ¼ lb. tea per week. The wage during the depression of the 1840s dropped to ₤20 a year.

During the 1850s many shepherds left to try their luck on the goldfields causing acute labour shortages in the pastoral industry. This labour shortage leads to the widespread practice of fencing properties, which in turn reduced the demand for shepherds.[3] Over 95% of New South Wales sheep were grazing in paddocks by the mid 1880s. An 1890s census of fencing in New South Wales recorded that 2.6 million kilometres of fencing had been erected there with a contemporary cost of $AU3 billion.[4] Boundary riders and stockmen replaced the shepherds, who have not been employed in Australia and New Zealand since the 1800s.

In religion

The 5th-century Ravenna mosaic illustrates the concept of The Good Shepherd.
Traditional Midnight Mass with Shepherds in Provence.

Metaphorically, the term is used for God, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition (e.g. Psalm 23), and in Christianity especially Jesus, who called himself The Good Shepherd (Gospel of John 10:11). 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 patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, the twelve tribes, the prophet Moses, and King David; and the Old Testament prophet Amos, who was a shepherd in the rugged area around Tekoa. In the New Testament, angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds.

The same metaphor is also applied to priests , with Roman Catholic and Anglican 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 term "Pastor", originally the Latin word for "shepherd", is now used solely to denote the clergy of most Christian denominations.

The Good Shepherd is one of the thrusts of Biblical scripture. This illustration encompasses many ideas, including God's care for his people and his discipline to correct the wandering sheep. 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 is also reinforced with the metaphor of sheep in need of a shepherd. [1]

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

Sikhism also has many mentions of shepherd tales. There are many relevant quotations, 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.

In popular culture

"The Shepherdess" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau; note that the bare feet are clean, despite her occupation.

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 immortalized in art and sculpture. Among the best known is the neoclassical Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen's Shepherd Boy with Dog.[citation needed]

In the Latin American literary classic "Empire of Dreams" (Yale, 1994) by Giannina Braschi, shepherds invade the city of New York in a pastoral revolution.

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 again 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.[5] 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.

Biographies of David Ben Gurion published in the early years of Israel emphasized his having been a shepherd immediately after his arrival in the country in the 1900's. Later, however, historians concluded that he had been involved only very briefly in this profession and was not good at it.


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

See also


  1. ^ Coupe, Sheena (gen. ed.), Frontier Country, Vol. I, Weldon Russell, Willoughby, 1989, ISBN 1 875202 00 5
  2. ^ Pemberton, P.A., Pure Merinos and Others, ANU Archives of Business & Labour, Canberra, 1986, ISBN 0 86784 796 4
  3. ^ Chisholm, Alec H., The Australian Encyclopaedia. 8. Sydney: Halstead Press. 1963. pp. 103
  4. ^ Outback magazine, "Outback Story", Issue 62, Jan/Dec 2009
  5. ^ 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

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

a word naturally of frequent occurence in Scripture. Sometimes the word "pastor" is used instead (Jer 2:8; 3:15; 10:21; 12:10; 17:16). This word is used figuratively to represent the relation of rulers to their subjects and of God to his people (Ps 231; 80:1; Isa 40:11; 44:28; Jer 25:34, 35; Nah 3:18; Jn 10:11, 14; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4).

The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very onerous. "In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief (see 1Sam 17:34).", Deane's David.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Simple English


A shepherd is someone who looks after sheep. Shepherds usually take the sheep out into fields so that they can graze (eat the grass). In the same way, someone who looks after cows is called a “cowherd”. A "swineherd" looks after pigs and a "goatherd" looks after goats. A herd is a group of animals. To “herd” can also mean to get a herd of animals to move along. A female shepherd is called a “shepherdess”.

Many years ago, when most people lived in the country, shepherding was very common. Sheep were kept for their milk, meat, and especially their wool. We know that there were shepherds in some parts of the world thousands of years ago.

The shepherd’s job was to make sure the sheep were safe and they were not eaten by wolves or other wild animals.


A shepherd’s way of life

In many societies shepherds were an important part of the economy. Unlike farmers, shepherds were often wage earners. They were paid to watch other people’s sheep. Shepherds often lived all on their own. Some were nomadic. Shepherds were most often the younger sons of simple farmers who did not inherit any land. Still in other societies, each family would have a family member to shepherd its flock, often a child or young person or an old person who was not able to help much with the harder work.

Shepherds often worked with dogs. The dogs (sheepdogs) were trained to herd the sheep. Sheepdog trials are still popular today. The shepherd has to give signs to the dog to tell it exactly where he wants the sheep to go.

A shepherd had a lot of time to sit and think or amuse himself. He often made simple instruments out of reeds that grew where he sat. These instruments were often simple panpipes or just pipes which were similar to bamboo pipes or a modern recorder. Some shepherds learned to carve instruments out of wood. An example is the fujara from Slovakia and southern Poland.

Shepherds in the Arts

Shepherds often made up music. This is why composers of classical music very often wrote music which imitated the sound of the shepherd’s pipe. For example: in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute the character Papageno, a birdcatcher, plays on his pipes. In the Symphonie Fantastique Berlioz wrote music which describes a shepherd playing his pipes, and a shepherdess far away the other side of the hill answering his call. Berlioz used an oboe and a cor anglais for this.

(The Shepherd of Arcadia) by Nicolas Poussin.]]

Musicians were not the only people who liked the idea of the life of a shepherd. Many painters painted scenes in the country with sheep being looked after by a shepherd. Poets wrote about shepherds. The shepherd’s way of life was thought to be the ideal way to live. It was called Arcadian. Poems like these are called pastoral, after the term for herding. Some early examples are the Idylls of Theocritus, and the Eclogues of Virgil.

Metaphors in religion

In the Christian religion Jesus is often called “the good shepherd” because he looks after his people in the same way that a shepherd looks after his sheep.

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was proud of being part of a rich tradition of prophets who made their living as shepherds.

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