Cattle abounded in the Holy Land. The inhabitants chiefly devoted themselves to the rearing and management of them (Deuteronomy 8:13; 12:21; 1 Samuel 11:5; 12:3; Psalm 144:14; Jeremiah 3:24). They may be classified as:
Neat cattle. Many hundreds of these were yearly consumed in sacrifices or used for food. The finest herds were found in Bashan, beyond Jordan (Numbers 32:4). Large herds also pastured on the wide fertile plains of Sharon. They were yoked to the plough (1 Kings 19:19), and were employed for carrying burdens (1 Chronicles 12:40). They were driven with a pointed rod (Judges 3:31) or goad.
According to the Mosaic law, the mouths of cattle employed for the threshing-floor were not to be muzzled, so as to prevent them from eating of the provender over which they trampled (Deuteronomy 25:4). Whosoever stole and sold or slaughtered an ox must give five in satisfaction (Exodus 22:1); but if it was found alive in the possession of him who stole it, he was required to make double restitution only (22:4). If an ox went astray, whoever found it was required to bring it back to its owner (23:4; Deuteronomy 22:1, 4). An ox and an ass could not be yoked together in the plough (Deuteronomy 22:10).
Small cattle. Next to herds of neat cattle, sheep formed the most important of the possessions of the inhabitants of Israel (Genesis 12:16; 13:5; 26:14; 21:27; 29:2-3). They are frequently mentioned among the booty taken in war (Numbers 31:32; Joshua 6:21; 1 Samuel 14:32; 15:3). There were many who were owners of large flocks (1 Samuel 25:2; 2 Samuel 12:2, compare Job 1:3). Kings also had shepherds “over their flocks” (1 Chronicles 27:31), from which they derived a large portion of their revenue (2 Samuel 17:29; 1 Chronicles 12:40). The districts most famous for their flocks of sheep were the plain of Sharon (Isaiah 65:10), Mount Carmel (Micah 7:14), Bashan and Gilead (Micah 7:14).
In patriarchal times the flocks of sheep were sometimes tended by the daughters of the owners. Thus Rachel, the daughter of Laban, kept her father’s sheep (Genesis 29:9); as also Zipporah and her six sisters had charge of their father Jethro’s flocks (Exodus 2:16).
Sometimes they were kept by hired shepherds (John 10:12), and sometimes by the sons of the family (1 Samuel 16:11; 17:15). The keepers so familiarized their sheep with their voices that they knew them, and followed them at their call. Sheep, but more especially rams and lambs, were frequently offered in sacrifice. The shearing of sheep was a great festive occasion (1 Samuel 25:4; 2 Samuel 13:23).
They were folded at night, and guarded by their keepers against the attacks of the lion (Micah 5:8), the bear (1 Samuel 17:34), and the wolf (Matthew 10:16; John 10:12). They were liable to wander over the wide pastures and go astray (Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6; Hos. 4:16; Matthew 18:12).
Goats also formed a part of the pastoral wealth of Israel (Genesis 15:9; 32:14; 37:31). They were used both for sacrifice and for food (Deuteronomy 14:4), especially the young males (Genesis 27:9, 14, 17; Judges 6:19; 13:15; 1 Samuel 16:20). Goat’s hair was used for making tent cloth (Exodus 26:7; 36:14), and for mattresses and bedding (1 Samuel 19:13, 16). (See GOAT.)