Sheep: woolly farm animals that say “Baaaa”! But, is that all? Absolutely not, these creatures are far more nuanced than you might realise. They’ve got an impressive memory, recognition skills and are quite intelligent.
Believe it or not, sheep build friendships, stick up for one another in fights, and can experience emotions such as fear, anger, rage, despair, boredom, disgust, and happiness. They’re also very gentle animals and were one of the first animals to be domesticated.
They prefer a smile to a frown as they can differentiate facial expressions. Here are 17 interesting facts about sheep that’ll teach us a thing or two about these, intelligent, and gentle creatures…
A sheep’s wool
Does sheep wool stop growing? Apparently not, for the domestic breeds of sheep in particular, as these sheep can’t shed wool on their own, which is a vital survival trait for sheep in the wild. Merino sheep can produce between 10 to 40 pounds of wool each year, and need humans to shear their wool for them. Back in 2015, a sheep that hadn’t been sheared for years produced nearly a hundred pounds of fleece.
They’re not even close to human pupils. In fact, they’ve got a rectangular shape and a 320-degree vision, vastly superior to the 155 degrees that human eyes offer. Because they are the prey of so many creatures the sheep’s pupils are critical to their survival.
If you compare sheep to other herbivores, you’ll realize that they’re better grazers than most of them. The justification for this can be located in the sheep’s philtrum – the grove separating the upper lip, which lets the animals get very close to the ground when grazing.
Males and females
Male sheep are called rams, while females are called ewes, and immature animals are lambs. The ewes always form a sturdy bond with their young ones. If a lamb got lost because it wandered too far they can easily recognise the bleating and find it. Mature sheep weigh from around 35kg to as much as 180kg (80 to 400 pounds).
Wild sheep are bigger than their domesticated friends. As a comparison, the largest wild sheep measure up to 1.2 meters tall. Because they have to stand for themselves against predators, their horns are also longer, and wild sheep, unlike domesticated sheep shed most of their wool every year.
Personality and Intelligence
If you have ever encountered sheep, you know that, like dogs, they wag their tails and they’re very friendly. What you might not realise at first glance is the fact that they can form very strong connections with other animals, not just fellow sheep but people and even goats.
Sheep have good memories, hence their friendly nature. It’s truly fascinating that they’re capable of remembering 50 different sheep and humans too, and that is the minimum number. They preserve this memory for years. Science has concluded that the process sheep use to remember isn’t that different from what has been seen in humans.
A self-healing process
Can you imagine sick sheep writing their own prescriptions? When sheep fall sick, they self-medicate by selecting a specific plant when something has made them ill. They are surely well-aware of the plants that they need to eat to cure their ailments.
Solving complex problems
The previous fact will perhaps improve the poor image sheep are saddled with. They have to survive in a world where the only constant is the change which proves one thing: sheep are not stupid. Still, they’re not that different from cows in this arena. Science has proven that if challenged they can solve complex problems too.
Together as a flock
If you’ve ever seen sheep, you’ve probably perceived that they always flock together. This characteristic is present in most sheep. As sociable creatures, they prefer to operate in groups.
How many sheep are there?
According to estimates, there are more than one billion sheep in the world in the early 21st century and nearly a thousand species. Countries that have large areas of grassland like Australia, New Zealand, China, India, the United States, South Africa, Argentina, and Turkey are the major producers.
History and Culture
People in most countries around the world consume sheep’s meet and sheep’s milk. While that’s a well-known fact, there’s a lesser known one about Mongolians and sheep’ eyes! What’s that you might wonder? They put sheep’s eyes into their tomato juice to create hangover cures. Peculiar, but who knows, maybe effective!
Egyptians and ancient Sumerians
The Egyptians did not necessarily worship sheep. But they considered them sacred creatures, which is why particular sheep were mummified like their human counterparts upon death. The ancient Sumerians on the other hand idolized sheep.
The Ancient Greeks used the bones of sheep to make dice for the game knucklebones. As the title of the game suggests, the playing pieces for knucklebones were made out of sheep legs. They used them both in gambling games like dice and for telling the future.
The sheep industry has existed for at least 10,000 years. The raising and breeding of domestic sheep are known as sheep farming or sheep husbandry. Sheep are raised in a husbandry for their meat, lamb, mutton, milk, fibre-wool, parchment and sheepskin.
Bonus Sheep Facts!
Have you heard the rumours?
They’re almost true! In fact, a sheep lying on its back is vulnerable and can’t right itself, not without help. In this position, sheep are easy prey for crows or badgers. But this only applies to heavily pregnant sheep or sheep with heavy, possibly wet wool.
The most famous sheep
Dolly, named after the country singer Dolly Parton is probably the most famous sheep, the first mammal to be cloned. Born in Scotland in 1996, she gave birth to six lambs and died in 2003 after suffering a lung infection. If you want to see Dolly, you can visit her at the Royal Museum of Scotland, where she was stuffed and put on display.
Do you know any interesting facts about sheep? Share them in the comments section below!
Are you fascinated with farm animals? Check out these fun facts about goats!