Today, for reasons unnecessary to explain, it is incumbent upon me to defend the much maligned intelligence of sheep.
Having raised them for nearly 20 years, I have the benefit of some experience on my side.
Sheep are not stupid.
Just like humans, some sheep appear flighty and skittish. For the most part, they are gentle, intelligent and caring creatures. My opinion is, the negative sheep-ly behaviors are motivated by fear and not stupidity. A sheep only has a few means of self defense. Both rams and ewes will; butt, face the threat head on, stomp a foot and even snort when afraid and sadly, that is where it ends. Most of these defenses will not protect them from a predator.
A good shepherd will provide a means of protection. Most importantly, they’ll need a sturdy fence to keep sheep in and predators out! A livestock guardian dog, even llamas and donkeys provide the rest of the necessary protection. When the guardian animal is doing his job properly, he will place himself between the impending threat and his sheep. Then he will defend accordingly. The sheep will learn to stay behind their protector and keep a close watch on the situation. Depending on the severity of the threat or attack, a flock might scatter while being chased. Once the situation deteriorates to a chase, all they can do is run. A frightened sheep most likely will not make good decisions about where it runs. Most predators can outrun or tire a sheep very easily. Then the attack is imminent.
Watching and observing my flock over the years brought me great joy. I have seen their behavior in so many different situations. While a birth is occurring, they all seem to be aware of what is happening and maintain a respectful distance. To a degree, they care for each others lambs by allowing them to remain close by-sometimes even resting on the ewes back while she’s laying down in the warm Spring sunshine. But when it comes to nursing, ewes are quick to send other ewe’s lambs back to their own mom. Young lambs will play and romp with each other with wild abandon and this was undoubtedly, the most joyful thing to watch-ever.
Sheep miss each other when one is removed from the flock for shearing, veterinary care or when a death occurs. They will call and look for the missing sheep, to the point of exhaustion. In the case of a death, they call and look again, exhaustively. Once the realization settles in, they mourn. I’ve seen this more than once. While I can’t humanize this animal, they do certainly possess many human qualities.
So, when I hear people speak of these animals in less than flattering tones, I don’t fight back the compulsion to correct their point of view…I kindly inform them that sheep are so much more than they might have ever realized.
|"Ruthie and Lulabelle", were my last two ewes. They lived very long and happy lives on our farm. Both passed on some time ago. They were my beautiful wooly friends. :)|