Two lambs

5 cool facts about sheep

How much do we really know about sheep and their lives?

3/29/2022

Today there are over one billion sheep in the world. Sheep are adorable creatures who have lived closely alongside humans for millennia. But how much do we really know about sheep and their secret lives?

1. Sheep are complex and intelligent creatures

If you consider yourself above average on your trivia knowledge, chances are you already know that sheep are intelligent animals. For example, one study found that sheep can learn how to navigate out of a complex maze,1 and it was seeing their fellow sheep at the finish line that helped them reach their exit! 

So sheep may be cute and clever, but did you know that they also possess strong face recognition abilities? In one study, sheep were trained to expertly distinguish four famous faces from photographs, that of former U.S. President Barack Obama, actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Emma Watson, and BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce. In fact, sheep can remember up to 50 individual faces for more than two years!2

Sheep flock with lambs standing in barn

2. Sheep are curious and playful 

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has been tough for the entire world. But as we've seen with many other types of animals, while people were away, sheep came out to play! 

During the lockdown period, sheep delighted a Welsh town when they decided to explore the outside area of a closed McDonald's, much to the surprise of the grocery shoppers next door.3 And in the Southeast county of Monmouthshire, a group of lambs were spotted spinning on a merry-go-round at a children’s playground.4 Sheep have an estimated field of vision of up to 320 degrees thanks to sheep’s large rectangular pupils (humans average just 155 degrees).5 Spinning on the merry-go-round must’ve been one trippy sensation to remember for these fun-loving creatures! 

3. Sheep make dependable and empathetic friends 

Sheep don’t just form friendships; they also have besties!6 Sheep make excellent BFFs by forming deep and lasting bonds and sticking up for their weaker friends during fights.7 Sheep even grieve at the loss of their friends when they go missing.8

Two sheep

This is because sheep experience a whole range of emotions, including fear, despair, anger, boredom and happiness, which is what drives their actions and makes them so loyal. In fact, sheep support each other so well that they can even detect anxiety in another sheep just by looking at their face.9 Sheep can even distinguish our different facial expressions and prefer our smile to our frown.10

4. Humans have bred sheep to continually grow wool

Unlike domestic sheep, wild sheep types naturally shed most of their wool each year, a vital trait for their survival.11 However, the wool of domesticated breeds like Merino sheep will just keep growing if left unattended.12 

For example, in 2015 a sheep named “Chris” was found outside of Canberra, Australia with 88 pounds of fleece on him.13 Struggling to walk under the weight of his own wool, which was almost equal to his own body weight of 97 pounds, it took 42 minutes to give Chris the clip of a lifetime – a task which usually takes under three minutes.14 Marvels aside though, overgrown wool can be incredibly dangerous for sheep – heat management for example can be a fatal issue.15  

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5. Most Australian sheep used for wool undergo mulesing, a cruel practice that over 300 fashion brands now oppose!

But what is mulesing? It involves restraining lambs at 6-12 weeks of age on their backs. Then shears, similar to garden shears, are used to cut away skin from their hindquarters and around their tail. It causes acute pain for up to three days, leaving a wound that takes weeks to heal.  

Mulesing aims to prevent a condition called flystrike, but…good news! There are pain-free solutions available to mitigate this issue. And the best of these is to simply use good sheep genetics (you can read more on the solutions here). 

So what can you do to protect Australia’s loveable sheep? Join the over 150,000 supporters in signing our petition against mulesing to show brands that you won’t stand for the use of mulesed wool in fashion. Mulesing is no longer a necessary evil and it has to go!

Its clear sheep are highly intelligent and emotional, sentient beings. They deserve to be seen and valued for much more than just their wool. Together, let’s #EndMulesing!!

#WearItKind Say no to mulesed wool today!

By Ranny Rustam, FOUR PAWS Industry Research Coordinator

Source

1, 2, 7, 8, 10. Constable, H., 2017, "Sheep are not stupid, and they are not helpless either", BBC Earth, April 19, accessed September 16, 2020, http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170418-sheep-are-not-stupid-and-they-are-not-helpless-either
3, 4. Murray, J., 2020, "True-life portraits, imaginary nuptials and fantasizing sheep", The Guardian, April 23, accessed October 8, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2020/apr/22/true-life-portraits-imaginary-nuptials-and-fantasising-sheep
5. Amelinckx, A., 2017, "6 Fun facts about sheep you might not know", Modern Farmer Media, December 22, accessed October 6, 2020, https://modernfarmer.com/2017/12/6-facts-sheep-might-not-know/
6. Haines, L., 2005, "Sheep have best friends: official", The Register, March 16, accessed  September 16, 2020, https://www.theregister.com/2005/03/16/sheep_have_friends
9. Kois, K., 2020, "11 reasons why sheep hate the wool industry (and why you should, too)", People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.peta.org/blog/sheep-facts-wool-animalkind/
11, 12. Orwig, J., 2015, "Enormous, cloud-like sheep are an evolutionary nightmare", Business Insider Australia, September 7, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com.au/why-sheep-cant-stop-growing-their-fur-2015-9?r=US&IR=T
13, 14. "Ewe won‘t believe how much his wool weighed", Radio New Zealand, September 3, 2015, accessed October 8, 2020,  https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/rural/283160/ewe-won't-believe-how-much-his-wool-weighed
15. Nosowitz, D., 2015, "World-champion shearer removes absurd 88-pound fleece from sheep", Modern Farmer Media, September 4, accessed October 7, 2020, https://modernfarmer.com/2015/09/chris-australian-sheep/

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