Due to their strong flocking instinct and failure to act independently
of one another, sheep have been universally branded "stupid."
But sheep are not stupid. Their only protection from predators
is to band together and follow the sheep in front of them. If
a predator is threatening the flock, this is not the time to act
At the same time, there is a growing body of evidence that sheep
may actually possess some smarts!
Sheep foil cattle guard
Hungry sheep on the Yorkshire Moors (Great Britain) taught themselves
to roll 8 feet (3 meters) across hoof-proof metal cattle grids
to raid villagers' valley gardens. According to a witness, "They
lie down on their side or sometimes their back and just roll over
and over the grids until they are clear. I've seen them doing
it. It is quite clever, but they are a big nuisance to the villagers."
[Source: BBC News, July 2004]
I'll always remember ewe
A study of sheep psychology has found man's woolly friend can
remember the faces of more than 50 other sheep for up to two years.
They can even recognize a familiar human face. The hidden talents
of sheep revealed by a study in the journal Nature suggest
they may be nearly as good as people at distinguishing faces in
Researchers say, "Sheep form individual friendships with
one another, which may last for a few weeks. It's possible they
may think about a face even when it's not there." The researchers
also found female sheep had a definite opinion about what made
a ram's face attractive
According to researchers in Australia, sheep can learn and remember.
Researchers have developed a complex maze test to measure intelligence
and learning in sheep, similar to those used for rats and mice.
Using the maze, researchers have concluded that sheep have excellent
spatial memory and are able to learn and improve their performance.
And they can retain this information for a six-week period.
The maze uses the strong flocking instinct of sheep to motivate
them to find their way through. The time it initially takes an
animal to rejoin its flock indicates smartness, while subsequent
improvement in times over consecutive days of testing measures
learning and memory.
Smarter than previously thought
Scientists at the University of Cambridge discovered that sheep have brain power to equal rodents, monkeys, and in some tests, humans. They discovered the sheep "intelligence" while researching neurodegeneration, with a focus on Huntington's disease, an inherited disorder that leads to nerve damage and dementia.
The scientists put sheep through a set of challenges often given to humans suffering from Huntington's. The sheep showed that they had advanced learning capabilites, as they were able to navigate the challenges in the same way as humans and primates.
The Icelandic leader sheep is a separate line within the Icelandic
breed of sheep. As the name implies these sheep were leaders in
their flocks. The leadership ability runs in bloodlines and is
equally in males and females.
Sheep of this strain have the ability, or instinct, to run in
front of the flock, when it is driven home from the mountain pastures
in autumn, from the sheep sheds to the winter pasture in the morning
and back home in the evening, through heavy snowdrifts, over ice
covered ground, or across rivers. Sometimes the Leaders would
take the whole flock of grazing sheep on winter pasture back to
the farm, early in the day, if a blizzard was on its way.
New research is suggesting that sick sheep could actually be smart
enough to cure themselves. Australian researchers believe that
sick sheep may actually seek out plants that make them feel better.
There has been previous evidence to suggest that animals can detect
what nutrients they are deficient in and can develop knowledge
about which foods are beneficial or toxic.
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