Sheep are a familiar sight in the British countryside. But how much do you really know about these gentle, good-natured animals? The following 10 facts about the personalities, intelligence and skills of rams, lambs and ewes might surprise you:
1. Sheep have extremely good memories. They can remember approximately 50 individuals (sheep and humans!) for years at a time.
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2. Sheep have been shown to display and recognise emotion by facial expressions with other sheep. Some are noticeable from their ears.
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3. When they experience stress or isolation, they show signs of depression similar to those that humans show by hanging their heads and avoiding positive actions.
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4. Sheep make different vocalisations to communicate with one another.
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5. Ewes (female sheep) are very caring mothers and have deep bonds with their lambs. Each mother can recognise her lambs by their bleats alone.
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6. About 8 per cent of domestic rams display preferences for other males as sexual partners.
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7. Sheep’s large rectangular pupils allow them to see approximately 270 degrees – that’s about 100 degrees more than humans. They can even see behind themselves without turning their heads.
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8. Sheep are extremely good swimmers and have been known to cross rivers and lakes to seek out better pastures.
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9. Sheep are very intelligent and have brain power equal to that of monkeys. They have been known to solve problems in order to reach better food sources. In 2004, sheep were documented rolling over cattle grids in order to get into gardens for grazing.
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10. Sick sheep seek out plants which make them feel better. They can detect what nutrients they are deficient in and can learn about which foods are beneficial or toxic by trying them.
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Sadly, many of the UK’s 11 million sheep are abused by the meat and wool industries. They may be wounded during shearing, left to freeze to death on icy hilltops or die of malnutrition during the harsh winter months. Lambs can be sent to slaughter when they’re only months old.
You can do your bit for sheep by refusing to eat their flesh or wear their hair. There are plenty of cosy wool-free hats, scarves and jumpers on sale on the high street – or you could even knit your own! Download our free knitting pattern for a cruelty-free Christmas jumper here: PETAUK.org/xmasjumper. Baaah!