Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sheep are stupid

"Sheep are stupid" , "wolves are mean".....from the movie Babe.  Working with both sheep and border collies, I can fully appreciate those lines.

Sheep can do the dangest things, get themselves into the weirdest situations. I believe it's not because they are truly stupid, but that they think differently than humans. They think as a flock. They react as a unit for flock survival.  So if one sheep panics and runs away from danger, say jumps over a cliff, the rest of the flock could follow. That happened in Turkey where 1500 sheep jumped off a cliff, killing 450 of them. One after another followed the sheep ahead of them, and down they went. Yikes!

I've had other sheep owners tell tales of sheep piling up in corners while fleeing some danger, imagined or real. They'll jump and climb right atop another, trampling and suffocating any small lambs to death. They're just looking for an escape route, but woe to the little lambs if there's no place to go but the corner.

You know the saying that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence? Well, sheep whole heartedly subscribe to that. Plenty of sheep have died with their head stuck through a fence, unable to figure out how to back their head out. Although I've never lost a sheep this way, I have had them get stuck on a fence. Getting them to back out is really difficult. The whole time you're trying to back their head out, they're pushing forward trying to climb through a 6 inch square opening.

Speakng about backing out, this isn't something that sheep are good at doing. It's not a flock thing, but sheep are very poor in the reversing department. They've got plenty of forward gears, but they are hard to get into reverse. Cheap transmissions!

Not only can sheep get stuck with their heads through a fence, I've had a couple get stuck trying to go under a fence. They get their head and shoulders through, but the belly stops them. Ah, again a case of no reverse. I've had to pull them by their hind legs to free them, all the while they are struggling to go forward.

Yet another case of defective reverse transmissions, I've had sheep get stuck between two close young trees. Head and shoulders through but stuck at the belly. They'll jump and push to go forward, but don't try to back out. While freeing these stuck sheep, it's easy to call them stupid. In fact, I admit that I've done it. I've cursed and called them stupid the whole time I'm working to free them. Do they help? Not in your life! They're determined to squeeze between those two trees irregardless of anything else.

I'm not sure why it happens, but I've seen sheep get stuck on their backs. I had one somehow roll onto her back into a shallow depression by a fence. Unable to right herself, she died before I discovered her. Since I check all my sheep daily, she died in less than a day. I've had other flock owners report about sheep getting stuck on their backs too. It's not common, but it happens.

Here in Hawaii it is common to see sheep and goats tied out, doing duty munching down grass and weeds. Goats seem to do fine, but you have to keep a close eye on the sheep. They tend to go forward, wrapping themselves round and round a bush, clump of grass, or some other obstacle. Before long they are out of rope and have been known to strangle themselves. Again, defected reverse gear.

Sheep flocks tend to have a leader, with the rest of the flock following them. One of our friends had a flock leader named Micah who every day led the flock out of the night pen and to the pasture, then back again in the evening. The transition between the two areas meant walking through gate A, across a driveway then through gate B. Simple. When Micah needed to be temporarily removed from the flock to treat a leg injury, the flock couldn't figure out how to transfer from the night pen into the day pasture. There was confusion, fear, no one was willing to move forward on their own. They had been doing it all their lives but couldn't do it on their own. The first day of moving the flock was really difficult until one of the sheep finally made the plunge. Weird, they acted like they had never done it before.

My own flock demonstrated their dependency on their flock leader. As a flock, they couldn't seem to think individually. One day I needed to move them through a gate between two pastures. They had grown up with this gate arrangement, frequently using it with no problem. One day I wanted to hold Stacy back so that I could shear her. I planned to let everyone else go through the gate into the adjacent pasture as usual. Well, being sheep it wasn't so easy. They ran into the fence beside the gate trying to force their way through 6 by 6 inch openings. It wasn't until one finally tumbled its way through the gate by accident that the others followed. I just shook my head and mumbled, "Sheep are stupid."


  1. Replies
    1. My opinion on sheep hasn't change since I posted this. They still demonstrate their different kind of thought processing, doing it over and over again. Just last week I added 6 new ewes to the flock. Talk about showing off your stupidity! These new ewes got into all sorts of predicaments the first 3 days until they learned to follow the rest of the flock. They ended up in the wrong side of gates, couldn't figure out where the water was and how to access it, didn't figure out on their own that haycube were food, couldn't eat grain from a bucket because when they reached for the grain they couldn't see anymore. Amazing.