10 fun facts about sheep - BC SPCA
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10 fun facts about sheep

August 9, 2023

What do you know about sheep? Don’t let the term ‘sheepish,’ often used to describe people who mindlessly follow others, fool you…sheep are intelligent animals capable of more than just following the flock. Here are ten fun facts you may not know about these farmed animals that you’ll have to read to baa-lieve!

1. Sheep have rectangular pupils

Rectangular pupils allow for a wide field of vision, around 270 to 320 degrees. This means that sheep can see almost everything around them, except for what’s directly behind them, without turning their heads! As prey species, this helps sheep stay aware of their surroundings and watch for predators, even when their head is down grazing.

2. Sheep have an excellent sense of smell

One way sheep communicate with each other and their surroundings is through scent. Sheep have scent glands in front of their eyes and between the digits of their hooves that produce smelly secretions used to communicate with one another!

3. Dams recognize their lamb’s bleat

Sheep also communicate through vocalizations, often called bleating. A female sheep that has given birth to a lamb is called a dam. Dams can recognize which lamb is theirs by the sound of their calls.

4. Counting sheep? There are over 1000 breeds of sheep!

With all of these different breeds, there exist some very unique characteristics.

  • Some breeds of sheep, like the Hebridean and Navajo-Churro, possess the polycerate gene, meaning they can grow two, four, and even six horns!
  • Racka sheep are unique because both males and females have long, spiral-shaped horns.
  • Najdi sheep have long, silky hair rather than curly wool like other sheep breeds.
From left to right, photo of a Hebridean sheep, Racka sheep and Najdi sheep.
From left to right, a Hebridean sheep, a Racka sheep and a Najdi sheep.

5. Sheep are clever animals

Despite some popular beliefs, sheep are intelligent animals with great memories. Research has shown that sheep can recognize up to 50 other sheep faces and remember them for two years. They are even able to recognize human faces! Other studies have shown that sheep can remember how to navigate complex mazes.

6. Sheep can self-medicate

Sheep use plants and other substances that otherwise hold no nutritional value to prevent or treat disease and teach their young to do the same.

7. Sheep are emotionally complex with distinct personalities

Sheep are capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions, just as humans do. Many studies have highlighted the ability of sheep to feel afraid, angry, bored, sad, and happy. Not only can sheep feel basic emotions, but their feelings can be very complex. For example, scientific studies have shown that sheep can be pessimists or optimists!

8. Sheep are highly social animals

A group of sheep is called a flock, but sheep do not remain in flocks simply for protection from predators. Sheep form strong bonds with one another, such as those between a mother and her lamb and other friendships. Studies have revealed that sheep can distinguish between emotional expressions, such as pictures of sheep with calm, startled, or fearful expressions. This is a very important skill for sheep, as knowing how other sheep feel is the basis for forming strong social relationships and keeping the flock safe.

9. Sheep have an upper lip that is divided by a distinct groove

This groove is called a philtrum. Sheep are selective grazers and prefer eating vegetation near the soil surface. The philtrum allows them to get close to the ground and select only the grasses and other vegetation they like.

10. Sheep do not have top front teeth

Missing teeth? No problem! Sheep have a hard upper palate that the lower teeth press against to break down food.

Additional resources

Sheep farming in Canada

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