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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.


  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension
    sschoen@umd.edu - (301) 432-2767 x343
    www.sheepandgoat.com



Taking it easy
Katahdin ewe and lamb


sheep faces

Sheep faces

Icelandic leadersheep
Icelandic leadersheep
Photo courtesy of Lavender Farm

 Beneath the leaves
Sheep grazing

 

    "Smart" sheep

  • "Stupid" sheep
    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 independently.

  • 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 a crowd.

    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

  • "A-mazing" sheep
    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.

  • Leadersheep
    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.

  • Self-medicating sheep
    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.