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Are sheep really stupid?

Gruff the Romney sheep has outsmarted many an honor student.

Gruff the Romney sheep has outsmarted many an honor student.

As a shearer, I often hear folks refer to sheep as “stupid”. If I had a dollar for every time sheep have outsmarted me (and eluded shearing), I’d be a rich woman.  So, if sheep are stupid, what does that make me?

Shearing is only one example of a time when a farmer needs to contain and be able to lay ones hands on the sheep (dare I say “grab”) for the necessary operation.

Good shepherds know the importance of regularly examining sheep for hoof issues, parasites, and general health checks.  But all too often the containment systems are inadequate. Gaps under gates allow for the more slender amongst the flock to do the sheep limbo.  Temporary gate closures such as baling twine, zip ties, bungee cords, twisted wire fail really, really often, either because they are too flimsy or because they take too long to re-fasten once sheep are inside.  Sheep are quick.  They are really, really quick, and they care react in 1/1000 the time a human can … and do.  I have often thought that sheep would make excellent soccer players.

Sheep are strong, sheep are fast, and sheep act strategically.  Granted, I do find that they are more linear thinkers than goats (e.g. goats may consider additional options around corners). They know before you do that you are tired.  They know before you step into the barn that you are carrying medicine. They also know when you are sad.

Sheep are special; bizarrely, human beings have been placed in the position of being their shepherds.  Part of our responsibility, therefore, is to ensure that (a) they have safe fencing that keeps predators out and prevents escape, (b) we have ways of containing them when we need to give the dreaded shots, (c) they have a clean place to live and sleep.

One of the reasons I became inspired to start hoofprints as a business is sheep.  Sheep whose shepherds struggle to lock them in for shearing, manage them for herd health days, whose barns are ankle deep in mud or manure, and who really, really, want a clean and dry place to take their all-important afternoon naps.

No matter what your purpose in keeping sheep, hoofprints can help improve your logistics and your animals’  environment.

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