You can't pull the wool over a sheep's eyes

Years ago, some scientists tethered rams in a field and left the ewes to choose, writes Rosemary Allen.

You can't pull the wool over a sheep's eyes

Apparently, black-faced ewes chose black-faced rams and white-faced ewes chose white-faced rams. All rams would choose any ewe if given a free rein, but the ewes were more selective!

Recent research has proved sheep are neither mindless nor stupid. But I already knew sheep were clever.

We once had a ewe that started life as a tiny quad. We found her in the corner of the pen unlicked and nearly dead. We took her into the house and kept her in a tea chest for days; tubed her until she could suck a bottle, and I'm afraid we gave her a name – Wizzie.

She grew up with ragged ears where they'd been burned on the infra-red lamp, and she was extremely tame and came when you called her. She was notorious for sticking her nose in your pockets looking for nuts, and was never pushy. But if she didn't want to be caught, she wasn't so tame then.

However, contrary to what many "wiser shepherds" than we were said, she was fertile and an excellent mother. She lived 12 years and had 27 lambs, only one single and the rest twins and triplets.

Her lambs all looked alike, (perhaps she always chose the same sort of ram!) and we kept all her daughters. And, because she would come to see us in the field they became tame too, even among 600 other "normal ewes".

It was funny to see them run up with her as babies and then be alarmed at us petting and hand-feeding her. But they learned from her where the free nuts came from.

The first point of this is that we could recognise them in the field, and what's more, we soon noticed that they were always together.

She didn't appear to be bothered with her grown-up daughters, but they always hung around her. We lost track of her granddaughters, but presumably they hung around their mothers – a mini flock among the other hundreds. I think this is clever and shows that they made choices.

The second point is that lots of research could be cut short if scientists would just do what hands-on farmers do – observe stock in their normal routines and draw conclusions.

I conclude that sheep are clever, even devious, and they certainly learn and remember things, including what you don't want them to remember, like the smell of the dip or holes in hedges – just to prove they can out-think you and make your life difficult if they choose to!

* Rosemary Allen is a retired livestock farmer now living near Ellesmere and with her husband Peter is part of CowCash-UK.

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