When telling someone that I raise sheep, they almost always follow with, “Sheep are really dumb animals, aren’t they?” Many people think that sheep fall at the bottom of the scale of intelligence, but after 11 years of shepherding, I know differently.
We may think that all sheep look the same, but studies show that sheep can recognize and remember up to 50 different faces. They know the other members of their flock, and they know when one of them dies or is removed from the flock. We have seen this on our farm with our own sheep. The second year of lambing, we had twins born, Bonnie and Bob. At 3 months of age, Bob was removed from the ewes to live with the other rams. After being separated from his sister for 2 years, we had an opportunity to reunite Bob and Bonnie. They immediately walked up to one another and stood nose to nose in the pasture for 20 minutes. I knew that they remembered one another.
Izzy and Mariann, two of our Gotland ewes, came to us from the same farm. They have a special bond between one another, always together, always rubbing noses with one another. Sheep have favorites in the flock. With a distinct hierarchy within the flock, each sheep knows their friends and their enemies. They will stay close by their buddies and avoid those who boss them around, just like you and I tend to do in our own circle of relationships. With Izzy and Mariann, their faces tell the story of their friendship.