7 Things You Didn’t Know About Sheep

Unlock the untold world of sheep through seven fascinating facts, shedding light on their complex communication, unique diets, impressive intelligence, and much more.

Sep 17, 2023By Christie Cheng
things you did not know about sheep

Sheep have been an essential part of human life for centuries, serving as sources of food, clothing, and companionship. Despite their prevalence, the world of sheep remains largely mysterious to most of us. Could you fathom that there are more than 1,000 distinct sheep breeds, each with unique characteristics roaming our world?

7. They are Masters of Communication

Photo Credit: Breedr

Believe it or not, sheep are expert communicators. Yes, you heard it right. Indeed, these fascinating creatures have their unique language. Sheep express their feelings, intentions, and even social status through a combination of vocalizations, body language, and even subtle facial expressions! Every “baa”, tail wag, or tilt of the head carries a specific message within the flock. What's more, sheep can recognize and remember the voices of their flock mates, which helps maintain social cohesion and harmony within the group. Now, isn't it impressive that amidst all the baa-ing, there's a lively chat going on?

6. They Outnumber Humans in New Zealand

sheep new zealand
Photo Credit: The Times

Astonishingly, New Zealand is home to more sheep than people! The sheep population in New Zealand is estimated to be about five sheep for every person, significantly outnumbering the human population. With sheep farming playing a crucial role in the country's economy, it's not surprising that these wooly residents are a common sight across the country's picturesque landscapes. Intriguingly, New Zealand’s highest populated region with sheep is the Canterbury region, home to over 8 million of them! This high sheep-to-human ratio highlights the pivotal role sheep play in sustaining rural communities and agricultural economies across the globe.

5. They Possess a Four-Chambered Stomach

sheep diet
Photo Credit: AZ Animals

Sheep, being ruminants, have a specialized digestive system uniquely designed to handle tough plant materials. They possess a four-chambered stomach, a remarkable feature that enables them to break down and extract the maximum amount of nutrients from their predominantly grass-based diet. Interestingly, one of these chambers, known as the rumen, even ferments the food! This unique digestive chamber breaks down fibrous substances and complex carbohydrates that other animals can't digest. It's a wonder of natural engineering - a stomach that truly serves a purpose!

4. They're Skilled Maze Navigators

sheep flock
Photo Credit: NSW Local Land Services

Sheep are known for their flocking behavior, but did you know that they are also skilled at navigating mazes? Research has shown that these creatures can memorize complex maze layouts and recall these for up to two years! This suggests not only an impressive memory but also survival instincts, crucial when finding shelter or escaping from predators in challenging terrains. This knack for navigation is not just confined to mazes, sheep can remember specific feeding locations and paths they’ve traveled before, even in grazing areas spanning hundreds of acres!

3. They Produce Highly Nutritious Milk

sheep milk
Photo Credit: Raising Sheep Net

While cows may be the most well-known dairy animal, sheep's milk has been a dietary staple in many parts of the world for centuries. Not only does it pack essential nutrients like Vitamin B12 and calcium, but it also outshines cow's milk in terms of protein content. This makes it a perfect nutritional alternative for those intolerant to lactose. Sheep's milk doesn't just stop at being a wholesome drink - from the tangy Mediterranean feta to the creamy, robust French Roquefort, sheep's milk contributes to producing a diverse array of beloved cheeses worldwide. Therefore, every time you enjoy a slice of sheep's cheese, remember the nutritional richness it brings to your palate!

2. They Require Regular Shearing for Health

sheep shearing
Photo Credit: Raising Sheep Net

Shearing a sheep isn't just a haircut; it's a crucial process for their health, particularly in warmer climates. Without regular shearing, sheep's wool can overgrow, potentially leading to overheating and pest infestations. Professional shearers are trained to perform this task with the utmost care, ensuring the sheep's comfort and well-being. Additionally, shearing provides the raw material for a wide range of products, from warm clothing to soft blankets. Did you know the world record for the fastest time to shear a sheep is held by Ivan Scott in Canada, who managed it in just 37.9 seconds?

1. They Have an Exceptional Memory

sheep intelligence
Photo Credit: Psychology Today

Never underestimate a sheep! These wooly beings exhibit extraordinary memory capabilities, recognizing fellow sheep and human faces for several years. This incredible retention extends to their surroundings, enabling them to navigate familiar pastures with ease.

However, their intelligence doesn't stop at memory. Sheep also display impressive problem-solving skills. For instance, they can figure out how to unlatch gates to reach a desirable grazing area - a task that requires both physical agility and mental strategy!

These seven facts offer a glimpse into the remarkable world of sheep. So, the next time you wrap yourself in a warm woolen blanket or savor a slice of flavorful sheep's cheese, take a moment to appreciate the intricate, untold story behind these humble, yet remarkable creatures.

Christie Cheng
By Christie Cheng

Christie is a dog sitter, translator, and animal lover based in New Zealand. With her trusty Sheepadoodle, Chips, she spends her days translating and caring for pups. Her articles are a fun mix of her pet-sitting adventures and personal experiences with a variety of animals. Whether she's at her cozy desk or out exploring with Chips, Christie lives a life filled with fur, feathers, and plenty of tales to tell.