Acrobats, comedians, lovers, tricksters: The secret life of sheep revealed

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This last eight months I’ve kept six sheep on my property.

They were offered by a friend to help me manage my overgrown two acre garden. As it turned out, the sheep were more enthusiastic and capable mammals than my teenage sons who reluctantly helped me only when they needed pocket money.

Despite moaning about losing their jobs to a bunch of sheep, my sons agree that the garden has vastly improved. The lawn is mowed, overhanging shrubs are gone, fallen fruit and leaves devoured, and sheep droppings now fertilise the vegetable patch.

Yet, their usefulness as gardeners is surpassed by their abilities as entertainers.

Sheep are really funny and much more intelligent than we know. Here is what I’ve discovered:

Sheep play

As twilight encroaches, the sheep become particularly frisky. They run around the garden for at least 20 minutes and each sheep takes a turn at leading the circuit.

Sheep like to jostle

In between their bouts of running, the sheep stop for a rest. This provides an opportunity for a jostling competition. A pair of sheep will back away from each other, heads go down and then they clash their horns. Whoever loses returns to the rest of the sheep and the victor stands on its own for a while.

Then they start running again.

Sheep are acrobats

The sheep have another game where they jump off a garden bench. A pair will leap onto the bench, jostle each other with their horns, and try to push each other off. The loser falls off the bench and the victor does an acrobatic twist by curling its legs  under its body and twisting sideways as it launches into the air before landing perfectly on its feet.

Then they all start running again.

Sheep form relationships

Sheep prefer the company of other sheep. But some are loners. Of my six sheep, there is one who stands and eats mostly on its own. Another wanders off for regular periods. The rest remain together and are affectionate towards each other.

Some sheep are smarter than others

People think sheep are dumb but they’re wrong.

Sheep are easily frightened and  become scatty.  The smarter the sheep the less scatty it is and the more relaxed it will be around people. There is one sheep that knows where I keep the food and hangs around and waits till I’m out of the way and then tries to get it. Luckily, it hasn’t quite figured out how to use a door handle.

Sheep can be vindictive

One sheep hates my dogs. She especially hates my Labrador, Max. She sneaks up behind him, butts him with her horns, and watches him run away with his tail tucked between his legs.

This sheep has also worked out how to stop the dogs from getting back onto my property after they’ve gone for a wander next door. She stands by the small hole in the fence, puts her head down when the dogs approach, and waits with her horns. The dogs know they won’t get past without being butted so they remain stuck on the other side. When she tires of the game she lets them through.

The dogs know she’s the one in charge.

Sheep make you feel better

People don’t believe me when I tell them about my dog hating, independence loving, game playing sheep. When friends visit and witness their antics, however, they quickly change their mind. As one friend said, “It’s a pity they get eaten.”

To which I reply, “It’s just as well I’m a vegetarian.”

Don’t worry sheep, you’re safe with me — though I doubt my dogs will be happy.

Sue Bell

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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