Learn Something New about Sheep

With there being five times more sheep in NZ than people, you think we would know a lot more about them than we do...
March 22, 2024

With there being five times more sheep1 in NZ than people2 you think we would know a lot more about them than we do!

Heavily farmed, most without the basics of shade or shelter, there is a lot for sheep to constantly cope with just to make it through each day.

We think that you will agree, when you read the fun facts below, that sheep are pretty amazing creatures; deeply loyal with the ability to remember friends, prefer them over food and also grieve them, we think these facts will warm ewe to the core…

Sheep are great with faces!

  • Sheep can remember 50 other different sheep faces for over 2 years.3
  • Sheep are able to recognise their flockmates by their faces alone.4
  • Pictures of other sheep's faces can reduce their stress in a negative situation (Goat pictures also have some effect, but sheep know their sheep).5
  • Sheep recognise human individuals from looks and scent.6

Sheep make firm friends.

  • Sheep prefer the company of their friends over tasty food.7
  • A study in the 1980s found about 9% of the rams they studied with a sexual preference for the same sex, and about 22% made no distinction.8 Gay and bi-sheep, everyone!

The sheep's eye!

Known to us as a shy longing usually amorous glance, sheep's eyes are far more dynamic than that:

  • Sheep, like cattle, do not have round pupils. Their pupils are shaped more like cat ones, only horizontally.9
  • Sheep are able to rotate their eyes, so that the slits stay horizontally to the ground while grazing.10 This gives them maximum chance to spot a predator approaching.
  • Sheep's eyes also reflect light like a cat's eye thanks to their eyes having a reflector system called a tapetum lucidum!11

Sheep smarts.

Contrary to un-educated popular belief, sheep are quite bright! They can adapt and problem-solve:

  • Sheep can learn tricks just like dogs.12
  • Sheep can even hold off on doing a learned trick if it means getting a reward faster!13
  • This also means sheep have judgement bias based on previous experience; just like us.14
  • Ever yawned because you saw someone yawning? That's called emotional contagion and sheep have it, too.15

The wonders of wool!

If humans had left sheep alone, sheep would grow thicker coats when necessary and shed them when it gets warmer. Breeding has made their wool grow almost continuously with barely any shedding.16

Which brings us to these last two not-so-fun facts:

  1. This excessive wool growth causes problems, like flystrike17 from faeces-smeared wool on their hindlegs.
  2. Sheep can get hypothermic when they are sheared for their wool. In bad weather they can even die; yes, here in New Zealand.18

Please think about this before you contemplate buying your next wool jumper!


With your help we can end animal experimentation in Aotearoa.