Confession, despite living in Wyoming for more than 3/4 of my life, I know very little about sheep. Even though I encounter a traffic jam every now and then because a flock of sheep block the road way; even though my mom’s cousin owned and operated a ranch and while visiting that ranch when I was eight years old I saw a lamb being born; and even though my town hosts our county fair and 4-H is a big deal in these parts I still have gained very little knowledge about sheep.
So, I decided to look up some facts about sheep to help give me a clearer perspective on this talk.
- Sheep have very good memories. They can remember at least 50 individual sheep and humans for years. They do this by using a similar neural process and part of the brain that humans use to remember.
- Sheep have been shown to display emotions, some of which can be studied by observing the position of their ears.
- Contrary to popular belief, sheep are extremely intelligent animals capable of problem solving. They are considered to have a similar IQ level to cattle and are nearly as clever as pigs.
- Like various other species including humans, sheep make different vocalisations to communicate different emotions. They also display and recognise emotion by facial expressions.
- Sheep are known to self-medicate when they have some illnesses. They will eat specific plants when ill that can cure them.
- Sheep are precocial (highly independent from birth) and gregarious (like to be in a group).
- Female sheep (ewes) are very caring mothers and form deep bonds with their lambs that can recognise them by their call (bleat) when they wander too far away.
- Wild sheep tend to be larger than domesticated species, the largest (Argali) being 1.2m tall. They also have longer horns which they use to defend themselves from predators.
- Egyptians believed that sheep were sacred. They even had them mummified when they died, just like humans.
- The ancient Sumerians (4000 – 2000 BCE), who are thought to have developed the first form of writing (Cuneiform script), immortalised sheep in the form of gods in their religion.The meat of sheep is widely eaten by people across the world. Sheep milk is also drunk and used to make other products such as cheese. Many people who consume animal products would like to choose products from animals kept in higher welfare systems. However welfare labelling on products can be confusing
I threw in a few extra fun facts even though they don’t fit with Elder Gong’s talk.
Isn’t it interesting that sheep can recognize certain humans? And they aren’t dumb but are actually intelligent animals. If we are similar to a flock in that we are looking for our Good Shepherd, will we be as smart as the sheep and recognize the Good Shepherd?
In a September 1987 First Presidency message President Ezra Taft Benson wrote:
In Jesus’ time, the Palestinian shepherd knew each of his sheep. The sheep knew his voice and trusted him. They would not follow a stranger. Thus, when called, the sheep would come to him. (See John 10:1–5, 14.)
At night, the shepherds would lead their sheep to a corral or a sheepfold. High walls surrounded the sheepfold, and thorns were placed on top of the walls to prevent wild animals and thieves from climbing over. Sometimes, however, a wild animal driven by hunger would leap over the walls into the midst of the sheep, frightening and threatening them.
Such a situation separated the true shepherd—one who loved his sheep—from the hireling who worked only for pay out of duty. The true shepherd was willing to give his life for the sheep. He would go in among the sheep and fight for their welfare. The hireling, on the other hand, valued his own personal safety above the sheep and would usually flee from the danger.
Jesus used this common illustration of His day to declare that He was the Good Shepherd, the True Shepherd. Because of His love for His brothers and sisters, He would willingly and voluntarily lay down His life for them. (See John 10:11–18.)
Eventually the Good Shepherd did give His life for the sheep—for you and me, for us all.
(“Feed My Sheep”, Ensign September 1987)
by Elder Gerrit W. Gong