Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Follow the Leader

"Sheep have an unfair reputation as being less than intelligent. Most likely this stereotype has resulted because sheep have a strong tendency to associate with their own kind and the many follow a few. These same two characteristics apply to a number of people, yet, humans are considered quite intelligent. "
Sheep Sense by Mike Neary

Since we have gotten the Tunis I have been thinking a lot more about a sheep's flocking instinct.

I have seen it with our Border Leicesters but comparing them to the Tunis I realized flocking instinct can vary between breeds of sheep.

Our Border Leicesters are a much more loose knit group. They all have their "space". They do stay together but they feel comfortable with a bit of  distance between themselves when they are grazing or laying around the barnyard.

The Tunis ,well they remind me of synchronized swimmers! They walk together, lay huddled together ALL the time. I recently read that in the finer wool breeds that the flocking instinct is strongest. When they first arrived here I thought it might be because they were nervous and not used to their new surroundings but weeks later, they are as close as ever! Sometimes they will split off in groups of 3 but I have never seen one laying down on her own.

So that got me reading...

Why flock?

It is a sheep's method of defense, that along with flight. From the time they are born lambs  are taught to "follow" the older ewes.
The flocking instinct in sheep has its advantages for the shepherd.  It makes it easier to handle the sheep. (most of the time)

Sheep are social animals and for sheep to be sheep there needs to be at least 4 or 5. If less than that their behavior is less predictable.

After some reading, I was discussing some of the comments that I had read about sheep and their behavior  with Mike.  One comment was made that  they would follow each other over  a cliff. I asked him what he thought of that. He said he can't imagine a sheep taking the leap. They do have survival instincts. I have to agree.

It was an interesting topic for me to study.  Our sheep are in a confined area and  have about 15 acres to roam but there are barriers to keep them in and unwanted predators out.  I am not sure if their behavior would change if they were on open range. I do know that you can find them always together. If one is far removed from the group we usually do a check to make sure everything is okay. Occasionally, they were just  daydreaming. I have seen what happens when they look up and spot no one...they do get frantic for a minute until they spot another ewe. I have also seen them take off in a run if the other sheep are on the move, even if they have no idea what they are running from or to. I have learned ,from working with sheep, that they do not like corners and that they do not travel in straight lines. Working with the sheep's natural instincts makes life a lot easier when they need to be handled or moved.

I really found the article that I quoted at the top of this post interesting. And not just because I agree with them that sheep get a bad rap sometimes :)  It goes into detail about a sheep's defense mechanism's including their sight and hearing. It's always nice to have a  little more understanding about why sheep act the way they do at times.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your viewpoint on raising sheep. I can't wait to get mine! I am surprised how much I've learned from Blogosphere!! Have a great evening!! Shine

    1. I still remember when I got my first four ewes! It was so exciting. I wish you the best with your sheep adventures!

  2. Very interesting post, Sandra. I really had not thought too much about this. I have noticed though, that when one of my ewes is off to herself, something is wrong with her. So I go check. But most of the time, they get sidetracked or off in la-la land. I do have one ewe, Darla, who does like to be alone. She's usually off to the side. And she's always the first to do anything too.

    I had the neatest dream last night about Tunis sheep. And they were not too far from me. I'll have to go look for some now.

    I just ordered 2 164' Premier netting fences and a solar energizer. Should get here next week. I am hoping I can keep the sheep in one and have the other ready to move them into. But I'll have to see if one will be big enough for the 8 ewes and 7 lambs. Sure wish I had the acerage you have.

    1. Kris, We have used the electric netting fence and I liked it.

    2. I got my fence today already. Just ordered it Wed. They sure are fast. That charger sure is interesting. I'll put it up tomorrow and try it out here in the yard. Foot tall grass out there that I don't want to cut.

      Your sheep are having lambs!!!! They're all adorable!

  3. I have a flock of Jacob sheep and have noticed they are somewhere in between the ultra flockers ( like my term) and the so-so flockers. My sheep seem to form mini-flocks within the flock, each mini flock comprised of moms, their moms, offspring.

    I love watching and studying my sheep and having sheep has allowed me to come to more fully understand the Bible scriptures about sheep and shepherds and the amazing grace the Shepherd has for me, a sheep...not really stupid, actually quite smart & cunning on figuring out how NOT to comply, usually to my own rack & ruin ! :)

    I love your blog, and it is always nice for me to connect with other shepherdesses.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and sharing!
      I really enjoy following farm/sheep blogs and just added yours to my list :)

  4. Thanks for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop! I hope you can join us again today at:

  5. Our Cluns are not strong flockers and I think our ewes tend toward pretty intelligent as well. When something is going on, you'll see their heads bolt up to look up, bright-eyed and alert, and they'll assess the situation before taking any action. And they're absolutely willing to bolt out away from the flock if they see a pathway to greener grass. {smile} They're pretty much willing to spread out across as much pasture as they have with only general contact between themselves. I don't know how far they'd take it, but our biggest pasture is 17 acres, and they'll spread across the whole thing.

    Our ram is a whole different issue! I don't know if all Clun rams are that way because he's the only one we've had this long--but he is very flighty and would certainly run headlong off a cliff if startled. Usually everyone around him is calm, he panics, and causes general chaos through the entire flock. If he's not around, our ewe flock acts completely different.

    1. I noticed that different breeds have different personalities!
      I have a few ewes that are rebels and can be found far from the flock :)


Thank you for stopping by the farm!

We appreciate your comments!

Related Post

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...