In case you thought that sheep were dumb.....
Due to their strong flocking instinct and failure to act independently of one another, sheep have been universally branded "stupid." But sheep are not stupid. Their only protection from predators is to band together and follow the sheep in front of them. If a predator is threatening the flock, this is not the time to act independently.
At the same time, there is a growing body of evidence that sheep may actually possess some smarts!
Sheep foil cattle guard
Hungry sheep on the Yorkshire Moors (Great Britain) taught themselves to roll 8 feet (3 meters) across hoof-proof metal cattle grids to raid villagers' valley gardens. According to a witness, "They lie down on their side or sometimes their back and just roll over and over the grids until they are clear. I've seen them doing it. It is quite clever, but they are a big nuisance to the villagers." [Source: BBC News, July 2004]
I'll always remember ewe
A study of sheep psychology has found man's woolly friend can remember the faces of more than 50 other sheep for up to two years. They can even recognize a familiar human face. The hidden talents of sheep revealed by a study in the journal Nature suggest they may be nearly as good as people at distinguishing faces in a crowd.
Researchers say, "Sheep form individual friendships with one another, which may last for a few weeks. It's possible they may think about a face even when it's not there." The researchers also found female sheep had a definite opinion about what made a ram's face attractive
According to researchers in Australia, sheep can learn and remember. Researchers have developed a complex maze test to measure intelligence and learning in sheep, similar to those used for rats and mice. Using the maze, researchers have concluded that sheep have excellent spatial memory and are able to learn and improve their performance. And they can retain this information for a six-week period.
The maze uses the strong flocking instinct of sheep to motivate them to find their way through. The time it initially takes an animal to rejoin its flock indicates smartness, while subsequent improvement in times over consecutive days of testing measures learning and memory.
The Icelandic leader sheep is a separate line within the Icelandic breed of sheep. As the name implies these sheep were leaders in their flocks. The leadership ability runs in bloodlines and is equally in males and females.
Sheep of this strain have the ability, or instinct, to run in front of the flock, when it is driven home from the mountain pastures in autumn, from the sheep sheds to the winter pasture in the morning and back home in the evening, through heavy snowdrifts, over ice covered ground, or across rivers. Sometimes the Leaders would take the whole flock of grazing sheep on winter pasture back to the farm, early in the day, if a blizzard was on its way.
New research is suggesting that sick sheep could actually be smart enough to cure themselves. Australian researchers believe that sick sheep may actually seek out plants that make them feel better. There has been previous evidence to suggest that animals can detect what nutrients they are deficient in and can develop knowledge about which foods are beneficial or toxic.