This week on the farm we had our first lambs of the season born. Molly, who has never given birth to twins, gave birth to two little boys on Easter Sunday. Which prompted this weeks post about sheep.
Sheep are ruminants meaning that they have 4 chambers in their stomach to assist with digestion. This process combines mastication (chewing with teeth, get your heads out of the gutter) and fermentation to increase the amounts of nutrients received from eating plants. Sheep are usually kept for their fur-commonly called wool-, meat, and/or milk. Here on the farm we tend to use their wool most often and shear the sheep in the spring. Wild sheep tend to come in shades for brown while domesticated sheep are in many colored varieties from dark browns to white. Humans began selectively breeding sheep to have lighter coats to make it easier to dye the wool.
Sheep have a 5 month gestation period. Since our sheep were breed in mid-December we should start having more lambs soon. We only have one ram, Perry, in the Quiet Valley herd. This protects our visitors from over aggressive rams and the sheep from each other. Male rams often fight to establish dominance by ramming or headbutting each other. Most female sheep, or ewes, have one to two lambs at a time. Most lambs are born with long tails which are docked short for health reasons. (If tails are left long, fecal matter can build up and encourage disease from flies.)
According to the University of Illinois, sheep are rather intelligent animals. They rank right under pigs, which are considered one of the most intelligent mammals. Sheep can easily recognize faces and facial expressions. We experienced this the other day during on of our programs. When I walked through the room where the class was taking place the sheep bleated very loudly startling all of us. She was saying hello and reminding me to feed her.
Sheep play a big part in our culture from religious symbols to childhood songs to truck brands and even sayings. Some of my favorite things about sheep are all of the phrases around them. To be sheepish is to be shy. The black sheep in a group or family is the out of place person. You can count sheep when you need to fall asleep. And perhaps my favorite is that a group of people who go along with something without thinking are called sheeple. So that’s a little bit about sheep.