For a non-farmer I’m spending a lot of time caring for livestock these days. After the fun I had tending to day-old piglets recently, which regular readers will remember, last week I found myself looking after my neighbour’s sheep and chickens while he sloped off to Val d’Isere on a skiing trip.
Chatting to friends in the pub later, I mentioned that I’d always had sheep marked down as dim-witted creatures. If there’s a hole anywhere they’ll fall into it, usually by knocking something over first. But now I’m not so sure. It seems sheep can read my mind from a hundred yards away, and instinctively know when the ewe nuts are on the way.
I can traipse through the pasture half a dozen times a day, walking the dog or barrowing logs to the wood shed, and the sheep will barely give me the time of day. But if I only think about approaching the feed bins, a stampede of ravenous, pregnant ewes comes flocking to my heels, pushing and shoving in their haste to be first to the feast. Most unseemly.
Even if I sneak the long way round from the road and creep up on them from the rear, by the time the feed buckets are full the girls are clamouring for them, before I can even open the gate.
Surfing the internet later, I found evidence that sheep genuinely are quite bright. Cambridge University scientists conducted various food-rewarded intelligence tests on them and found their brainpower to be equal to mice, monkeys, and in some tests, even humans.
But what sealed it for me was a Yorkshire farmer who fell foul of his neighbours when his sheep began destroying their gardens by munching through flowers and vegetables. Turned out they’d learned to cross an eight-foot wide cattle grid by lying down on their sides, or even their backs, then rolling over and over until they got to the other side. No woolly thinking there.