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How smart are sheep? Essay

How Smart Are Sheep by Barbara Drake is about the intelligence of sheep and the studies that have been conducted to prove that sheep can feel different emotions and recognize dogs and humans as their enemies. Evolution has re-wired the sheep brain to know to hate and stay away from humans and dogs. Brain activity research in sheep has shown that sheep see dogs and humans as more alike than comparing the human and the dog to themselves. Drake explains that “Of course, fro ma distance, if a human being gets down on all fours, there is little uncertainty and the sheep’s brain may start sending ‘possible other sheep’ signals until the sheep gets close enough to realize its mistake” (247).

Research has also found that sheep have emotions. They have been known to feel and display moods of fear and happiness. For example: when sheep see an approaching human they will start to feel fearful or if an approaching human is carrying a bag of grains for them to eat then they will start to feel happy because they know that they are about to eat. Drake believes that people who believe that animals do not have feelings or emotions are just trying to find an excuse not to feel bad about the horrible things that we do to animals to be able to harvest their bodies for food.

“If a creature has no feelings, it can feel no pain,” Drake explains is the common cliché phrase that humans use to make themselves feel better about the harmful things we do to animals as a society (248). The feeling of happiness sheep feel when a human is bringing them food is not because of the human, but it is that the human is bringing them. Bummer lambs, which cannot be brought up by their mothers, are bottle-fed and are most commonly known to display happy emotions when their bottles are being brought to them.

The bummer lambs start to become hostile and resentful when it’s human starts to wean it from its bottle. Drake has “seen weaned bummers use a resentful kind of body language that can only be called sulking” (248). This kind of behavior is the beginning of the behavior that has naturally been wired into their brains to dislike humans. Other research shows that sheep produce more excitable brainwaves when being shown a picture of horned sheep. If a sheep is shown a picture of a sheep upside down it will not recognize the sheep because, usually, sheep are only recognizable on all fours.

Drake states, “In fact, a sheep on its back is liable to be in trouble” (249). Sheep have been categorized as stupid because of their strong herding instincts. Entire herds of sheep have been known to walk off of cliffs just because their leader went off first. Sheep were tested below the intelligence level of horses and cattle when presented a bucket of feed that was covered in in a black cloth. It took the sheep more than several tries to figure out that the cloth has to be removed to retrieve the food. Another test showed that in single-trial learning, sheep knew how to recognize a plant they shouldn’t eat after only eating it once.

Lambs also learn this by example from their mothers. Sheep also know to go into their pens at night and how to sort themselves into the ram and ewe sides of the pen. Drake encountered an eight-month old lamb that was lost and was trying to find its way home. Not sure where the lamb belonged, Drake sold the lamb to some people who lived on the other side of town. A few weeks later the lamb had gone missing. The lamb had panicked and jumped the fence because it had been left all alone in the pen by itself. “This time when the new owners returned the lamb to their farm, they made sure there were a couple of ewes waiting for them in the pen,” Drake explained, concerning the lamb that had escaped (251).

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