Sentient Sheep



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Sentient Sheep

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A Memorial to Sooty

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Urge Canada to End Its Shameful Seal Slaughter
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Related Links:
Sentience in Farm Animals main introduction
Sentience in Cattle Poultry  Aquatic Animals Pigs  

Liberate our sheep and Animal Rights:Sheep

To add interest I have interspersed this commentary with thought provoking quotations from philosophers, ethicists, scientists and other notable thinkers both past and present.

The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.

Hippocrates (?460 BC - ?377 BC)

It is becoming increasingly evident that sheep are sentient creatures, in fact there is much evidence both scientific and anecdotal that all farm animals are sentient.


"The way the sheep's brain is organised suggests they must have some kind of emotional response to what they see in the world,"
Dr Keith Kendrick

In 1997 a Protocol was formally added to the European Treaty recognising animals as sentient beings.

Research is now validating what to many is obvious.

Firstly, what is sentience?

Sentience, means awareness, consciousness and I will use all three interchangeably. Generally Indications of sentience are intelligence,
ingenuity including the ability to problem solve and to reason, awareness; including self awareness and awareness of others of ones own and other species, and the ability to experience pleasure and conversely suffering both on a physical and emotional level. A sentient creature is aware of his surroundings, of sensations in his own body, such as hunger, thirst, heat, cold and pain and the emotions relating to these sensations. In simple terms a conscious, thinking, feeling being.   

Animals it is clear fit into this criteria in a very similar way to you or I, but perhaps different in some aspects. Animals have their own kind of sentience and because we may not be able to relate to this does not mean that other creatures are not as conscious, not as aware. And who knows - perhaps even more conscious, for instance animals are in some way are more aware than we are, such as what appears to be a sixth and/or heightened sense. For more comprehensive information, definition and discussion of sentience with regard to farm animals please refer to Sentience_in_farm_Animals

I would like to assert that sheep have the above indications of sentience. Lets look at a few of the characteristics of sentience and how they present in sheep. Although not included above specifically we can tell if a creature is sentient if he or she shows compassion or is able to form bonds with other animals.

Sheep show compassion! Form bonds!

Judge for yourself.

Jeffery Massom in this book The pig who Sang to the moon tells the story of Rammo, " a macho two-year old Ramouillet ram" who formed a special and compassionate bond with Whisper, a cow who was born blind.  

"Rams tend to be loners, and he was a pretty tough ram, so it seemed unusual that he would take up with a blind member of another species. But he did"

"He would graze next to her all day and guide her about the field, making certain she did not bump into the fence or posts...When she had a calf , Shout, sired by an Angus bull, Rammo behaved paternally toward the young animal, more so than even to his own offspring, several bouncy lambs. Whisper lived to be four years and than died in 1996 of a viral infection. Rammo mourned her a long time, standing by her dead body, calling and calling.

More later about the emotions of sheep, compassion, friendship and the formation of bonds with other species including our own.

Charles Darwin said:

There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties ... The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.

intelligence is often seen as an indication of sentience.

However it is important to consider that sentience exists without intelligence, at least intelligence according to our perception. Always keep in mind that an animal's intelligence is not like our own and even amongst our own species there are various types and degrees of intelligence. Therefore intelligence as we understand it is not necessarily a prerequisite to sentience; an animal does not necessarily have to have complex abilities to understand, learn or problem solve in order to be considered sentient, although of course they may and indeed do have these abilities also. What may appear to us to be a lack of intelligence may only appear to be so by comparison with our own. I consider that all creatures have intelligence of some type and would not survive without it. However, regardless of type or degree the recognition of some level of intelligence adds weight to the concept of sentience in non human animals, at least according to the perspective of many people.

It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.
Mark Twain

Of all domesticated animals it seems that the sheep is considered as being at the bottom of the rung with regard to intelligence. Sadly a misconception. New research shows that the humble sheep once considered a stupid creature is in fact an intelligent animal. Sheep often caricatured as stupid and mindless with a heard mentally are indeed anything but, research shows that they are very much like us, they have a sense of self, have a keen sense of individuality but can also work together as a group, are crafty and feel emotions similar to our own such as love, loss and jealously. It may surprise you to know that tests show that sheep mourn absent individuals, and prefer a smile to scowl.

Dr Keith Kendrick, the neuroscientist at the Babraham Research Institute in Cambridge, who has led recent research, says that the brains of sheep and humans  have an astonishing amount in common.  Dr Keith Kendrick  reveals that current research indicates that sheep have abilities which are in many ways comparable with humans. Referring to sheep's memories he says:
"It is a very sophisticated memory system. They are showing similar abilities in many ways to humans "

His research also confirms that sheep have not only remarkable memories but in addition they experience emotions, when for instance they see a familiar face. It has been demonstrated that sheep can recognise up to fifty faces even in profile, for as long as two years, a sure indication of intelligence. There is evidence that sheep are also able to form mental images of other sheep in their absence.
"As they stand huddled with the rest of their flock in what appears like a grazing stupor, sheep may in fact be visualizing long departed flock mates. Or forming a mental image of an ovine bully causing it particular distress. Given a sheep's ability for facial recognition, mixing and matching different flocks of sheep may be quite distressing to the animal,"
Sheep Are Highly Adept at Recognizing Faces, Study Shows.

Dr Keith Kendrick also states:

"If they can do that with faces, the implication is that they have to have reasonable intelligence, otherwise what is the point of having a system for remembering faces and not remembering anything else".

"It does beg the question that sheep must potentially be able to think about individuals that are absent from their environment"

"We [humans] are obviously capable of conscious perception of faces using this exact same system in the brain as is present in the sheep. Therefore, it would be surprising if they were not capable of some level of consciousness using that same system."

Listen to BBC's Richard Hollingham's interview with Dr Keith Kendrick and read the article Amazing Powers of Sheep

BBC News | SCI/TECH | Amazing powers of sheep

Interestingly Dr Kendrick conjectures that sheep have acquired the reputation of being stupid simply because they flock together, giving the appearance that they do not have any individuality and are timid, stressful and fearful creatures.

"Any animal, including humans, once they are scared, they don't tend to show signs of intelligent behaviour,"
BBC News | WALES | The 'intelligent' side of sheep  

You will be able to read more about Dr Kendrick's research, face recognition and emotion later.

More recent evidence about sheep's ability to recognise faces(includues video):

EweTube: Sheep are cleverer than we originally thought - and can even recognise human faces
"New research shows sheep can recognise different human faces from photographs

The sheep chose familiar celebrity images - including actress Emma Watson and former US President Barack Obama - over an unfamiliar face.

And they could also recognise the celebrity faces when they were presented in different perspectives, an ability previously only shown in humans."

Read more:

Please note the article above refers to animal research. We oppose all animal experimentation and include this article because of its supportive evidence regarding sheep intelligence.

It has been reported that sheep have the ability to concentrate and can watch television. Commenting on this unusual aspect of a sheep's capabilities Jeffrey Mason in his book The pig who sang to the moon says:
It certainly strains credibility to think they 're watching without any mental activity; after all, paying attention to what they see is already a form of mental activity ."

Here is the latest information concerning sheep's ability to recognise faces

EweTube: Sheep are cleverer than we originally thought - and can even recognise human faces
New research shows sheep can recognise different human faces from photographs

Read more:

If you do not believe that sheep watch TV than you are in for a surprise, at the end of this webpage.

Scientists in Australia have discovered that sick sheep know how to heal themselves by eating plants that make them well. Furthermore sheep learn this from their mothers when they are lambs. Research shows that when they have a choice sheep will return to a plant that has helped them in the past.

Dr Revell a scientist in involved in the research studying sheep nutrition says:

“It could be that sheep need certain medicinal paddocks where we take them to self-medicate … or it could be that they need ongoing low-level intakes of certain plants to keep parasites at bay,”

“The right plants have to be available to the animals at the right time. We suspect they need access to a range of different forage plants to learn which to choose,”

He said sheep learnt best from their mothers and knowledge of medicinal plants may be passed on through generations of sheep.

Unseen Prejudice
By Rebecca Hall

Sheep it appears not only have have nutritional knowledge but, like other animals, they have the capacity to make a choice, and also they know what is good for them. Incidentally, the fact that sheep know how to care for themselves rather undermines the argument that sheep left to roam wild would fall pry to all sorts of disease, including parasitic infestation, clearly if sheep are capable of caring for themselves to some degree in the way described above this is clearly not the case. Sheep are only dependent on man because we have made them so. If sheep where pastured in fields with the appropriate plants the argument concerning the need for such cruel abusive interventions such as Mulesing and tail docking would not be valid. Although it has to be said that there is no compelling reason to carry out these procedures as other more humane alternatives are available, and moreover neither Mulesing or tall docking has been proven to be effective, causing more suffering and even encouraging the development of conditions, such as flystike, which they are mean to prevent.

Farm animals have been reared for many thousands of years to provide food and clothing rather than as companions. One of the reasons that many people consider that sheep do not possess the awareness of their pet cat or dog may simply be due to the fact that there has not been the interaction on a similar level with a farm animal, such as a sheep. This is particularly so in our modern society where most people in towns or cities never see a live farm animal except as they drive by in the car. Also many farm animals are factory farmed confined in sheds, never seen in their natural environment. For clearly when you associate with any farm animal on the same level as your dog or cat a similar relationship will develop. Once you become familiar with sheep or indeed any other farm animal their individuality is apparent.

Our concept of farm animals, in particular sheep, as dumb and unintelligent is simply a result of habitual learnt thinking, a kind of cultural concept passed from generation to generation without much thought or analysis on the part of society in general. Society often does not question the obvious; for instance, consider that even ancient Greek society with its numerous philosophers never questioned the ethics of slavery. Likewise many do not question our treatment of farm animals nor consider them as sentient feeling beings similar to ourselves.

But things are changing and the more we become aware and interact with farm animals the more we will realise they are not automatons; meat, milk and leather producing machines put here for our use and abuse, but sentient creatures with their own needs and their own lives.

We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention and curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals.
Charles Darwin

It is accepted that pigs for example make fine pets, although I prefer the term companion animals, and similar is the case with Sheep. (Not that I approve of keeping companion animals who have had of course no say in the matter; birds in cages, fish in tanks, dogs dragged about by their necks on leads is not a natural way for any animal to live, however the lot of well cared for and much loved cat or dog is considerably better than that of a farm animal.)

In a village in Sussex where we once lived, some years ago there was a lady who had a pet sheep and she interacted with this sheep in the way more conventional pet owners interact with their cat or dog. My husband and I often feed local sheep in a nearby field who are clearly pets, “much loved” as the owner once explained. These sheep recognise you, they interact with you. An elderly sheep whom we have fed for many years always rushes over, or sadly more recently hobbles, when we arrive and he did so even after an absence of nearly two years when we were not able to go and feed him. He bleats with some clear annoyance when the horses with whom he shares the field receive food that he thinks is his and bah’s quite loudly with obvious angst when all the food is gone. He is a delightful creature with a personality all of his own.

In fact when you take the time to observe sheep it will soon become apparent that each has his or her own personality, some are quite timid and never approach you whilst others are extremely curious, particularly tiny lambs. Some may be slightly more aggressive than others albeit with only frantic bleating, especially ewes with lambs; sheep are of course never a danger to others of their species or to any other species and are one of the most placid animals you can find. Look at the faces of sheep, each is an individual and displays emotion, some sheep look clearly depressed as is the case with the sheep below, a forlorn looking creature she sat apart from her fellows, although always in sight of them as sheep are gregarious creatures.

The capacity to suffer, and not only physical suffering, is indicative of sentience, you can tell quite easily that this sheep is depressed, her whole demeanour reflects a sad dejection. I am a sufferer of depression, I can recognise the condition in others and this includes other animals. This photograph was taken in the Yorkshire Dales on a particularly bleak day towards the end of winter, it was one of many days in a rather protracted spell of wet, damp and very cold weather. In the elevated hilly terrain of the Yorkshire Dales the weather is particularly inclement, always a few degrees cooler than at lower levels and life is harsh for sheep which graze here and there is little or no protection on the bleak hillsides with few trees or hedges.

Please click the graphic above to access a larger image

Like humans sheep exhibit varying degrees of intelligence and ingenuity, such as the sheep who worked out how to cross a cattle grid, this I will tell you about in more detail a little further on, while others appear less so such as the ewe who having escaped her field tried to return through the gap in the gate which was clearly far too small. In fact escaping from fields is a special talent of sheep who seem to find exits in places no human appears to foresee.

Every sheep has a distinct character. For each fearful and stupid animal, there is a curious and affectionate one. Every flock has its leaders: while the rest panic at the appearance of humans and dogs, the leaders work out what you want them to do, and, if it seems safe, they do it. Their confidence inspires the rest.

Horatio Clare


Janet Taylor founder of  Farm Animal Sanctuary tells this delightful story in answer to the question - are they stupid:

“Are they stupid... ? Janet laughs: “You must be joking. There’s the gang of three and working together they can open any gate on this farm. They stick their tongues through the holes in latch gates; if a bolt is stiff, one will lean against the gate to ease the pressure while another slides the bolt back with his mouth and the third kicks it open.”

This amusing account indicates quite clearly that sheep are not only intelligent, but intelligent with a good deal of ingenuity, they have an obvious ability to solve problems and work things out and to also work in groups indicating communication between them. Even though we may not in anyway be aware of such communication it obviously takes place as the above clearly demonstrates. The sheep here have clearly worked out between themselves how to open the gate.

Sheep also show a good degree of clever cunning. Sheep living in the Yorkshire moors have worked out how to cross the cattle grid to raid local gardens, the cricket ground and even the graveyard in a Yorkshire village. Driven by hunger these clever creatures have devised a way to cross the grid in order to graze in the gardens of the village by laying on their sides or backs and rolling over and over. In addition these sheep have perfected the skill of hurling themselves over fences as high as five feet and squeezing through tight gaps of little more than eight inches. A spokesperson from the National Sheep Association commenting on this situation said:

"Sheep are quite intelligent creatures and have more brainpower than people are willing to give them credit for."

Read the full story: BBC NEWS | UK | Crafty sheep conquer cattle grids

My husband and I have witnessed similar escapades. A ram in the Yorkshire dales has worked out how to cross the grid which leads from his field into the lane which affords fresh grazing, he simply and quite nimbly walks across the grid with far more agility than I could mange.

Surely even the simple action of seeking shade as you can see in the photograph below when the sun is hot or shelter in inclement weather has to be figured out, and demonstrates intelligence and the ability to reason.

Sheep find shade on a very warm afternoon in September

Make no mistake and assume that sheep simply stand firm during hot or adverse weather and endure it because they are too stupid to do otherwise; this is often a misconception many people have which gives credence to the idea that sheep lack intelligence; if shade or shelter is available they will make good use of it. If you observe carefully you will notice that the only time sheep endure driving rain, snow or blistering heat is when they are trapped in fields which offer no protection. So when you see sheep which appear oblivious to all weathers, in most cases you will notice this is only so because they have no choice as there is no shelter. Regrettably people misinterpret this kind of seemingly oblivious behaviour as indicative of a lack of intelligence and awareness.

In addition to face recognition of as many as fifty sheep as mentioned earlier it is now known that sheep can recognise the faces of at least ten people for at the very minimum of two years, which incidentally is something I cannot do, having a problem with face recognition. The same Research cited earlier at Cambridge University demonstrates also that sheep react to our facial expressions responding more favourably to a smile than a frown.
"Sheep are able to recognise faces that differ by less than 5% so we thought perhaps they could recognise emotions which are much more subtle," "It turns out they can, both human, smiling versus angry; and sheep, stressed versus calm."
Dr Kendrick.

Intelligence however is not the only criterion which qualifies sheep as sentient. However sadly - intelligence is it seems, our main yardstick of worth and for many an important criterion in the consideration of whether or not a creature is sentient, and not only in the consideration of other animals but also with regards to our own species.

Sheep have been considered dumb most likely because it is in the interests of those who exploit animals for profit to encourage this fallacy, mostly notably the meat industry who wish to promote the misconception that animals are not sentient beings.

Awareness of self and others can only manifest in a sentient creature.

Awareness of others of their kind, and indeed other species and a sense of self is also is an important criterion is accessing the presence of sentience. Sheep more than many creatures are aware of others of their species. Research demonstrates that when sheep are isolated from their flock they clearly experience stress, this is indicated by an increase in heart rate, the production of stress hormones and frantic loud bleating. Although anyone who works with sheep or regularly visits the countryside does not need the confirmation of test results to notice the anxiety, and indeed fear, when a sheep becomes isolated from his or her flock. Incidentally sheep recognise their own particular flock. Recently in the Yorkshire Dales a lamb had somehow escaped her field and was frantically running back and forth, her frenzied bleating echoing round the entire valley until with some encouragement from my husband she finally found her way into her own field and was reunited with her flock. Previously her frantic bleating had not abated by entering a field occupied by a different flock. Another time a sheep busy grazing failed to notice that the flock had moved on, her distress was not only clearly audible with frenetic bleating and running with some considerable haste to join her flock, but the sheer presence of stress in her whole demeanour couldn't be missed. During research it was found that stress in such situations was reduced when the sheep where shown pictures of other sheep whom they knew, being shown pictures of goats a very similar creature to which sheep are closely related and pictures of triangles did not have the same effect. These examples of course not only show that sheep are aware of other sheep, but also that sheep have excellent memories.

A Lamb more than any other baby animal recognises his or her mother. Below is an observation of this made in the Aberdeen bestiary written in 1200

The lamb is called agnus possibly from the Greek word agnos, pious. Some think that it gets the Latin form of its name because, more than any other animal, it recognises, agnoscere, its mother, so much so that, even if it strays in the midst of a large flock, it recognises its mother's voice by her bleat and hurries to her. It seeks out also the sources of mother's milk which are familiar to it. The mother recognises her lamb alone among many thousands of others. Lambs in large numbers make the same baa-ing noise and look the same, yet she picks out her offspring among the others and by her great show of tenderness identifies it as hers alone.

Text f21r The ram, the lamb, the he-goat - The Aberdeen Bestiary.


Sheep like humans have different personalities and personality traits in varying degrees. For instance not all sheep are timid as everyone thinks, and for those who are, again as with people this trait of personality is varied. Some sheep flee at the slightest noise or movement, whist others are incredibly bold. The delightful creature below followed us around one day last summer during a visit to the Cheviot hills. She showed no fear whatsoever. We were able to feed her and when we arrived back at the car she peered in making us feel really guilty as we ate our lunch until we gave her my apple slice. One of the most unusual aspects was the effect her following us about had on other sheep grazing nearby, who observed her boldness and unusual behaviour with obvious curiosity and dare I say it with some surprise. 

Please click the graphic above to access a larger image

Anyone visiting the Horse Shoe pass in North Wales will tell you of the very bold sheep who graze there and who loiter around the café and souvenir shop at the summit. The sheep approach you quite freely with none of the normal timidity which most people associate with sheep. They will even push their heads right through an open window or door of your car as they fearlessly pursue a tasty titbit. This year whilst holidaying in the area we saw sheep chasing a group of children, in a friendly way of course, who where feeding them hoping to obtain more food. Many years previously we had a similar experience concerning the ancestors of these sheep. It is clear that these sheep have learnt that in this area there is a good chance of a free meal, something a little more tasty than grass and they have also learnt, that at least in this circumstance, to loose their fear of man and even his dog. Although I cannot prove this it seems clear to me that the sheep here have passed on such knowledge and behaviours to their descendents. There are examples of this type of learnt behaviour being passed from one generation to another in other creatures. For instance swans who reside at the Bishops Palace Gardens in Wells, Somerset, who ring a bell for food. Swans in the nineteenth century where trained to do this and now the present generation of swans continue to do so having learnt this from their ancestors.

At the Summit of Horse Shoe pass in North Wales sheep have lost their timidity and will not only approach you when food is offered but will pester you the instant you arrive even before you can get out of the car.  As soon as you open the door a sheep will poke her head inside, as did the sheep in the photograph below and this was the reason I was able to get such a good close up.


Here a mother and daughter relax unperturbed amidst the crowds of people who stop at this popular place, including exuberant children and the noise of motorcycles. The sheep here have learnt that it is safe and they will not only come to no harm but they can obtain a frequent supply of food from people who stop to admire the view.

Please click the graphics above to access a larger image

Important : You are not advised to feed sheep, this may cause them harm. We did this before realising that sheep should not be fed food such as bread, cakes and pastries.

Having made the above warning, it is apparent that sheep, like us, prefer food that is not considered healthy. They may know what is healthy as in the example earlier, but rather like us they often choose to ignore this. In fact sheep have a great passion for food and will pursue the chance of a feed at every opportunity sometimes with comical results. As the account of a hill walker shows.

"A few years ago I had an experience which I can only describe as 'sheep mugging' whilst trying to eat lunch on Pen Twyn Glas above Crickhowell. I was literally attacked for my lunch by a very persistent sheep, she even pushed her lamb out the way to get at my sandwiches.

My friends were highly amused as she targeted me alone. They said it was because I was a vegetarian - my sandwiches contained dairy-free soya cheese spread which the sheep thought was wonderful! "

Helen Clover
What do sheep eat - Walking & Hiking Questions & Answers

Again whist on holiday some years ago during the foot and mouth outbreak when it was more important to confine sheep to their fields, a local farmer’s sheep in Northumberland persistently strayed from the field. We once saw them climbing over the wall despite the farmer yelling at them. They would wander round the hamlet entering gardens, eating the flowers and other plants without any concern whatsoever. I recall arriving back to our cottage from a day's outing to find it full of sheep grazing on the lawn and flower beds, a comical sight indeed, they simply looked up from their eating but made no effort to move. At first we shooed them away out of concern for the owner’s garden and all the effort that was put into it. But after a time the sheep became bold and instead of scurrying away one morning they simply looked up at me as I tried to shoo them away and carried on eating. They had long since worked out that they were in no danger and now therefore ignored attempts to chase them away.

As was mentioned previously, for an animal to be capable of compassion clearly demonstrates sentience. Recall the story earlier of Rammo the sheep. Sheep it seems experience a whole range of emotions.
In his article  "Unto us a lamb is given" Horatio Clare while commenting on the emotions of sheep quotes Dr Kendrick repudiating the misconception that ewes do not notice when their lambs are taken from them but instead cry for days.

"Scientists have recently 'revealed' that sheep can remember the faces of up to 50 other sheep, as well as their shepherd's mug. This will not come as much of a surprise to sheep or shepherds, who have known it for centuries. 'Sheep must potentially be able to think about individuals that are absent from their environment,' says Dr Keith Kendrick of the Babraham Institute, Cambridge. It's a fact, Dr Keith. When you wean lambs from ewes, both mothers and children cry for days. Their memories last for at least two years, according to the scientists; rather longer than some humans."

Extract From the Spectator *

Love, which was once thought an emotion exclusive only to man, is not so exclusive after all. Scientists have found that sheep can fall in love and that they experience other powerful human-like emotions also:

More comments upon and quotes from Dr Kendrick's research in the extract below from a Times on line article: How was it for ewe? Sheep's love lives revealed by Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

"The study showed that ewes fall in love with rams, have best friends and feel desolate when those close to them die or are sent for slaughter. The discovery could have important implications for the way farm animals are treated.

Studies in humans have used magnetic resonance imaging to measure how different parts of the brain become activated when people are shown images of their loved ones. Kendrick found that the electrical activity and chemical responses in sheep were very similar.

Kendrick says it is clear that female sheep actively solicit and enjoy sex — and may even have orgasms. But the study shows ewes forget about their lovers far more quickly than women."

The above extraction appeared in The Times but is no longer available.

I have to say here that although this research helps to provide scientific confirmation of the sentience and intelligence of sheep, and is therefore of great value in changing people attitudes towards sheep and other farm animals, some of the experiments, as you will read in this article where invasive. And some of the sheep where "painlessly killed " afterwards which  can never be justified in any circumstance.

In the above article you will read that research shows ewes fall in love with rams, have friends and also feel desolate when those close to them die or are sent for slaughter. Its a fact ewes are distraught and when their lambs are weaned and are taken from them, most often to be slaughtered. However without complex research it is obvious to anyone who has the time and inclination to observe sheep in thier own environment - or even in circumstances that are unnatural and indeed stressful such as in the example below of sheep at a local sheep show - that sheep display affection and like you and I have relationships and personal attachments.

Watching sheep you can see that they are friendly towards one another displaying signs of affection. Observe sheep rubbing heads, one sheep laying his or her head on the back of another sheep - just two signs of affection my husband and I have personally seen.

Sheep at a local sheep show rub heads affectionately, notice the look of sheer contentment on their faces
Sheep are often seen resting their heads on the back of other sheep.
Credit Photo:
Picture Library: Vegan Peace
JJ and Bonnie - (c) 2005 by Wanda Embar, Vegan Peace. Picture taken at Farm Sanctuary.
These affectionate siblings curl up closely to one another in the warmth of the morning sunshine

Visit Sentient Sheep in the photograph gallery to view and download similar photographs showing sheep sentience

As we have already seen compassion, also indicative of sentience is clearly present in sheep. Compassion like intelligence though varies in degrees in all creatures including humans. Whilst training dogs for the blind it has been observed that some dogs are more compassionate than others, some simply cannot be trained to assist blind people as they do not have a great enough degree of compassion. The fact that such emotions vary in other animals as they do with humans is to my mind clear indication of not only sentience but individuality, a characteristic which most people wrongly seem to consider as not present, particularly in farm animals and most particularly sheep.

It is said that sheep have no feelings and that if one of their number falls and cannot get up the others simply ignore him and carry on grazing in total disregard. This I can most assuredly tell you is simply not true. During a holiday to the West Country my husband, son and I observed a lamb fall to the ground in a nearby field. The poor little creature struggled to get back on his feet, his hooves flailing in the air. Sheep find it difficult to right themselves if they fall on their backs, they seemingly have a weak hip and are unable to get up and will die within an hour if they receive no assistance. Sometimes in older sheep this may happen simply after laying down on their side. Now the flock did not simply move on oblivious to the plight of the unfortunate lamb and leave him to his fate, rather several ewes tried to push him up with their snouts. It was a struggle but finally to our profound relief, as it would mean us climbing over the fence to take action, the lamb finally struggled to his feet. On another occasion whilst visiting the Cheviot hills in Northumbria a lamb got himself struck lower down the hill. The other sheep including his mother could do very little to help, but nevertheless they did not move on and instead peered down the hill with obvious concern and remained there until the lamb finally found his way to the top.

The evidence that sheep can make friends with other creatures both human and non human is extensive.

Read this heart warming story from What the Animals Teach Us by
Kathy Stevens, Catskill Animal Sanctuary.

"When Rambo, a large Jacob sheep, arrived, he was so dangerous that our safety was at risk. He'd stand on his rear legs, charge, and attempt to send us flying with his massive horns. "Oh, it's the breed," we were told by a woman who raised Jacobs. "I've had to put down almost all my males." Today, Rambo wanders through the barnyard, greeting other animals and following us as we feed. At night, he walks to our director's house and stands outside her office window, calling to her to come out and keep him company. When she walks the farm late each night, he accompanies her. With guests, he is gentle and affectionate, often leaning against a thigh in hopes of a head scratch.  He seeks out Dino the pony, who gently nibbles on his wool, licks his face and horns as the two stand head to head. Surrounded by love, Rambo has dropped his defences."

Isn't it amazing how sheep are transformed when we take the time to really get to know them

The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"
Jeremy Bentham

The Capacity to suffer is indicative of sentience; to feel pain one has to be aware. Animals feel pain, surely this is common sense. It is clear that animals feel pain in the same way as you or I and this why there are laws that prohibit cruelty to animals because it is generally accepted that animals feel pain. At least it is concerning animals we keep as pets. However in farming this consideration seems less so. There is often little consideration given to the inescapable fact that farm animals feel pain, and often very painful procedures are carried out on all farm animals including sheep, one of which is Mulesing. This is a practice which obvious to anyone is extremely painful. Mulesing is carried out without anaesthetic during the procedure or pain killers of any kind afterwards, during mulesing skin and flesh is cut of with a pair of shears around the lambs backside, it takes between 22 and 30 days to heal.

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More about mulesing on this website: Mulesing 

This produces a bald breach area which is said to prevent fly strike by stopping the accumulation of faeces and urine which attracts blow flies to lay their eggs. Fly strike is a truly awful blight, the sheep can literally be eaten alive by maggots. However the cure is as bad as the disease and in some cases may cause the disease itself as of course open wounds are susceptible to infection or infestation. There are other more humane alternatives, such as pesticides and simply checking that sheep are not infected see
Animal Rights: Sheep

The point is that contrary to what is often claimed, although it is plainly obvious to anyone with any common sense, there is scientific evidence that sheep do indeed suffer both during and after these procedures.

Farm animals including sheep are like us in many ways, the most important of which is that they all have a brain and a nervous system, just like you,  your cat or dog, therefore it is common sense that if you or your pet feel pain then so do they.

There is so much evidence concerning the sentience of farm animals including sheep and If you need persuasion other than common sense please read the section on this website:
Sentience in Farm animals

In addition to scientific evidence there is so much anecdotal evidence that is truly overwhelming which leads to the conclusion that sheep and indeed other farm animals are sentient. People understand this given the opportunity to get to know these gentle creatures as was the case for a Pennsylvanian farmer and his wife, whose sheep farm was next to a farm sanctuary. After visiting  neighbouring  OohMahNee Farm animal sanctuary and helping feed new born lambs, gradually the perspective of the farmer and his wife changed and they saw their live stock as sentient creatures, individuals capable of both joy and pain with interests of their own.  Finally they gave up the business of farming and gave their entire stock to the Farm sanctuary.

The more time the couple spent next door at the sanctuary, the more they changed inside. They began to see animals as living, feeling creatures, rather than tools of production. They started building relationships with their own sheep and realized that farm animals do feel joy and pain, and that they do have their own interests. They learned, first-hand, that animals enjoy life and fear death, just as people do.

When the farmer and his wife helped raise and bottle-feed two fragile, newborn lambs who had been abandoned by their mother, they felt closer to their animals than they ever had before. When they witnessed the stillbirth of a lamb, or saw one of their flock taken by a predator, they allowed themselves to feel sadness. Most importantly, the farmer and his wife no longer felt comfortable sending their animals to slaughter.

Finish reading this heart warming story.

 "A Pennsylvania Farmer's Compassionate Decision Brings Nine Sheep to Live at Farm Sanctuary"

In the next story not only can one man's pet sheep watch TV but he is an all round intelligent and friendly creature,  truly sentient. Proving the idea that if you get to know sheep as individuals you will find some amazing characters far more clever and aware than most of us have realised. This story clearly shows that given the opportunity a sheep really is no different than your cat or dog.

Rescued as a lamb the now 22 stone sheep is quite at home in his rescuer's home where he is now as much a part of the family as a more conventional pet. The sheep, a ram named Nick Boing likes to sit and watch TV and go for a ride in the car, says his owner:

"He's more intelligent than your average sheep that's stuck in a field.

He's in the house and in the car and meeting people over the park and around the village.

"He's part of the family. He comes in every evening, head-butts the cushions off the settee and watches TV.

"If the biscuit barrel is out he'll butt it on the floor because he knows the lid will come off.

"Come 11pm he'll have a swede or an apple and then he's out for the night.

Please read the full story:

Sheep is unusual new house pet |


The old assumption that animals acted exclusively by instinct, while man had a monopoly of reason, is, we think, maintained by few people nowadays who have any knowledge at all about animals. We can only wonder that so absurd a theory could have been held for so long a time as it was, when on all sides the evidence if animals' power of reasoning is crushing.

Ernest Bell

Can sheep experience pleasure?

To experience anything a creature has to be sentient, if we can see that an animal experiences pleasure this is added evidence that he or she is sentient. I think there can be little doubt in anyone minds that sheep experience pleasure. Who has not seen spring lambs gambol, indeed who has not seen a fully grown ewe suddenly leap and frolic.

They can be very playful. Lambs run races along the edges of fields. They love to compete for King of the Castle: any ant-heap will do. My mother had a yearling (a one-year-old) which had the habit of climbing on to the daily hay bale, apparently for the hell of it. She was evidently a joker, as most lambs pass through the playful phase and enter a rather solemn period, when they eschew games.
Horatio Clare

Watch these delightful videos of lambs playing, surely there can be no doubt that these creatures are enjoying themselves:
YouTube - Baa Baa Black Sheep Have you any wool


Lambs enjoy playing King of the castle as you can see here on another U Tube  video:

YouTube - Lambs Playing King of the Castle

Notice how the little lamb jumps through the gap in the bars to join in the fun.

I think the day is coming, a day long overdue, that the true nature of farm animals will realised, and that in time we will treat sheep and other farm animals with the respect and compassion that they are due and allow them the right to life without negative interference and molestation. 

Shame on such a morality that is worthy of pariahs, and that fails to recognize the eternal essence that exists in every living thing, and shines forth with inscrutable significance from all eyes that see the sun!
Artur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

References and links

Some of the information above was gleaned from the sources below where you can find more information about sentience in sheep.

Sheep Are Highly Adept at Recognizing Faces, Study Shows

Veganism - Compassion

Sheep might be dumb ... but they're not stupid | UK news | The Observer

*Unto us a lamb is given by Horatio Clare.

The link to the original article in the
spectator no longer functions the extract below appears on various website on the net.

The Spectator
15th December 2001,

When you wean lambs from ewes, both mothers and children cry for days.

……………. Every sheep has a distinct character. For each fearful and stupid animal, there is a curious and affectionate one. Every flock has its leaders: while the rest panic at the appearance of humans and dogs, the leaders work out what you want them to do, and, if it seems safe, they do it. Their confidence inspires the rest.

Although no one has ever claimed that sheep are intelligent animals, neither are they fools. Some seem predisposed to stray. Once they learn that fences can be surmounted by jumping or crawling, they are unstoppable. Strays lead independent lives, rearing their lambs on the run. Incidents of sheep learning to roll across cattle-grids are famously well documented.

They can be very playful. Lambs run races along the edges of fields. They love to compete for King of the Castle: any ant-heap will do. My mother had a yearling (a one-year-old) which had the habit of climbing on to the daily hay bale, apparently for the hell of it. She was evidently a joker, as most lambs pass through the playful phase and enter a rather solemn period, when they eschew games.

When newly shorn or dashing through a gate into fresh pasture, young sheep literally jump for joy, springing into the air like pot-bellied antelopes. They form strong attachments: best friends will stick together and remember each other, seeking each other out after periods of separation.

Scientists have recently 'revealed' that sheep can remember the faces of up to 50 other sheep, as well as their shepherd's mug. This will not come as much of a surprise to sheep or shepherds, who have known it for centuries. 'Sheep must potentially be able to think about individuals that are absent from their environment,' says Dr Keith Kendrick of the Babraham Institute, Cambridge. It's a fact, Dr Keith. When you wean lambs from ewes, both mothers and children cry for days. Their memories last for at least two years, according to the scientists; rather longer than some humans.

The telling phrase in the Babraham report, published in Nature, is that the test-sheep were trained to recognise pairs of faces 'using a food reward'. Sheep, as the researchers have discovered, will do absolutely anything for food.

Their emotional sympathy is extraordinary. Sheep sense human anger or frustration and try to flee. Good shepherds move calmly and slowly among their flocks, and talk to them. Sheep will answer. The ubiquitous bleat of the hungry sheep is only one of many communications. There are cries of distress, which any shepherd will recognise; whickering, affectionate noises to reassure lambs. There are curious, interrogative grunts; whistles of alarm or hostility, and groans of pain when giving birth.

Anyone who thinks that sheep are cowards has never tried to capture a full-grown ram for a spot of horn-shortening. A ewe will face down dogs or foxes when defending a lamb, which is astonishingly courageous, considering her complete lack of weaponry. And there is absolutely no doubt that they know when death is upon them. When they believe all is lost, lambs go completely limp in the hand.


Important please note:

I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.

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