Mindless Followers or Animals with Goals?

While sheep have a reputation of just following the herd with not much more of a thought than finding the next patch of grass, I think sheep are more noble than this. I have seen sheep, with some sort of goal in mind, purposefully walking along a hill. Now as I have been researching sheep, I find that ewes uphold the tradition of females always having a good sense of direction. They are able to guide a herd of sheep over miles of terrain as they remember paths that they walked as lambs.

In Britain, there are more than 60 breeds of sheep. Similar to the castles and churches that dot the countryside, many of these breeds date from medieval times-- one example being the Soay sheep that live on St. Kilda's island. Sheep not only add a countryside charm to the landscape; they literally shape the landscape by changing the plants that live there. During the tragic foot-and-mouth epidemic in Britain in recent years, residents of the idyllically beautiful and pastoral Lake District were distraught that the death of moor sheep would change the landscape for many years. These Herdwick sheep range freely over the hilly land.

Here in California, we visited a pumpkin patch guarded by a herd of sheep, well more likely, viewed by a herd of sheep. The patch organizers took the opportunity to educate visitors about farm animals by dotting the gourd-decked hay bales with informational signs about sheep, pigs, and horses. Here are some fun updates. The wool from one sheep can turn into enough yarn to stretch for a mile. A sheep lying on it back isn't comfortable. Please help it; it can't get up from that position on its own. A hogget isn't a piglet. It's a sheep between one and two years of age.

One of our favorite sheep in this group appeared bright white. It wasn't until I returned home and looked at my photo that I realized that he or she had a panda eye! Please see the charming photos above. These sheep all had to dine while watching family after family haul pumpkins to their cars.

An Animal of the Chinese Zodiac

Contrary to what you might think, black sheep are not bad apples. In Chinese astrology, each year has 3 characteristics: 1) yang (male) or yin (female) 2) one of five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, and 3) one of twelve zodiac animals. was the year of yin water sheep! Water is associated with the color black, hence the reference to black sheep. On a side note, there are no oxen, roosters or rams; these animals always fall in yin years, so they are cows, chickens, and ewes. See the following great site for more.

In Chinese folklore, lambs are symbols of respect and love for parents, and the delicate way a lamb dances around its mother is evocative of this symbolism. In one folktale, a butcher is getting ready to slaughter a sheep as its terrified and saddened lamb looks on. The butcher steps away, and when he returns, he can't find the knife anywhere. He decides to wait for another day. As he shepherds the lamb outside, he realizes that the lamb had been hiding the knife under its body. The butcher immediately gives up his job, frees the lamb and ewe, and becomes a monk.

In American and British symbolism, counting sheep is a way to get to sleep. I haven't found where this tradition originated, but certainly thinking of pillowly animals evocative of a warm spring day in the countryside is restful.

In Christian symbolism, Jesus is thought of as a shepherd of sheep guiding his charges to peace. Shepherds visiting the baby Jesus presented him with his first gift, a lamb. Even before Jesus's birth, it is said that Mary was comforted by a pet lamb after she realized she was pregnant and before Joseph had a dream that led him to support her.