16 November 2001

Research shows that flocks arent foolish

SHEEP are intelligent and do not forget a face despite their dim- witted reputation, according to a report published in Nature.

Sheep have remarkable memories for faces and also experience emotions, says researcher Keith Kendrick of the Babraham Institute, Cambs. More than 20 sheep were trained to recognise and distinguish between 25 pairs of sheep faces.

Measured brain activity showed they could remember 50 faces for up to two years. This proves that sheep brains are organised to remember a large number of faces over a long time, says Mr Kendrick.

This research suggests that staff consistency is important in flock management as sheep recognise the faces of shepherds, says animal behaviour lecturer John Eddison of Seale-Hayne College, Devon. "Frequent staff changes are an unwelcome experience for sheep."

Also, their ability to recognise their surroundings and other sheep may explain how hefting operates on common grazing. This highlights the difficulty faced by producers restocking common grazing areas with new groups of sheep which are placed in unfamiliar hillside surroundings.

Their ability to recognise other sheep faces may also have implications when mixing groups of sheep. But how serious the effects are on their stress levels remains unknown, adds Dr Eddison. &#42