Sheep study fuels welfare debate

8 November 2001

Sheep study fuels welfare debate

By Adrienne Francis

ANIMAL welfare is under renewed debate after a study discovered that sheep have a higher level of intelligence than previously thought.

Researchers found that the animals can remember up to 50 sheep faces for two years, reports the Times.

Sheep can also identify individual human beings, and are better at recognising the faces of their owners than domestic pets, said scientists.

Keith Kendrick, research at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge said sheep have a rich and important facial environment.

He told the Daily Telegraph: Farmers should avoid changing it all the time and keep their company as stable as possible.

The Daily Mail says the findings will be seized upon by animal rights campaigners who want farm animals treated more humanely.

Moving sheep to different areas or mixing flocks could be cruel, it reports.

An RSPCA spokesman said being separated from familiar companions could be another pressure on sheep during already traumatic journeys.

It certainly appears to strengthen the welfare case for imposing restrictions on the live transport of sheep, the paper reports her as saying.

In the Cambridge experiment, published in Nature journal on Thursday (8 November), 20 sheep were trained to find their way through a maze.

The animals were shown 25 pairs of sheep faces and taught to link one of each pair with a food reward.

Sheep were proved to be able to recognise individuals in profile, despite being trained on views from the front, reports the Daily Express.

After 30 attempts, sheep were able to successfully navigate the maze 80 per cent of the time even when food was withdrawn.

This proved that sheep had learned to recognise 50 faces and their significance. The memories only faded after an absence of two years.

Sheep were also proved to be capable of remembering a small number of human faces including those of their shepherd, says the Express.

  • Farmers claim cull cruelty, FWi, 20 April, 2001
  • Minister launches new welfare codes, FWi, 2 August, 2000

  • See more