Yes and no is the answer, sheep are mostly motivated by food and you can make them move where you want if you use their flocking instinct well enough. However having spent the last 11 months living and helping out on a sheep farm I can honestly say that they have outsmarted me many a time. Maybe that just means I'm super dumb but those wily old creatures are more agile and aware of the difference between feeding time and something more unpleasant like toe clipping. It also doesn't take them long to break through a hedge when you thought there were no gaps!

As I've learnt the ways of sheep farming I've noticed many parallels to human behaviour maybe we could actually learn a thing or two from them? Firstly we often joke about their following instinct as if they might actually follow each other off a cliff just because the lead sheep accidentally did. Well I'm pretty sure they wouldn't, they do follow each other but if they see danger they will soon turn round. Are we any better? How much of the recent UK EU referendum result was due to people blindly following their parents/grandparents/favourite newspaper or other opinion they hadn't really thought through and are now cursing the choice they made

Secondly they appear happy to just live in their own poop and lay down most of the day doing very little. Well actually sheep don't like being near their poop if they can help it. put them in a big enough field and they will eat and lay down away from the areas they have been to toilet in. Put them in too small a field and they will regularly break through your fences & hedges to find fresh grass away from their toilet areas. How about humans? Well around 150-200 years ago we finally figured out that hygiene was the major reason for all our death and disease problems and look how the infectious disease rates have plummeted since (vaccines have also helped but only a small percentage compared to basic hygiene improvements). Unfortunately due to financial inequality around the world there are still human populations that have to live in cramped, unhygienic conditions so are we really doing better than the sheep?

Thirdly sheep sometimes gorge themselves to death on carbohydrate rich foods. In fact in animal farming in general carbohydrate rich foods are used sparingly, most of the time unless the farmers goal is to fatten up the animal either for market or to increase their energy reserves for reproduction etc. The rest of the time, sheep in particular, exist on plant based diets that are balanced in protein, fats and carbohydrates, steadily grazing throughout the day with plenty of walking and sleeping. Some of them do need medication from time to time and they do get annual treatments for worms but on the whole their immune systems seem to work pretty well out in the open fields.

What about humans? Well I guess you know where I'm going with this already....Saturated fat is not easily comparable here as lambs are weaned off milk after a few months and sheep don't eat meat or dairy products surprisingly! But carbohydrates we can clearly see are a major reason for disease in human populations especially now we have used hygiene, medications & vaccines to reduce infectious diseases. Also our relative lack of exercise, yes sheep appear fairly lazy but scarily they still do more exercise than an awful lot of humans these days (bloody townies!), and poor sleep patterns are also contributing to a large number of health problems. 

Overall a life focused on walking, reproduction, eating and sleeping seems pretty idyllic. I've got to be honest though I'd definitely rather have computers, houses, comfy beds, TV's and lots of leisure choices so I am glad to be human. But I do think there are some very simple but important lessons to be learnt from our over complicated lives in comparison to animal husbandry. The main ones being get good quality sleep, exercise regularly and eat healthily (for humans include meat but not excessively). It's a whole other post if we are comparing non domestic animals and their violent struggles to survive to humans and war so I'll leave that to someone else!

Published by Paul Hindle