Sheep ain't no Dumb Blonds

It is time for a rethink because, despite all the jokes, new research studies have shown that sheep are smart, not dumb as many people claim.

Sheep are Very smart Indeed!

A particularly smart flock of sheep has been seen rolling, army-style, over cattle grids to get to other greener paddocks in an English village.

Cattle don't do that!

The latest study, published in New Scientist, by two researchers at the University of Cambridge found that sheep did better than most other animals on a psychological test that tricked most monkeys.

The researchers found that sheep could recognise patterns in colours, and quickly change their behaviour when the pattern changed. The sheep could even respond to the colour of shapes used as signs and placed next to their food bins, instead of the colour of the food bin itself.


Sheep defeat cattle grids (BBC News Online, 30 July 2004)

"An amazing story emerged from England in 2004, when locals reported that they had been outsmarted by local sheep, who were escaping their paddocks by rolling over cattle grids!
The sheep, from the county of Kirklees in West Yorkshire, perfected the art of rolling over the 3m wide cattle grid to get to tastier pastures — such as the village bowling green, cricket field and graveyard - on the other side. The same sheep have also been known to scale 1.5 metre walls."

"Local coundllor Dorothy Lindley says this new commando technique has led to havoc in local gardens and on the highway!"

"They Ile down on their side, or sometimes their back, and just roll over and over the grids until they are dear. I've seen them doing it. It is quite clever, but they are a big nuisance to villagers," said Councillor Lindley.

Until they get to know them, many people see sheep as dull and uninteresting animals. The truth is very different. It is often difficult for people to recognise and understand sheep behaviour, because most of us are not used to being around sheep and because their facial structure makes it difficult for us to read emotion on their faces, like most of us can with cats and dogs. Sheep have uniquely individual natures and are social, intelligent animals. 

Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain

The researchers put 7 adult female sheep through a set of increasingly tricky challenges. In one test the sheep were let into a pen that included a blue and a yellow bucket. The blue one contained food. After a few trials the sheep would always go directly to the blue bucket. When the food was instead placed into the yellow bucket, the sheep quickly learnt to focus on the yellow bin. They also mastered a more difficult game in which the food was still in one of the buckets but the clue to the location of the food was the colour of a cone placed nearby, not the colour of the bucket itself.

The researchers also tried a higher intellectual challenge, applying what is referred to a intra-dimensional and extra-dimensional set-shifting. This tested the sheep's ability to shift their attention, something that requires a sophisticated level of mental control. In intra-dimensional set-shifting, the sheep had to choose a bucket based on an changed the set of colours. Instead of yellow and blue, the choice was green and purple. Humans find this easy to do, and the sheep could do it as well.

Extra-dimensional shifting is much harder, as the sheep were required to ignore the colour of the objects and instead based their decisions on the shape of the objects. Humans and other primates can do set-shifting, but many other animals struggle with it, although rats and mice can do it. This complex task is know to rely on the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is much larger in humans than in other animals.

The sheep passed the tests with flying colours (excuse the pun), learning to adapt either to different pairs of colours or to the shape of the object rather than its colour. 

These results show that it is now time to stop making fun of sheep that are often misunderstood because of their herding instinct, which is after all a smart way of dealing with predators. 


Two dumb blond sheep are walking on the grasslands. Suddenly they both fall into a hole. (you didn't see that one coming, did you ?). They can't get out. The first dumb blond sheep starts to shout: "Baaa Baaa !" It does not seem to work. No help is coming. The first dumb sheep shouts again: "Baaa Baaa !" The second dumb sheep says: "It might help if we shout together." The first dumb sheep shouts: "Together!! Togetherl!"

Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain

Previous studies have shown other capabilities of 'smart sheep' that: 


There was a typical blonde who was sick of all the blond jokes. One day, she decided to get a make-over, so she cut and dyed her hair brown. She also went out and bought a new convertible. She went driving down a country road and came across a herd of sheep. She stopped and called the sheep herder over. 'That's a nice flock of sheep.' She said. 'Well thank you.' Said the herder. 'Tell you what. I have a proposition for you.' said the woman. 'Okay.' Replied the herder. 'If I can guess the exact number of sheep in your flock, can I take one home?' Asked the woman. 'Sure.' Said the sheep herder. So, the girl sat up and looked at the herd for a second and then replied '382'. 'Wow.' Said the herder. 'That is exactly right. Go ahead and pick out the sheep you want to take home.' So the woman went and picked one out and put it in her car. Then, the herder said 'Okay, now I have a proposition for you'. 'What is it?' Queried the woman. 'If I can guess the real color of your hair, can I have my dog back?'

Other Remarkable Animal Feats

Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain


Did one hear about the sheep who went to have a haircut? It went to the Baabers! 

Why did the sheep go 'moo'? Because it was learning a new language!!! 

What do you call a sheep without legs? A cloud. 

Two sheep in a field One sheep says Baal The other sheep says 'I was going to say that!' 

What did the sheep say to his girlfriend? I love EWE! 

Relative Intelligence amongst Animal Groups

From various studies, scientists have constructed hierarchies of animal intelligence. Primates, whales, dolphins and porpoises are considered the smartest mammals. Among primates, humans and apes are smarter than monkeys, which are smarter than the more primitive types such as the shrews. Of the apes, bonobos and chimpanzees rank above orangutans, gibbons and gorillas. Dolphins and sperm whales are supposedly smarter than non-predatory baleen whales such as blue whales (though test are difficult!). Among birds, scientists consider parrots, owls, crows and ravens the brightest.

Such a hierarchy argues is contrary to the idea that intelligence evolved along a single path, culminating in humans. Instead intellect seems to have emerged independently in birds as well as mammals and also in cetaceans and primates.

Size of Brain

Intelligence does not seem to be related to brain size. For example, clever small animals such as rats, parrots, ravens, and the smaller apes have small brains, whereas some large animals such as horses and cows with large brains are relatively less intelligent. The size of the brain cannot explain human intelligence either. Sperm and killer whales have brains weighing 8-9kg kilograms, elephants have 5 kg brains, all of which are much larger the 1.4 kg of human brains.

The relative brain size - the ratio of brain to body weight - does not provide an explanation either. Humans brains are relatively large at about 2 % of our body weight, whereas the blue whale's brain is less than one 100th of a percent of its weight. Some tiny mammals have relatively large brain sizes but are not very smart. In general, small animals have relatively large brains, and large animals have smaller ones.