Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Too Smart for Her Own Good

As a rule, Icelandic sheep tend to be very intelligent animals, but through the centuries certain bloodlines have been treasured and bred specifically for their EXTRA-high levels of smarts and sensitivity, which can allow them to sense danger in advance and lead the other sheep (and sometimes the shepherd) to safety.

These special sheep are called Leadersheep.

I have several sheep in my flock who are from leadersheep bloodlines. Although on my small, 26-acre farm there isn't much danger for them to avoid, it is always entertaining to watch their bright, alert personalities in action.

The most leader-like sheep in my flock is Salem:

If I'm outside in the barnyard, she is everywhere I am. Nothing escapes her notice. In the absence of wolves or avalanches to avoid, her entire concentration is constantly focused on discovering ways to get more tasty things to eat.

During the day, the sheep are free to roam about the yard as they please. Each evening, we bring them into the sheep paddock to feed them, and lock them in there briefly so we can finish feeding the horses without their "help."

Salem, having observed this, decided she would rather avoid being trapped in the paddock, and thus be free to assist with the horse feeding. So every night, all the sheep dutifully come into the paddock, except Salem, who stands just at the gate. She runs in if I shake the grain bucket and runs back out if I start to close the gate.

It's a minor inconvenience that I decided needed to stop. So tonight, carrying the feed buckets, I led all the sheep into the paddock and turned to shut the gate behind me. Salem, thinking she was oh-so-clever, ran out before I could close it. "Okay, good-bye," I said, and shut it anyway. Then I went and poured grain into all the feed dishes in the paddock, and the rest of the flock began eagerly eating their supper.

Whoops! Too late, Salem realized her terrible mistake! Her eyes got huge, and she stood up on her tiptoes against the gate, trying to push it open. "Sorry, no food for you!" I said cheerfully. "All the other sheep get lots of yummy, yummy grain, but you'll just have to starve."

Seeing that the gate was not going to open, Salem raced at full speed down to the other end of the paddock, hoping that the other gate would be open. But that one was closed too. She raced back up to the first gate and stood up against it again, her big eyes pleading.

She was very, very sorry she had done such a foolish thing, and wouldn't I PLEASE forgive her and let her into the paddock?

I held out for a few minutes, making her think that she really would miss out on the entire evening's feeding. Then I relented and let her in.

I bet it won't take too many evenings of doing that before she's a good little girl who promptly goes where she's supposed to at feeding time! :-)


Anonymous said...

LOL! I always tell people who think sheep are dumb -- you obviously haven't met a sheep. -- Kris

Amy said...

I know nothing about sheep so it's so interesting to read your accounts about all of your sheep. I didn't realize sheep were so clever, but I've never been around Icelandic sheep either. I bet Salem starts behaving herself soon!