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Sheep

Social, gentle, curious

Gentle, curious and social, sheep thrive in herd environments and do not like to be separated from friends and companions. They are known for having excellent memories when it comes to remembering faces and can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar humans who interact with them.

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Featured rescue stories

Seamus
Stories from the field
Seamus
Seamus is a sheep who uses his own experiences to guide other blind sheep.
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Henry
Stories from the field
Henry
Henry is a sheep who was orphaned at only a few hours old.
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Sheep facts

Sheep are clever – like dogs, sheep can learn their own name and can be taught to do tricks Amazingly, a flock of sheep in the UK even figured out how to cross a hoof-proof grid by rolling over it to reach tastier grass on the other side
Sheep have best friends – sheep have unique personalities and some get along better than others — just like we do. Not only will a sheep form special friendships with other individuals, researchers believe they may even spend time thinking about their friends when they’re not around.
Sheep have great memories – they can recognise at least 50 individuals’ faces and remember them for years. They can also tell if other sheep (and humans) are happy, or sad, stressed or calm by reading facial expressions.
Sheep are playful – Lambs love leaping, head-butting and running around with friends. Much like the ‘play-bow’ dogs use, lambs have their own special signal when they want to have fun.

“Sheep are able to experience emotions such as fear, anger, rage, despair, boredom, disgust, and happiness.”

- Dr. Isabelle Veissier et al.
Animal Welfare

Sanctuary life

For the lucky sheep at Where Pigs Fly, their life is a happy and content one…

We make sure that our sheep remain in familiar flocks where they can build strong relationships over time. Many of our sheep have best friends that they choose to graze and nap with.

All our sheep have access to large fields where they can play, explore and just be sheep. There are plenty of trees where they can find shade on hot days, and paddock shelters to nestle in during cold weather.

We give our sheep visual health checks twice a day, making sure to identify and bring in any individuals that may be poorly so we can provide them with immediate treatment. We also give our flock an additional check every six weeks to maintain their condition and general health. They are sheared at least once a year.

“Sheep can perform ‘executive’ cognitive tasks ... that have never been shown previously to exist in any other large animal [other than primates].”

- Professor Jenny Morton et al.
Cambridge University

Suffering for their meat and wool

Sadly, in the meat and wool industries, sheep’s interests come a sorry second to profits. Denied the protection of the cruelty laws that protect our companion animals, these intelligent, gentle animals can have parts of their bodies cut off without pain relief or suffer immensely during shearing and other procedures.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Lambs freezing to death

Between 10 and 15 million lambs die within their first 48 hours of life in Australia alone. For a tiny lamb born in an icy paddock, life means bone-chilling cold. Too small and weak to keep warm, her mother’s efforts to protect her from the wind and rain often aren’t enough. She’ll only live for a few days. The Australian sheep industry already accepts that up to one in four lambs will die from exposure annually. With industry standards not even requiring full shelter, these young lambs and their mums are effectively left unprotected from the elements. Sheep farmers build this loss into their profits.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Live sheep export

Many sheep from Australia suffer in live export, facing abuse and cruel conditions. They’re transported to countries lacking animal protection laws, leading to inhumane treatment, such as being slaughtered whilst conscious. The live export trade has been widely criticised for overcrowding, high mortality rates and exposure to extreme weather, causing significant suffering. There have been calls for its end due to these inhumane practices. The controversy divides Australia, balancing economic benefits against the demand for greater animal protection. e. In 2021, over 500,000 sheep endured unthinkable suffering severe pain in this trade.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Slaughtered as babies

Over 590 million sheep were slaughtered in 2020 worldwide. In Australia over 28 million sheep were killed in 2020. Because consumers prefer meat from lambs, more than 90% of these sheep are killed when they are between 6 and 8 months old. Literally just babies.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Mulesing
Young lambs often have the skin around their buttocks and the base of their tail cut off with a pair of metal shears (to reduce soiling and the risk of flystrike). This painful practice, called mulesing, has been banned in New Zealand for cruelty, but sadly is still legal in Australia, and in most states can be performed without any pain relief. Thanks to tireless animal advocates speaking out, Victoria recently became the first and only state to require at least some pain relief for the procedure. The large, open wound created by mulesing can take many weeks to heal. During this time, lambs are at added risk of infection and flystrike.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Tail docking

Like puppies, lambs are born with a long tail. But most lambs are put in a restraint device and have their tail cut off (like tail docking) to reduce soiling and the risk of flystrike. When lambs are less than six months old, this practice can be done legally without anything to dull the pain. Often lambs are also mulesed at the same time.

A hot blade or sharp knife is used to cut through the muscle and bone of the lamb’s tail. On some farms, lambs will instead have a rubber ring tightened around their tail so that it will wither and drop off.

If a lamb’s tail is cut too short, they are at higher risk of suffering from serious health complications, such as rectal prolapse.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Castration
Male lambs usually have to endure both castration and tail docking (and sometimes mulesing) at the same time. These practices can be legally undertaken without any use of pain-management or sedation. In addition, when these procedures are carried out by unskilled people, which they often are, the risk of greater injury, and infection is even more significant.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Shearing

Shearing is not only stressful for sheep who are inherently fearful of human handling but rough treatment in the shearing shed also puts them at risk of injury. Sheep are often cut by the sharp shearing blades, and when they suffer larger wounds, it is considered acceptable industry practice to stitch them up without providing any pain relief. As with those who carry out other painful, invasive procedures, there is currently no requirement for shearers to undergo formal training and accreditation. Veterinary recommendations for pain relief are seldom followed. Large-scale producers have long sought faster shearing methods. Despite the risks of injury to sheep and shearer, speed contests have long been used to normalise the practice.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Often slaughtered while conscious
As the world population increases, demand for sheep meat that has been slaughtered in accordance with religious tenets has also grown. As a result, the number of animals—particularly sheep—that are killed without first being stunned continues to rise. Throat-slashing, so that the animal will die from blood loss, will often occur while these animals are fully conscious.

Create a kinder world for sheep

Make your choices count

Caught in a profit driven industry, sheep are forced to endure these painful procedures because of demand for lamb, mutton and wool. But fortunately, the choices we make at the dinner table (and when buying clothes) can spare them. By making the choice eat more meat-free meals or take animals off your plate completely, you can help protect sheep and save lives.