If you’re expecting words about puppies from my pen in this column, today’s content will probably surprise you a bit. Namely… I won’t be writing about my dear pets of the Canis lupus familiaris subspecies (dog), but today I am pleased to introduce you to my friends of the Ovis Aries species (sheep).
So… at the beginning of this year’s spring, three sheep arrived in our home, of the Cameroon sheep breed. Two females, ladies in their middle age, and a male, a teenager – a little wild one. Of course, they didn’t literally come “into” our home, just to be clear. They got their very own little house and a large enclosed space. In appearance, Cameroon sheep strongly resemble goats. They originate from West/Central Africa. They are mainly known for not having wool – they have a special kind of hair. Cameroon sheep do not need to be sheared. They don’t require much care, and their maintenance doesn’t take much time.
They are mostly brown with a black belly and black legs. Other color combinations can also appear in two colors (white-brown, black-white) or three (white-brown-black). Males have horns. They weigh around 40 kg, while the ‘white sheep’ (for example, the Slovenian most numerous native Jezersko-Solčava sheep) weighs about 80 kg.
Males (rams) have horns and long hair under their necks. Literature and experts advocate and encourage free-range sheep farming throughout the year. This means that they live freely in pastures but, of course, must have constant access to suitable shelter.
When nature plays in autumn tones, the coat of the Cameroon sheep significantly thickens and prepares for winter. It becomes longer, denser, and slightly changes color.
In spring, this coat begins to shed, and at that time, their hairstyle looks quite pathetic. People breed them for meat, which is said to be extremely tasty. For milk production, the Cameroon sheep is not suitable/useful because it produces enough only for its own lamb. The sheep came to our home solely to ‘help with mowing.’ And as our new friends.
Well, the idea of ‘mowing assistance’ didn’t work out because we noticed that they prefer our carefully mowed lawn over the grass in their enclosure. So now, I mow for them. However, the idea of ‘friendship’ worked out quite well.
At their arrival, they weren’t accustomed to socializing with people; they were timid and fearful. It took them some time, some effort on our part, and enough treats that served as an aid in establishing the first contacts and later, primarily as motivation. They particularly enjoy corn and dry bread as treats, which they prefer over, for example, carrots or apples. Their basic food consists of fresh grass and hay.
In the course of our getting to know each other and bonding, we took a new step forward with every interaction. Occasionally, we did hit a snag, especially when the ram started nudging me with his head, but we soon took another step forward. They became more and more relaxed and sociable in the process.
There were moments when I felt that these sheep are actually very smart, so I decided to play around a bit. Treats + time = results. It didn’t take long before all three of them came to me on command. They learn new things well and remember them. For example, all three now know how to walk by my side, stop and stand in place, turn around; the females can give a kiss, use their front paws to climb on a person, and ‘scratch’ with their paw… the ram is a master of agility. This also started more as a joke, but he really gets into it. He overcame the initial fear, learned to jump over obstacles, and now he jumps on command ‘hop-hop.’ He’s also great at slalom with his paws. Now he can even combine the two – he runs the slalom and then jumps over obstacles. As a reward, he gets a treat and praise.
Since we started playing and learning all these interesting things, the ram has stopped butting with his head. Apparently, he was doing that for attention. We often let them onto the lawn, and now they understand the command to go back to their pasture. Teaching sheep is harder than teaching dogs, with whom I can work individually. Sheep are herd animals and always stick together, so it’s challenging to teach just one. They are still quite reserved around unfamiliar people.
To be honest, I never imagined that sheep would be such entertaining pets, willing to cooperate, and capable of building such an interesting and affectionate relationship.
The length of the blog is (fortunately) limited, and somewhere it must come to an end. At the end, I would like to emphasize – if someone tells you that you are (like) a sheep, take it as a compliment. You are entertaining, friendly, beautiful, and smart! And one more thing: sheep don’t follow ‘blindly’; they only follow what (whom) they trust and when they feel safe.
And a lovely sheepish greeting!