30th June 2005
Marilyn, like all modern sheep differs greatly from her ancestors, this is largely due to domestication which is believed to have occurred around 8,000 years BC in South West Asia. It would seem sheep have paid a hefty price for domestication in that they have lost some of their immunity to internal parasites along with the ability to moult. As such they need to rely on humans for at least an annual shearing of their fleece to avoid welfare issues. However, amongst the 200 plus breeds of sheep today there does exist some breeds of sheep who will self shed their fleece.
Sadly, many people view sheep as undistinguishable, dull and uninteresting animals, yet all have uniquely individual personalities. The are however some similarities, for example that unique and rustic ‘sheepy’ smell you may notice when you are near them. This can come from lanolin, a greasy yellow substance that sheep produce to keep their wool soft and dry. If you rub your hands over a sheep’s wool you will notice a greasy feel, this is lanolin. Another substance that gives sheep their unique smell comes from a semi-fluid like substance secreted from one of three gland areas. These are situated in a shallow depression just near their eye socket, the groin area, and between the two main toes of the foot.
Sheep also have a highly developed flocking or herding instinct and prefer to move in groups rather than as individuals. They become highly distressed when separated from their flock and will display this by calling out or pawing at the ground. Given sheep are a prey species, meaning they are the hunted and not the hunter, they know the value of safety in numbers.
Marilyn came to Edgar’s Mission one bitterly cold winter’s day along with her companion, Monroe. Both were rather large lambs but had somehow found themselves orphans. Sadly Monroe did not have the resolve of Marilyn and died soon after arriving. Marilyn, a little older than most of the orphan lambs that came to the mission at that time, remained somewhat elusive and wary of humans, although feed time saw her let her guard down as she was always one of the first to make her way to her bottle. Today sees the pretty Marilyn more trusting of humans as she eyes you from a distance to see if what you have on offer is worth her while in coming forward to greet you.
As a female sheep, Marilyn is known as a ewe. A newborn sheep is a lamb until it is weaned, meaning it no longer drinks its mother (or the bottle, in the case of the many lambs at Edgar’s Mission). Lambs feeding from their mothers will do so for up to five months but they can be weaned from around six weeks. After this time it is known as a weaner – when it is nearly one year old it is called a hogget. A male sheep is a ram, and should it be castrated, that is desexed by having its testes removed, it is called a wether. Now whether or not you are kind to sheep and all animals is your call, but we trust you too will realise that kindness to all beings is the key to a better world for all.