We admit it, sheep aren’t going to get their own David Attenborough special any time soon.
They’re not the most intelligent or majestic animals in nature. Their reputation for being docile and a little stupid precedes them all over the world. A flock managed to cancel a music festival with their droppings earlier this year, but other than that, you don’t see them in the limelight all that much.
Despite this, you only have to scratch the surface a little to find there’s much more to these humble animals than meets the eye.
Seeing as wool is our bread and butter, we thought we’d do something to fight the gross underrepresentation of sheep in the media.
Here’s a list of five of the most extraordinary sheep who ever lived.
Image Stefan Widua
Our first entry takes us back to 18th-century France, where the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Jacques, invented the hot air balloon that would one day be used for the first piloted flight in history.
There was no knowledge on the physical effects of flying at the time, so the brothers were a little apprehensive about hopping in the basket themselves!
Before a manned flight was attempted, Montauciel the sheep, whose name means “climb-to-the-sky”, was used as a guinea pig for the balloon’s maiden voyage.
Accompanied by a duck and a rooster as controls for the experiment, Montauciel flew for roughly eight minutes over Paris, travelling a distance of two miles and reaching an altitude of 1,500 feet. All three animals landed safely, albeit slightly confused.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
A person making it to 100 is always noteworthy.
However, when you consider Methuselina lived twice as long as the average domestic sheep (10-12 years), a human centenary suddenly doesn’t seem so impressive!
The Scottish blackface ewe reached the ripe old age of 25 years and 11 months, and met an unfortunate end in 2012 when she fell off a cliff on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. Methuselina’s owner, John Maciver, attributed her longevity to her keeping most of her teeth longer than most sheep, allowing her to graze healthily.
Guinness World Records has been looking for a contender for the title of oldest living sheep since the last officially-recognised holder, Lucky, died in 2009 at the age of 23.
Image ©Rod Huckbody
Shrek was a male Merino from Tarras, New Zealand, one of 17,000 sheep living on the Bendigo Station wool farm.
Merinos are usually shorn once a year, but Shrek had other ideas, going out on the lamb, hiding in caves and avoiding capture for an incredible six years before he was finally mustered in April 2004.
By the time Shrek was rounded up, his fleece weighed 27kg, 23kg more than the average weight of around 4kg. That’s enough wool to make more than 100 of our Embroidered Bird Jumpers!
The cheeky sheep’s hijinks made him a Kiwi celebrity, and his shearing was televised by a New Zealand news channel. His enormous fleece was sold at auction, and the proceeds donated to children’s health charities. He died in 2011, aged 16.
Source: Modern Farmer
Lance Corporal Derby XXX, a Swaledale ram, was the official mascot of the Mercian Regiment.
He was the 30th mascot sheep named Derby as part of a tradition going back to the mid-19th Century. Like all British servicemen, he had an ID number, had his rations paid for, and was entitled to annual leave which he took during the mating season.
He became the highest-ranking sheep in the history of the British Army in September 2015, when he was promoted from the rank of private for “good behaviour”, during a ceremony commemorating the regiment’s formation.
As you can imagine, Corporal Derby’s duties were mainly ceremonial. With a little help from his handlers, he switched on the Ashbourne Christmas lights, and even met Prince William during the unveiling of a memorial for the Christmas Truce.
Sadly, his glory as the British army’s highest-ranking sheep was short lived – he died on the 27th of November 2015, barely two months after his promotion.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
We thought we’d round our list off with the most famous, and probably most significant sheep in history – Dolly.
Dolly was the product of the Roslin Institute – the University of Edinburgh’s animal sciences research centre, supported by the biotechnology firm PPL Therapeutics and the UK’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.
She was born in 1996 to three proud mother ewes. One provided her DNA, one the egg, and one carried the embryo. She spent her whole life at the Roslin Institute, breeding with David, a Welsh mountain ram, and giving birth to six lambs in total. Dolly was sadly euthanised in 2003, after a CT scan showed tumours developing on her lungs.
Like Montauciel, Dolly the sheep was part of a huge leap forward for science. Her successful genesis and birth proved that somatic (non-reproductive) cells could be used to conceive an exact copy of the donor animal. This knowledge opened up many new possibilities in medicine, contributing to stem cell research which could one day be used to treat Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and other terrible conditions.
Source: Wikimedia Commons