Somewhere around the age of 15 I fell in love with sheep. I’m not exactly sure why, although I think it may have something to do with receiving a pair of knitting needles from my sister on my birthday. The whole sheep/fleece/wool carding/spinning/knitting-SWEATER process fascinated me. I dreamt of being a sheep rancher in the mountains. I still carry the picture around in my head—the meadow, the mountain, the sheep, my cowboy boots lined up in the entry way of my ranch house.
Well, my life has taken a major detour, but along the way I’ve collected some notes about sheep behavior which have given me a glimpse into what living in a community of faith might be like.
1) Sheep love being in a herd. They need to keep a visual link to at least 4 or 5 sheep at all times. It’s the banding together of sheep that protects them from predators. This also enables the guardian dog to protect the sheep. A dog can’t protect the sheep if they all go off in different directions.
2) Sheep have excellent sight although their depth perception is poor. They’re reluctant to go where they can’t see.
3) Touch is important to the interaction between sheep. Groups of sheep that have this kind of contact are calmer.
4) Sheep have a flight zone. This is the distance they will put between humans or other animals that they need to feel safe. This distance can be reduced by humans or the guardian dog walking through the herd until they feel safe.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, He leads me beside quiet waters, he renews my life” Ps 23
Knowing what I know about sheep and their need to stay with the flock, this verse seems truer if it says “The Lord is OUR Shepherd, He leads US beside quiet waters, He renews OUR life.” It’s truer to sheep characteristics that the renewal of our lives happens more often within the herd than alone with the Shepherd.
So in a nutshell, the main thing I learn from sheep behavior is:
STAY WITH THE GROUP!