Step aside, kitties. Sheep are taking over the internet
In videos and on social media, the gentle animals are finding fans as #FarmLife life starts to become a vicarious pleasure.Updated: Jan 18, 2020 17:41 IST
This is a sheep-appreciation column. They’ve been dying in the thousands in the Australian fires, their plight eclipsed as newspaper reports cover the loss of kangaroos and koalas, and rescue efforts in rural neighbourhoods.
But on social media, videos of dogs corralling entire sheep herds to safety are going viral. There are heartbreaking photos of anguished Australian farm owners reuniting with a runaway ewe, her fleece charred but otherwise intact. And unlike Instagram dogs and globetrotting hedgehogs, there are no celebrity sheep.
Or so I thought. Livestock, it turns out, has a huge fandom on TikTok and YouTube, where farm life channels show the everyday dramas of dealing with animals. From YouTube’s Sandi Brock, a Canadian sheep farmer, I’ve learned that sheep can recognise 50 human faces, but when they get sheared, they take a while to identify their own friends within the herd.
The one sheep you probably know by name is Dolly, the world’s first cloned mammal, who died, at age six, in 2003. Her cells also helped clone four more sheep, nicknamed, appropriately, the Dollies.
The sheep you should know by name is Shrek. The New Zealand Merino escaped his herders on shearing day in 2000 and managed to roam free on South Island for six years before he was caught and shorn by the country’s top shearers on live TV. Shrek was probably the wooliest mammal at the time – the fleece reportedly enough for 20 men’s suits. Sheep do this often. In 2015, Chris, another runaway, was caught and given an epic trimming in Australia.
Sheep have been aviation pioneers. In 18th-century France, a sheep called Montauciel was a test passenger for the world’s first hot-air balloon ride. He travelled for eight minutes, with a duck and a rooster. In 2015, one ram made it to the rank of lance corporal in the British army. Derby, a mascot for one regiment, had an ID number, rations, and annual leave (which he used during mating season).
Modern farmers’ Instagram feeds do much to pull the wool from your eyes. The Norwegian account @worlds_coolest_sheepfeatures the adventures of Odlaug, a sheep that revels, luxuriant fleece and all, in posing for mid-air jumps across the countryside. At the @applefoxfarmin Connecticut, the babydoll-breed sheep have names, stories and a mystery: How do they all cover themselves so well in hay?