Sheep Butt Each Other - But Why?

Sheep Butt Each Other - But Why?

Sheep are gentle creatures sporting woolly coats and rather unimaginative facial expressions. But if you’ve been around sheep very long, you know that every so often these otherwise docile animals give each other (and sometimes the farmers who tend them) a ferocious butt to the head…or other unsuspecting body part. It seems a little aggressive and out of place for an animal you’re supposed to count to induce sleep.

But if you look a little closer (but not too close, or you’ll get butted), you learn that in the world of sheep, butting is not just a random act of violence, but it’s actually communication - a means of establishing dominance, but also a way to express affection (albeit sheepishly).

Much like humans, sheep have their own social hierarchies. Headbutting is often seen when they're jockeying for position within the flock. The strongest and most dominant individuals aim to assert their authority. This goes for ewes as it does for rams. A ewe might ram a ram just as a ram might ram you. And it’s not just a power trip. The hierarchy helps maintain order and reduces conflicts within the group. A little (or big) butt here and there and everyone gets along just fine.

Also, since sheep aren't known for their vocabulary (how many ways can you say “baaaa”?), they've developed physical ways to communicate. Headbutting can be a way to express their intentions or emotions. For instance, if one sheep wants another to move out of the way, a gentle nudge or headbutt stands in for “excuse me, I’d like better access to the water trough”.

Sheep aren't always serious when they butt heads. Sometimes, they engage in head-to-head battles for fun. It's like their version of thumb wrestling that doesn’t require thumbs. This is especially the case for young lambs which frolic and butt to test out their physical abilities.

Headbutting is also a form of bonding, perhaps not unlike it is for human siblings. In some cases, it's a sign of affection between individuals who have formed close relationships within the flock. It's like a sheep's way of giving a friendly pat on the back.

If you’re not used to it, sheep butting each other may initially seem puzzling or even alarming. Sometimes they seem like they’re going to hurt each other - or hurt you. But it's a crucial aspect of their behavior. It's their way of navigating the complexities of social dynamics, establishing order, and connecting with their fellow flock members.

At Yankee Flats Meats we partner with local family farms in the Shuswap, Thompson, and Okanagan. Our farmers take personal care of their animals and sometimes get butted as a result. They work hard to give their animals a good environment so that they are healthy and happy, whether they’re raising pastured pork, organic lamb, or grass-fed beef.

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