The sheep really gets my goat

THIS is the Year of the Yang. That’s the word in Mandarin for “a ruminant mammal, generally with horns on its head”.

To the Chinese, yang can refer to either sheep (mianyang) or goat (shanyang), so therein lies the confusion as to what animal is the eighth in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. To the Japanese, it’s the Year of the Sheep, to the Vietnamese, it’s the Goat, for the Koreans, it’s the Ram. The Chinese don’t mind either one.

But after a tumultuous Year of a runaway wild Horse, which would be a better animal for the year ahead? Let’s take a look at the characteristics of both cud-chewing critters, starting with the sheep.

According to David Murray in his essay, 12 Characteristics of Sheep, this is one stupid animal.

“I don’t know what sheep would score in an animal IQ, but I think they would be close to the bottom of the scale. They seem to only know how to do one thing well – eat grass (and produce more grass-eating sheep).

“It’s possible to know little, yet not be foolish; but not if you are a sheep. They are so irrational. You watch them as they pause in front of a stream. They know they can’t jump it or swim it. So what do they do? They jump in any way!” writes Murray, a pastor who got to know the animal well after 12 years in the sheep-infested Scottish Highlands.

Another characteristic is being slow to learn. Murray cites the example of a sheep getting caught in barbed wire while trying to break through a fence. Instead of learning from that painful lesson, it will do it again and again. That’s why sheep are dependent creatures, requiring close supervision by their shepherd, he adds.

Granted, scientists say new research shows sheep to be as intelligent as monkeys. But it will take a great deal more to change the long-held perception of this creature as being not just woolly on the body but in the head, too.

After all, we think “sheep” when it comes to mindlessly following the crowd, or for imitating what others do without understanding why.


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