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Sheep have best friends: official

They enjoy sex, too, says leading ovinologist

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It appears that around half of the world's scientific research community is currently engaged in investigating ovine separation anxiety, lesbian cows and stroppy bovine syndrome.

The end result of this probing is uncertain, unless the boffins involved intend to ultimately propose equal rights for cattle - including the legalisation of same-sex marriage between ewes and compassionate leave for cows upset by their companions' obstreperous behaviour.

Who can say? However, it's clear that these astounding insights into the ovine psyche continue unbated. Scientists at the Babraham Research Institute in Cambridge have now demonstrated that sheep have best friends, ewes fall in love with rams and both sexes feel a bit down in the dumps when Dolly fails to return from the slaughterhouse.

The Cambridge team - led by neuroscientist Keith Kendrick - inserted electrodes into sheeps' brains to monitor their cranial activity when stimulated, according to ic NothWales. The ovine guinea pigs were then shown snaps of rams they were "closely associated with" (= engaging in sexual intercourse with), or sheep from their inner circle of chums.

Although it is not actually stated, we assume that they showed signs of deep joy in both cases. What researchers were able to report is that sheep and human brains have a lot in common, and that "female sheep enjoy sex but ewes forget their partners far more quickly than women".

And there you have it - a quick shag and then off to the other side of the field for a gossip with your friends. The ovine female is fickle indeed.

Mercifully, though, not everyone in the wonderful world of sheep is ready to confirm the results of this cutting-edge research programme. Helen Davies, secretary of the National Sheep Association Wales - who boasts a flock of 10 Blue Faced Leicesters and 30 Suffolk sheep on her farm near Welshpool - cautiously admitted: "I don't know whether they fall in love. But if you move the Blue Faced Leicesters around they get very upset. If you split one from the others they will bleat all night long."

Bless. The sheep of Welshpool should, nonetheless, be grateful that they do not live Down Under where their Oz counterparts really do have something to bleat about - mulesing.

Mulesing is, as all well-informed readers will know, the widely-condemned practice of "cutting folds of skin away from a lamb's backside to develop a bald spot", as Reuters puts it. The purpose is to prevent "flystrike", a "potentially-fatal infestation of blowfly maggots in the animal's skin" initially caused by blowflies' attraction to faeces and urine in the sheep's wool.

Perhaps understandably, 200 Aussie sheep have spontaneously developed bare arses, reportedly as a result of a genetic mutation but more likely as an understandable reaction to the sight of a Crocodile Dundee lookalike coming at you bearing a knife and a well-thumbed copy of "Outback Mulesing for Dummies". The condition was first spotted in 2002, and despite initial dismay among breeders, experts now see a brighter, happier future for Australia's 100m sheep. Peter Swan, genetics and wool quality program manager for Australian Wool Innovation, said: "We believe this will change the entire industry. Contamination of the wool has been a large problem, so if we can breed this trait successfully it would stop the urine staining of wool. It will stop the flies and the need for mulesing."

Which in turn will mean fewer traumatised sheep, better able to hang around with their mates while eyeing a passing ewe's provocatively butt-naked hindquarters with a feeling of mounting joy. ®

Related stories

Sheep pine for absent friends: official
Aussie boffins probe lesbian cows
Cows bear grudges: official
Sheep like happy, smiley people: official
Inside the mind of the gay sheep

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