Montana State has been one of the last frontiers for the sheep industry that has been drastically declining to the competition of Australia, china and New Zealand over the past 70 years. The Professors in this subject are proud and outspoken about the advancements made in this field and attempt to rejuvenate the industry and promote heavily their classes. Through these opportunities I found sheep endearing, mostly easy to work with and sometimes extremely intelligent though on average very silly.
I joined my academic advisor in an internship analyzing blood samples of pregnant ewes to observe differences in hormonal levels in high and low breeding lines. While a majority of my work was to feed and water the ewes daily, there many things to learn about sheep that cannot be observed in a textbook.
Sheep are naturally fearful due to their prey instincts for survival but just as my cat loves my mother more because she feeds him, sheep can become accustomed and inquisitive to a human presence. When I came to feed the sheep they would all bustle for the only spot at the head bunk despite my approach. One ewe would approach me from behind to sniff me when I stepped in to check their water.
One strange behavior of the ewes was that they loved the barn yard cat. I shared the same affection and would often cuddle the snuggly girl and a number of sheep would creep around to investigate. Another odd behavior was the fact the sheep would not eat the hay until I had “blessed” it. Really what I mean is I would push the food forward but it was miraculous; there would be food literally right underneath their noses and I could stand there waiting and the ewe would not take a bite. It was the water into wine reaction, despite the fact the food was right there and all I would do was push it forward, the ewe would not eat until I did so.
The internship was more than just observation of course and involved a genetics guru (my advisor) and a reproduction expert Dr. J. Dr. J was there to perform ultrasounds on the sheep to confirm pregnancies. He explained to look for caruncles which are placental “buttons” that act as individual attachments and channels for nutrients to the fetus.
Semi-Weekly the ewes would have their blood drawn and weights measured. Many graduate students participated in the activity as drawing blood from pure bred lines leads to anatomical changes and finding a jugular vein became very time costly.