September 2, 2005
September 2, 2005 -- Sheep are not renowned for their intellect, but an Australian researcher has proven they are smarter than most of us think. And some are smarter than others, leading scientists to believe they carry a specific "smart gene" that, once identified, will allow farmers to better select their livestock.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) research scientist, Dr. Caroline Lee, tested a group of 60 Merino sheep by putting them through a complex maze. Lee found the sheep not only worked out how to navigate the maze, but got better each time they did it.
The test was done over three days and repeated after six weeks with the time taken to complete it and the number of errors made recorded for each animal.
"We showed that sheep on average took two minutes on the first day and then they really significantly improved their time and were down to around 30 seconds on the third day," Lee said. "In addition, we actually measured them six weeks later ... and we found that they had retained their memory and were at a similar level to the previous test."
The CSIRO is currently screening 600 sheep of different breeds to determine whether they have a smart gene or genes. This could take up to five years.