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Understanding the Flock

All those who keep Manx Loaghtan sheep should have a basic understanding of their behaviour. Watching and understanding Loaghtans is part of the joy of keeping them and behaviour patterns are more readily recognisable in these sheep because they are
more pronounced than in more developed breeds. This is true of all primitive sheep behaviour to a greater or lesser degree. Understanding that behaviour as sheep demonstrate their needs and desires, is one of the key facets of managing sheep sympathetically.

Group behaviour

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All sheep spend most of their time grazing, walking or resting. If a sheep lifts its head from grazing in will generally face the direction in which it intends to walk. If alarmed, sheep hold their heads high and freeze, which instantly signals alarm to neighbouring sheep who immediately respond in the same way. An alarmed sheep may also stamp its front foot or strut about stiffly, keeping a close eye on the source of the disturbance.

Sheep will not readily engage in eye contact with other sheep, since direct eye contact amongst sheep signals an aggressive pose, save for when a ewe is calling her lamb. In the event of a clash between rams, the submissive ram may even close his eyes rather than confront the victor.

Sheep often walk in a line and in this situation the sheep at the front is the dominant flock member. When a flock is resting, individual sheep position themselves so as not to look at each other directly and when in close proximity to others, flock etiquette demands that it is only the dominant animal which is free to look in all directions. The subordinates will look away and turns their backs towards dominant members i.e. those of a higher position in the flock.

In the case of the dominant ram, he will face other sheep and male and female subordinates will turn around. Whilst females rarely engage in mounting each other, a ram mounting another sheep, either male or female, is an effective means of asserting dominance.

Carol Kempson

Front kicks

Amongst both rams and ewes the front legs are used to emphasise dominance. In the case of rams, the dominant male will lift his leg swiftly so as to deliver a blow to the chest of the other, and he will growl loudly. Where the dominant animal wishes to displace another from a resting place, the kick will be replaced by pawing the ground.

“Horning” or “bush threshing”

Sheep of all ages and both sexes will thresh shrubs and bunches of grass, small trees or fencing posts. Frequent horning of fence posts by rams, generally leads to the posts’ destruction!