Sheep Behaviour, Needs, Housing and Care
Sheep (Ovis aries) are an attractive animal for scientific procedures; for medical, veterinary and fundamental biological research. They are docile, rarely show aggression, have a (relatively) short flight distance and are gregarious. In the UK, of 3 million animal scientific procedures in 2006, over 36,000 involved sheep. Small as a proportion perhaps, but exceeded only by the number involving rats and mice, among mammals, and chickens and fish (all species). And the numbers of sheep used in experimental procedures are increasing (up 24% on the previous year). They live longer than mice and rats (up to 15 years potentially) so can be used for longer term studies. They are smaller and more manageable than cows, yet have an analagous digestive system. They are commonly used for testing for veterinary vaccines. They have a similar neural axial structure to humans, so have been used for analagous studies, such as drug testing for treatment of Huntington’s disease. They have traditionally been used in foetal physiological experiments, and in altering their genetic component to produce compounds that may be harvested in their milk, such as insulin or clotting agents for haemohpilia. Their use in fundamental genetic research has been well publicised. Other advantages are that they are highly domesticated, and we have a substantial knowledge bank of work on their behaviour. Nevertheless there remain specific welfare issues relating to the use of the sheep as an experimental animal. This presentation considers the particular behaviour of the domestic sheep and relates this to their housing, welfare, handling, and general care.