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Thread: Were sheep bred to flock?

  1. #1
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    Were sheep bred to flock?

    I read on a blog somewhere that the ancestors of sheep(a general name for a wide range of breeds, I think) lived on their own, on mountainsides, but when humans came along they bred them to flock, to make herding them with dogs easier. I suppose groups of sheep that were naturally more inclined to flock, would have been easier to control with dogs,....any individual sheep that was less inclined to flock would run away, and so select itself out of the groups gene pool, and so strengthen the flocking tendencies, of the remainder...leading to domestication.

    I guess we can never really know, it was prehistory, but I was wondering what the thinking, or any consensus, by scientist might be.
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    We have wild sheep in our "neighborhood", the Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) that also exhibit some herd/flocking behavior, albeit not as strongly as domesticated sheep. Males and females live in separate groups and they don't associate with each other (much) except during the rut. As I understand it, wild species in the mouflon group, which also includes domestic sheep, exhibit similar behavior. I suspect this was the basis for flocking behavior in modern domesticated sheep.
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    I suspect that flocking behavior would be beneficial to the shepherds, so the shepherds and flock owners would tend to cull sheep that wandered too often.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    I suspect that flocking behavior would be beneficial to the shepherds, so the shepherds and flock owners would tend to cull sheep that wandered too often.
    Or predators would do it for them.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    Or predators would do it for them.
    Right. So both natural selection and artificial selection are plausible.

    The question on the table is which?

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    I doubt it was the farmers doing it deliberately. I think it’s more likely it was predators. There could be an element of neoteny as well.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I doubt it was the farmers doing it deliberately. I think it’s more likely it was predators. There could be an element of neoteny as well.
    Predators would have been working before domestication. Farmers may not have been doing so deliberately, but sheep that didn't stay close to the shepherd (and later the sheep dogs) would be preferentially predated as the shepherd could have projectile weapons, like slings, but strays would be unprotected.

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  8. #8
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    How is “flocking” different than herd instinct? Wildebeest for example (which are also in the Bovidae family with sheep). Neolithic artists depicted herds of animals long before domestication.


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    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    How is “flocking” different than herd instinct? Wildebeest for example (which are also in the Bovidae family with sheep). Neolithic artists depicted herds of animals long before domestication.


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    yes, I thought about wildebeests before I started the thread....when lions are on a hunt it looks like a lot of prey animals gather together when they run away...maybe with sheep the herding/flocking is just a stronger instinct, and it happens with less of a trigger..?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mudskipper View Post
    yes, I thought about wildebeests before I started the thread....when lions are on a hunt it looks like a lot of prey animals gather together when they run away...maybe with sheep the herding/flocking is just a stronger instinct, and it happens with less of a trigger..?
    Herding, flocking, and schooling all seem to be the same basic behavior, and all seem to have some benefit against predation, although I'm not sure how that works except that there are more eyes looking for predators and one of the prey animals could hide behind a somewhat less clueful or somewhat more confrontational herd mate: "I don't have to outrun the lion; I only have to outrun you."

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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    Herding, flocking, and schooling all seem to be the same basic behavior, and all seem to have some benefit against predation, although I'm not sure how that works except that there are more eyes looking for predators and one of the prey animals could hide behind a somewhat less clueful or somewhat more confrontational herd mate: "I don't have to outrun the lion; I only have to outrun you."
    well there should be a genetic variation in a group of the same species, so I guess if the herding/flocking instinct is weaker in some, then the predator/s will more likely pick them off, and so strengthen the herding/flocking genes/instinct in the remainder. which, I suppose, has been sort of mentioned along this thread.
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