Unfenced: Sheep And Territorial Bonding
In the UK, when sheep are farmed on hilly and upland ranges, there is a phenomenon known as “hefting,” which is the “natural” or “instinctual” territoriality of certain breeds of wild and feral sheep. In particular, hefting describes how some sheep have a predisposition to reside (and breed) on specific regions of the hills where they were born. Hill and upland farmers use hefting to manage their flocks; by keeping sheep on the same area over many generations, the sheep develop an affinity for that land, adapt to its topography and weather, and live there “without the need for fencing.” In the terminology of hefting, a group of sheep and the landscape they live on is called a “heft.” According to researchers, it’s all a process that “entails an intimacy in human-animal-land relations … it is an inter-twining of lives that transforms the very being of sheep and people.”
This research paper’s aim was to explore the hefting phenomenon through interviews and observations of upland sheep herds and shepherds. The purpose was to explain specifics of hefting, but also to show how human-animal relations should be expanded to include “place” as a factor that is always in play. “Human–animal relations take place somewhere,” the author states, “and this somewhere is more than a neutral backdrop,” which is something we should consider when we look at how humans and animals interact. While the paper does not spend any space discussing why the sheep are being raised or what kind of fate awaits them, it does present a fascinating look at how humans and other species might live in a more harmonious way. For farmed animal advocates, the paper contains a great deal of human-sheep ethology that may be useful in a variety of ways.