I once saw a sheep with a great white shark stencilled on his flank
March 10, 2018 2:25 AM   Subscribe

As blood sports go at least this one seems on the least bloody end of the spectrum. The animals intimidate each other and the strongest one pushes the other one around for a little while until it backs away. No razor blade attachments to hooves or spearing the creatures to death in the ring is a big improvement over other such sports.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:43 AM on March 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

That is a great article. I started it thinking that sheep fighting was its own punchline, and ended up captivated.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:45 AM on March 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's no mutton busting.
posted by davejay at 8:01 AM on March 10, 2018

To be honest, if I had to guess which of those events was more stressful and upsetting for the sheep, I'd actually gamble on the mutton busting--sheep tend to react to the children as though they are panicking and being attacked by a predator, whereas two rams in a sheep fight know exactly who the other ram is, what he'll do, and how to end the contest. They're allowed to decide that they will not fight and end the contest without incurring actual injury. I mean, they don't know that losing means death, but to also be fair, they are sheep. They'd probably die in exactly the same way if they were meat sheep wethers raised purely for food.

I'm fascinated by the ways the sheep fights give the young men both outlets for aggression, sure, but also for attachment and even artistic expression: the way the men dote on the sheep, for example, and the paints on their wool. (Which almost certainly also are not particularly bothering the sheep.) From an animal welfare perspective, to be honest the worst thing anyone did in the article with respect to the sheep I saw was feeding one cigarettes, and that seemed to me to be an expression of fondness to the animal, not a desire to harm it. The sheep fights are encouraging empathy for the fighters, who dote on the damn sheep--gives them a socially acceptable outlet to care about something and take care of something, and it looks like men who prefer not to risk injuring their sheep aren't exactly uncommon.

I don't know. As far as activities that hook disaffected young men go, this seems to be a pretty low-risk one. For a blood sport, it seems to be one that emphasizes a lot more of the posturing and peacocking and care about the animals than it does actually watching animals in pain or coming to harm--honestly, it sort of reminds me of the terrier matching you'll sometimes see in conformation rings, where the dogs will stand facing each other and sort of eye each other for a minute before both are asked to walk off to do something else, with minimal contact actually happening between the animals. Here, it looks like the sheep are working out dominance hierarchies, sure--but not really in any way that involves anyone risking damage.

I mean, I could be wrong, but like... I am not really seeing the harm, at least in the form of this sport I see in that article? Even the Wikipedia article is like "...yeah, as far as blood sport goes, eh, and the attempts to standardize it seem to be focused on the welfare of the sheep." So I went youtubing to see what the hell I was missing. Watched a video with some Texan yahoo who just turned out a new ram with an established herd and was watching the showdown as the resident ram sorted it out, between two polled hair sheep, just to get an idea. They knocked heads for a while, the resident pawed at the younger ram, and the video ends with the resident actually mounting the younger ram--and then the farmer goes home and turns off the camera, and leaves the two sheep penned in together with the rest of the flock to "sort it out." The older ram climbed on the younger one a couple of times, with no intervention from the farmer.

Then I dug up an actual Algerian match. In which a) the sheep were allowed to control where they wanted to be, b) the humans present did not appear to view the sheep as dangerous--the men didn't get between the two sheep but the sheep are moving in and out from crowds of people the entire time--and c) every time there was an incident where one sheep went down or the two tangled up and couldn't get up, the humans immediately intervene to separate them out and minimize any potential damage from hooves or panicking. At the end, the solid black ram goes to his trainer and refuses to make eye contact with the piebald, and the match is over. The sheep seem unbothered and honestly as relaxed as the hair sheep from before, and certainly no one is penning the two rams up together unsupervised afterwards.

So I watched another one. This was much shorter, with more pageantry, more like the author described. Again, the sheep are released into an arena; they butt heads a few times; the sheep with more red paint decides not to keep "fighting" and leave the arena. The video immediately ends, and if anything is shorter and less of a mess for the sheep than the first. The whole thing is over in less than two minutes.

To be honest, the Texan seemed the most obnoxious to me, and the most likely to end up with one animal harassing another to the point of long-term stress.
posted by sciatrix at 10:14 AM on March 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Setting animals to fight each other is a forbidden activity for Muslims. That said, this is hardly the worst such thing. Cock-fighting and dog fighting are a lot worse.Sheep really don’t want to hurt each other.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:36 PM on March 10, 2018

TFA was worth it just for this line, "[H]ow idealist fathers produce nihilist sons may be the stuff of Russian literature ..."

That's great writing!
posted by k5.user at 8:25 AM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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