What will happen if 100 sheep are left to roam in the mountains unattended for several years?

The Cliff-Walking Sheep of the Village

In ancient times when humans were scarce and animals abundant, some sheep enjoyed wandering along cliffs, creating narrow stone paths just wide enough for their feet. When the paths became too difficult to traverse, ancient people would bridge them with wooden sticks, thus forming plank roads along these cliff faces.

Rock sheep, blue sheep, and goats are adept at navigating these cliffs, making their way into seemingly inaccessible areas with little concern for humans.

Behind our village, there’s a large river slope covered in Stipa purpurea, presenting a mesmerizing purple sea of flowers when blooming. People often harvested these as herbs, and over the years, the area became sparse with Stipa purpurea and overrun with morning glory.

In those days, as children, we helped the production team herd sheep. The sheep always formed a dense group, with the ones at the back hurrying to catch up and those in front remaining calm, all heading towards the river slope.

Upon emerging from the forest and viewing the river slope, the sheep would pick up their pace. Without much need for human supervision, we children would play games or catch fish and crabs in the shallow water.

If someone wanted to prove their bravery by wading into slightly deeper water, they would be punished if adults found out. Over time, no one dared to venture into deeper waters, and thus no accidents occurred while herding sheep.

One day, we played too long, and it was nearly dark by the time we returned the sheep. Two were missing, which was significant because sheep were rarely consumed for food. The adults contemplated searching for them but were persuaded to wait until the next day, as the sheep would likely return on their own once full.

The next day, as we set out to herd the sheep again, the two missing ones had indeed returned. This made us more carefree in our duties, allowing the sheep to wander further away.

When it was time to return, the sheep would gather around us, and we’d lead the biggest one to the road. The rest would follow it back home.

This idyllic shepherding life continued until the lead sheep was injured in a fight over food with a donkey. The villagers, seeing an opportunity for meat, decided to end its suffering.

Without a leader, the flock became chaotic, with many aspiring to take the lead, resulting in fights. To solve this, whenever a fight broke out, we would selectively punish the black-spotted sheep, leaving the all-white sheep alone. This created a distinction and established the white sheep as the leader. This strategy proved effective, and the black-spotted sheep eventually submitted.

However, the deposed black-spotted sheep did not give up. One day, half of the flock disappeared with it. We spent the entire evening calling for them, and the adults, realizing the gravity of the loss, joined in the search the following day.

On the third day, all work was put aside to search for the missing sheep, but they were nowhere to be found. Accepting their loss, the adults were too distressed to punish us. We kept a low profile, fearing any misbehavior might lead to further blame for the missing sheep.

Eventually, we spotted one sheep on a distant mountain top, bathed in the sunset’s glow. The adults were hopeful, but it turned out to be a blue sheep, a wild species known for its agility on cliffs.

Sometimes, we’d spot white sheep on the nearby mountains, and the adults would attempt to recapture them. However, the sheep, now wild, would flee at any human approach, especially the black-spotted leader.

After some time, my uncle and others, armed with shotguns, went hunting for the runaway sheep. Occasionally, they’d return with a catch, providing us with some meat. The sheep, however, learned to evade humans, climbing cliffs out of reach.

Eventually, the flock diminished, and my uncle ceased his hunting trips. The remaining sheep, now wary of both humans and natural predators, likely perished or continued living a hidden life in the mountains.

As land was distributed among villagers, the collective sheep were split up. Some chose to keep and herd them, while others sold theirs for money. Over the years, sheep were replaced with cattle, which were more valuable for labor and less likely to run away.

Years later, during a summer break in middle school, my cousin and I tried to capture a group of wild sheep. They led us on a long chase, but we eventually cornered them at a cliff edge. Surprisingly, they managed to escape across a newly constructed wooden bridge to the other side.

These resilient sheep continue to live in the mountains, their population kept in check by human hunters and the absence of large predators. They’ve adapted to the harsh terrain once dominated by the blue sheep, walking the paths carved by their predecessors. Perhaps, in years to come, some might consider these wild sheep a beautiful sight worth preserving.

The Rapid Decline of Mountain Rabbits

Once, someone released rabbits on our mountain. As everyone knows, rabbits breed prolifically. By the following autumn, the population had surged to over a hundred, covering the hillsides and ravaging our crops. They even gnawed the worship pedestals in our temple into a pocked landscape. Then, predators began to arrive.

First came the weasels, each day killing one or two rabbits. Our morning routine began with finding and burying the dead rabbits, always offering prayers for their souls. The wounds were distinctive, always at the neck, because weasels drink blood without consuming the flesh.

Next, the foxes arrived, leaving nothing behind but bones.

Then the aerial predators appeared. Eagles began circling above the mountain, but most surprisingly, owls joined the fray. I never knew they hunted rabbits, but by the end of that autumn, they had completely wiped out the rabbit population. From then on, I never saw another rabbit on the mountain.

Su Wu herded sheep, all of them were rams.

The Chanyu said, “When your rams start producing milk, then you can return home.”

Nineteen years later, the Chanyu had passed away, but Su Wu’s flock of sheep was still just as numerous.

Wildlife Behavior and the Challenges of Releasing Captive Animals

In the second year, there will be an increase in wolves and wild boars in the mountains. In another two years, either their numbers will recover or there will be reports of them causing harm to nearby villagers.

Wild animals' survival in the wild is largely a learned behavior. For example, if a young cat has never seen an older cat catch a mouse, it is highly unlikely to ever catch a mouse in its lifetime. Most domesticated animals that humans have bred for generations have lost the ability to survive in the wild. They lose their skills for foraging, self-cleaning, avoiding danger, staying alert, and developing immunity. Even species like pigs and dogs, known for their adaptability to various diets, face a slim chance of survival when left in the wild without human care. The so-called practice of releasing captive animals or letting them roam freely is, in reality, abandonment. Feeding wild animals in this manner is unsustainable in the long run. These wild creatures receive a sudden influx of nutrition, temporarily increasing the quantity and quality of their current and future generations. And that’s about it.

In the mountains, the exact environmental conditions are unclear, but to sustain 100 sheep on the grasslands, a minimum of 2000 acres of pasture is required.

Some island nations are like this, where farmers raise small sheep on their private islands and harvest them after 10 years.

The premise is that there are no natural predators within the entire territory, and the rate of reproduction of the sheep does not exceed the ecological carrying capacity of the island.

In the mountains? Is this mountain your private territory? Can you guarantee the above conditions? If someone comes to steal your sheep, can you handle it?

Sheep Farming in a Remote Village

This hasn’t been experimented with, but if you have both male and female sheep and no natural disasters or human interference, they will definitely reproduce exponentially.

Let me share an experience from the past:

Two females and one male sheep, what do you think? I was a young worker at the age of 25.

In 1971, the harvest in Xiaobeigou was good. I had been sent to the countryside for three years, and the fruit trees on the mountain were finally flourishing.

Over the years, the newly cultivated tree terraces stored autumn rain and winter snow, cleared the grass and weeds under the tree roots, and the fruit trees received plenty of nourishment. Pruning and trimming the fruit trees improved ventilation and light penetration, and with the removal of old tree bark and lime treatment, pest and disease problems were reduced. Plus, it was a bumper summer for apricots, and old autumn white pears were selling for a good price. It was a rare good harvest after many years. “The members were all delighted,” and almost every household had money.

In 2015, a photo of white pears on the trees in Xiaobeigou.

I was reassigned to the commune’s security team. I received a daily “subsidy” of 60 cents. For meals in the countryside, I paid two mao and four liang grain tickets per meal. Going on business trips with the Public Security Military Management Committee also earned me a daily subsidy of 60 cents. Food and drink were basically taken care of. What’s more, the production team gave me work points every day, equivalent to a double salary.

The team leader had long sent a message saying, “The year-end bonus is ready, come back and collect it.” I was too busy to go back and replied, “Let the accountant handle it first.”

One day, Lin Zige came to the commune while he was at the market. At noon, the two of us had lunch and soup in the commune’s cafeteria. After eating, he blushed and said he brought you a few “Bali Xiang pears”… That thing— That thing, if you don’t urgently need the bonus money, how about exchanging it with me for some cottonseed cakes? (Cottonseed cakes: the residue left after cottonseed oil extraction, pressed and condensed into large cakes, similar to bean cakes but noticeably darker in color, they can fatten sheep when fed.)

I wrote a letter to the accountant.

In December 1972, I was “drafted” as a worker, and there were no more young workers in that ditch. When I said goodbye and was about to leave, Lin Zige pulled me aside, his face red, rubbing his hands, saying he hadn’t explained it properly! That money won’t be available for a while…

I said, “Brother, don’t worry about it, I don’t need it!”

He said, “Where’s the problem? You can rest assured— I have sheep at home, two ewes and a ram to cover your debt.” With that, he practically dragged me to his house, yelling for me to lean over the sheep pen and see which three sheep they were. He didn’t give me a chance to object, and even sprinkled them with purple medicine and marked them with a cross.

I watched, amused, and hurried back to the youth point, bringing him a few pieces of clothes that were not yet worn out, which I tossed on the kang. Some of the guys who ate separate meals in the village somehow found out about the loan, saying it was “money down the drain,” and heard that someone even “secretly enjoyed it for several days.”

Later, I worked as a railway maintenance worker, earning more money through physical labor, with a starting salary of 34 yuan. I didn’t get married, and my family didn’t know about this matter. I had long forgotten about it.

A few years passed in the blink of an eye. One day, Lin Zige brought a letter and said, “Your sheep, I can’t take care of them anymore— those two females and one male have already formed a group. The other day, I counted, and there are a total of twenty-two. What should we do?”

The Consequences of Releasing Domestic Sheep into the Wilderness

Sheep are one of our most common domesticated animals, and due to their mostly free-range lifestyle, their behavior isn’t significantly different from their wild ancestors. From this perspective, if you release 100 sheep into the wilderness, they will become similar to wild sheep after a few years. However, in practical terms, we need to consider various factors like the behavior of sheep and the presence of natural predators. Therefore, if you release 100 sheep into the wilderness, the results after a few years are not certain. Let’s analyze the possible scenarios and outcomes for the sheep.

In most domesticated animals, we can easily trace their wild ancestors. For example, the ancestors of domestic cows are wild oxen, domestic pigs come from wild boars, domestic geese are descended from wild geese, and domestic dogs originated from wolves. However, sheep are somewhat unique because there are two common types: sheep and goats, and these two have significant differences. Sheep belong to the genus Ovis in the family Bovidae, while goats belong to the genus Capra, also in the family Bovidae. Their genetic differences are quite significant, with goats having 30 pairs of chromosomes and sheep having 27 pairs, resulting in reproductive isolation.

Currently, the scientific community has not definitively identified the wild ancestors of domestic sheep. This is because there are over 50 different breeds of domestic sheep worldwide, each with its own primary purpose, such as milk production, meat, or wool. Additionally, there are genetic variations among different breeds. Therefore, the prevailing theory is that the ancestors of sheep are the European mouflon, urial, and argali for sheep, while wild goats are believed to have descended from European wild goats, ibex, and markhor.

Having discussed domestic sheep, let’s now explore the consequences of releasing them into the wilderness.

If you release 100 sheep into the wilderness, the first thing to consider is whether they form a herd. If they do, there will inevitably be a leader within the herd, making it easier to manage because the leader’s actions determine the rest of the herd’s movements. Due to this behavior, when humans domesticate sheep, they often focus on taming the leader, which effectively tames the entire herd. If this is a group of sheep, and you don’t greedily shear their wool, and there is enough grass in the wilderness, they should be able to survive and reproduce.

However, if you shear the wool of these sheep before releasing them, a sudden change in temperature or rain can lead to the majority of them falling ill and dying within a few months, greatly reducing their numbers. Even without shearing, they may not survive and reproduce successfully.

Domestic sheep have been bred by humans in a way that prevents them from naturally shedding their wool as wild sheep do with the changing seasons. Their wool continues to grow, and after a few years, the heavy wool can immobilize them, eventually leading to starvation or disease.

Additionally, predators are a significant threat. In the lush wilderness, there is no shortage of wild animals such as leopards, wolves, foxes, eagles, and others. These domesticated sheep, which have lost their ability to defend themselves, become easy prey for these carnivorous animals and are essentially automatic “meat machines” in front of them.

If you release a group of goats into the wilderness, the situation is slightly more optimistic since goat wool does not grow continuously like sheep’s wool. Therefore, if there is sufficient vegetation in the wilderness, goats should be able to survive without much trouble.

However, if there are carnivorous animals in the wilderness, domesticated sheep, with their poor ability to escape and defend themselves, are still vulnerable and would likely become “meat machines.” So, after a few years, it’s unlikely that these 100 goats would still be alive.

Conclusion

Releasing 100 domestic sheep into the wilderness yields varying results depending on several factors, primarily the threat from predators. Domestic sheep are defenseless against wild carnivores and would likely be consumed if such predators are present. If there are no carnivorous animals, the outcome depends on whether the sheep are shorn or not, as well as their ability to find enough food. It’s important to note that while releasing animals into the wild may seem like a noble act, it can have unintended consequences, potentially harming both the released animals and the local ecosystem. Additionally, it’s advisable to keep such actions discreet, as they may not be well-received by others.

Hey, you know what?

I’ll give you the address of a mountain,

You put your sheep there.

Several years later, I’ll tell you what happens next, what do you think?

Do you think there are no people in the mountains?

Throw in 100 sheep, and it doesn’t matter.

The local villagers can help you finish them off! Not even waiting for the winter solstice!

Even if you have someone watching, as long as there aren’t enough people, the sheep can still be lost.

When I go hiking, I see those sheep grazing on the mountains, and I want to catch one, let alone the villagers passing by every day.

Do you know why there are so many protected animals in the mountains of Guangxi? Can you guess how they become protected animals?

If I catch one, you know I ate a catfish. If I didn’t catch one, I’ll tell you I ate a catfish!

What will happen if you release 100 sheep in the mountains and don’t take care of them for several years?

In 1978, a few Japanese individuals brought two goats to the Diaoyu Islands and let them roam freely without providing food or water. Now, 45 years have passed, and there are hundreds of goats on the Diaoyu Islands.

This sheep was picked up by me.

Holding My Place for Now, Will Write Later


I’m back after a day, and it’s not because I was lazy but because I was trying to find the original text. This question reminded me of a book I read before. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the exact original text, so I recommend everyone to check out a book called “The Ancient Norse Seafarers” by the Ocean Press, March 1988, 1st edition. This book covers the entire history of Viking pirates and some famous figures. On page 106, there is a passage:

Due to the abundance of grass and grain, the livestock in Iceland not only survived but also multiplied quickly. According to legend, a farmer wanted to count his sheep, but there were so many that he got tired and only managed to count up to 2400. Another farmer, while searching for land to build a new home, left a pair of pigs - a male pig and a female pig - on the coast. Three years later, when he went to look for them again, the place where the pigs were left had become a pig valley, and the pigs had multiplied to more than 70.

I don’t remember if letting the sheep roam freely is feasible.

It is feasible to let the cows roam freely.

I have seen it in Datong, Lingqiu, and Xinzhou Ningwu. The cows are in groups, and the owners check on them periodically, not necessarily every day. They put GPS trackers on the cows. Since the cows stay together in groups, they don’t need to put trackers on all of them; maybe one or two will suffice.

I’ll find some pictures for you when I get back.

Fortunately, there are no mountains in that place; otherwise, not to mention several years, the sheep would have been picked up by people in just a few minutes.

Poultry Farming in the Orange Grove

Sheep farming is costly, and I’m not sure about the actual situation.

However, when it comes to poultry, that’s a different story.

The orange grove was established on hilly terrain, and I don’t have an exact count of the acres. It was contracted from the original village group’s mountainous land. The orange trees were growing well, but they faced severe oversupply issues.

Later, I spent a lot of money to encircle the area with wire mesh fencing, specifically for poultry farming. I released over twenty chickens into the area, allowing them to roam freely (within the chicken coop). I still provided chicken feed, but not as frequently as before. The uneaten feed led to the growth of corn and unidentified grains.

We took precautions against yellow weasels and other natural predators like foxes. We set traps, with the yellow weasels being the most caught. In less than two years, they multiplied significantly, although I didn’t keep an exact count. Sometimes, while patrolling the area, I would find fully grown chickens hanging on the wire mesh. It seemed that other wild animals tried to catch them but were blocked by the wire mesh and gave up due to the noise. Chickens could fly quite high into the orange trees. Surprisingly, the presence of chickens and their digging did not improve the soil around the orange trees or help control pests. On the contrary, the orange trees became weaker. Chickens specifically targeted a few orange trees, making the branches smooth and the bark peeling. They continuously scratched out mud pits under the orange trees. Any orange tree receiving special attention from the chickens did not fare well.

It’s quite strange. Some locals seriously contracted mountainous areas for chicken farming, but they suffered from diseases. In contrast, my casual approach to poultry farming never resulted in diseases. However, the production was not very high; it was more for aesthetic pleasure with chickens everywhere. When it truly needed to become an industrial chain, the production was evidently insufficient, although it was suitable for personal consumption.

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