June 21, 2010

Sheep Happens: Finding the "Big Six" of the Farmyard

It should come as no surprise (given the name of this blog) that we're a bit fond of sheep (hey, but not in that way). In that vein, we thought it would interesting to see if the rest of the world shares this predilection.

So, harkening back to the range wars of the American west we searched for the terms chicken, cow, goat, horse, pig and sheep. These animals were selected primarily by what showed up in my daughter's Old McDonald Had a Farm book (this is known more formally as consulting an indigenous source). Although not quite as charismatic as the "big six" of safaris (e.g., elephants, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, hippos and giraffes), the "big six" of livestock makes up for it with our ability to imitate the animal sounds. I challenge anyone to do a giraffe call right now…anyone? I thought as much.

In any case, the distribution of the "big six" at the global level is shown below. Right away we can see that "horse" (in yellow dots) cuts a wide swath through the world; a powerfully pedantic plethora of plentiful placemarks ponyness! Although I'm not quite sure what that last phrase means. Sometimes alliteration wins out over sensibility (I'd apologize but you knew what you were getting into by reading this blog).

Chickens (green dots) seem to be doing OK at the global level, but we fear for the sheep. At a whole range of levels. After all, they were the unwitting (albeit idiot) chorus that drowned out any rational conversation in Orwell's Animal Farm. Hmmm…some interesting parallels with modern politics.

Luckily, the expected center of sheep, the veritable stronghold of storied sheepiness - New Zealand - is well represented with a wooly covering of orange dots. Australia (at least when you get away from the beaches) is not doing too bad either; apparently wool is not what the Aussies wear at the ocean.

The United States replicates the global pattern of horses and chicken. Since the U.S. headquarters of Floatingsheep is surrounded by thoroughbred farms and a mere hour north of the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken, we interpret this as a sign that Kentucky's plans for world domination are well in hand. Just you wait.

We are also relieved to see that the U.S. has a few pockets of sheep out west, but clearly the cows and pigs never had a chance. And the less said about goats, the better.

The most interesting distribution, however, is within Europe which, despite being a very horsey place, still represents a fine figure of fascinating farmyard frontiers. Firstly, we must note the goodly concentration of sheep in Wales and Scotland; no surprise there, but heartening nonetheless. More startling is the popularity of sheep in France (including the island of Corsica). Who knew that amidst the foie gras, frog legs and escargot that such love of sheep was buried?

Alas, the news is not all good, for the pigs have secured a beachhead on Brittany with a thin powerful column heading directly towards the heart of France. What's more, the well established German pig passage (perambulating from Hamburg to Dusseldorf) appears poised to pierce the protective pockets of French Sheepdom!

So sadly, while we cannot foresee (ahem) flights of sheep everywhere, the pigs have not gained controlled as of yet! Sheep of the world, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your fleece!

Beasts of England, Beasts of France-land,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the Golden future time.

Soon or late the day is coming,
Tyrant Pig shall be o'er thrown,
And the fruitful fields of our lands
Shall be trod by sheep alone.*

* Apologies to George Orwell.


  1. Most interesting. I noticed Mongolia is under represented in your study. Given the sheep/mutton population the country should be well littered with orange. Perhaps, include the cyrllic letters for sheep and the spots might come. I'll ask the missus for the spelling. Enjoyable post at any rate.

  2. Hi,interesting post indeed.Just a question to better understand the nature of this results : how do you manage the language question ? Are you looking only for English words or do you include other languages (which ones ?).

  3. Hi there! To answer your question re: language, this particular post uses only English-language references to the terms above. We have, however, been working on incorporating different languages into our analysis, as can be seen in the following two posts:



    Hope that answers your question. Thanks for commenting!


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