February 19, 2015

Happy Year of the Sheep: Mapping "Literally" Every Sheep in the United States

The recent blog post by the Washington Post's Christoper Ingraham mapping “Literally every goat in the United States" was interesting in a number of ways. First, it continues the rhetorical trend of making maps (or at least claiming to make maps) that include everything.

If nothing else, it provides a compelling example of the current cultural capital value of "big data" in society. This is an interesting cultural moment in popular cartography, since the fundamental task of maps is abstracting and representing. And even the map that supposed showed "every goat" was actually a representation with each dot on the map standing in for 500 goats.

Secondly, we very much doubt that any map produced by the USDA Agricultural Census has ever received this much attention in the history of the agency.

Thirdly, why are the goats getting all the press? After all, isn't this the year of the sheep according to the Chinese zodiac [1]?  This is not the way Pan, god of shepherds, meant it to be. 

So being the ovis-chauvinists we are, we wanted to point out that there are actually twice as many sheep as goats in the US, and so the sheep population could probably take the goat population if it ever came down to hand to hand (or hoof to hoof) combat.

Also the USDA has made some fascinating interesting maps of sheep. Not baaaaaad.

Every Sheep in America

The USDA's Agricultural Census found that there were 5,364,844 sheep in the US in 2012. California was the sheepiest state in the USA with 668,517 sheep. However, Weld County, Colorado is the sheepiest county in the USA with 204,694 sheep reported in 2012. That's more sheep than Alaska, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Mississippi, New Jersey, Florida, Vermont, Arkansas, Maryland and Alabama put together. Go Weld County [2]! We don't know about you, but we're booking our tickets and hotels to go visit ASAP.

However, Van Zandt County, Texas had the most valuable sheep compared to other crops with 68.38% of total market value of agricultural products sold originated from sheep, goats and their products (milk, wool, etc.). We've also found that the map of every sheep in the US opens up many perceptual rivalries with optical illusions hidden within. Yes, we are comparing our map to the illustrations of Sandro Del Prete. Please comment on this post--what do you see in the illustrations? The profile image of a lady in a bonnet? A man's naughty bits? A sheep?

 [1] We are aware of the sheep/goat confusion, but come down firmly on the side of the sheep.
 [2] Read more about Weld's extraordinary sheep processing.

1 comment:

  1. Yippee! I did, in fact, some for the sheep several years ago and have stayed for the maps (I was searching for sheep clip art images). I have the sweatshirt to prove it, so I think it's about time you made the appropriate map. Thanks for all the maps, and Happy New Year!


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