From sheep farming to brain research, sheep are useful for more than simply getting to sleep.

Those in sheep farming will tell you their sheep are smart, or at least, that they have a good memory, and a new study from Britain’s University of Cambridge backs it up. The study researched the memories of sheep to get a better understanding of how a sheep’s brain works, according to an article on the study on ModernFarmer.com. Their findings were surprising to researchers, but not to those in sheep farming. See details of the study below.

Studying Sheep Memories

The study, which was published in the journal Royal Society: Open Science, tested the memories of eight different sheep. They used two-dimensional photos of famous people—such as Barrack Obama, Emma Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal—and trained the sheep to recognize their faces. If the sheep recognized a face, they were given a food treat. If not, a buzzer sounded, and no treat was given.

The researchers found that the sheep were able to discern the famous faces—those in the sheep’s memory—from non-famous faces 80 percent of the time. They were also able to recognize a face from an angle 65 percent of the time, which the article maintains has previously only been seen in humans and at a similar rate.

Furthermore, sheep were able to recognize their handlers from photos without any pre-training  70 percent of the time, a fact that those in sheep farming would confirm.

Beyond Sheep Farming

Wondering what obscure branch of science is concerned with whether a sheep can recognize a face with any accuracy or not?  The study was conducted by Franziska Knolle, Rita P. Goncalves, and A. Jennifer Morton, of the University of Cambridge’s department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. The study was meant to discern if a sheep’s brain is enough like a human’s in its workings that sheep can be used to study neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

The ability to recognize faces on a level that compares to a human’s means that the sheep could be used to help determine how and why these brain disorders begin and develop, and ultimately, to stop them.

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