Last updated on January 3rd, 2024 at 09:25 pm
In 2004, news broke around the world with a goofy image. It was of a sheep that was carrying so much wool that it could hardly even see. Regal images of the round creature, covered in matted fur, were shared.
One showed the sheep standing over half the size of a full-grown man. One was of the sheep being carried by a man who is enveloped by the wool. And one showed the sheep almost smiling as it stood on a boulder.
Shrek’s Early Years
The sheep was named Shrek and was born in November 1994 in Tarras, New Zealand. This is a small farming settlement in Central Otago, located in the South Island.
As a Merino sheep, he was bred for his extremely fine, soft wool which was used to create all kinds of expensive clothing. Typically sheep are sheared once a year to collect their wool.
The average weight of a Merino sheep’s wool is about 10 pounds (4.5 kg). 33 pounds (15 kg) is considered an extremely heavy amount.
In 1998, as a local farmer began the muster (a process through which farmers or animals bring together livestock) Shrek slipped away from the crowd. Hiding in caves near the farm, the sheep avoided the muster and disappeared from the farm.
Over the next six years, Shrek would avoid capture by hiding in the mountains. Presumed dead, farmers never took the time to try and find the sheep.
But Shrek was able to survive on his own. For six years his wool was never sheared. In April of 2004, Shrek was finally discovered to be alive. It was nearly two weeks before the people who found him could get Shrek sheered.
When they finally did, the process took nearly twenty minutes. By comparison, most professional shearers can work through a full-grown sheep in 2 to 3 minutes.
The collection of wool that was sheared from Shrek weighed over 60 pounds (27 kg). That amount of wool was enough to create 20 men’s suits. This meant that Shrek was carrying over half of his body weight in wool alone.
The Realities of Long Wool
Some stories reported that Shrek’s wool was so long that it helped him to survive. It may have even kept wolves from being able to bite through because it was so fluffy.
However, USA Today reported that wolves were not native to New Zealand. Therefore, this may have been an exaggeration.
In any case, wool at the length found on Shrek starts to become a detriment rather than a help because the sheep becomes unable to clean itself and becomes more susceptible to infection. Finding Shrek allowed the farmers and shearers to save his life.
Shrek the Sheep Becomes a Celebrity and Charity Fundraiser
The image of an over-inflated sheep and the sheer volume of wool collected made Shrek an instant celebrity.
Since sheep are herded on massive plots of land, it is not uncommon that some may miss a muster or two. It is easy for some to wander to the far outskirts of the farmers’ land and not be noticed.
But six years without a shear was unheard of at the time. The images of Shrek emphasized just how long six years was. Shrek was then invited to meet with the Prime Minister of New Zealand as a local celebrity two weeks after being shorn.
With Shrek wearing a special merino wool jacket (to keep warm after being sheared only weeks before), the two promoted a children’s charity called CureKids. Shrek’s wool was auctioned off in support of the charity.
Thirty months later, Shrek would once again participate in a fundraiser for CureKids. This time, professional shearer Jimmy Barnett would trim Shrek’s wool off on an iceberg. He used a combination of crampons and a woven wool rug to keep the pair from sliding around on the ice.
Shrek the Sheep vs. Shrek the Ogre
The sheep’s name was derived from the children’s book about a fictional ogre of the same name. Strangely, their two stories have remained tied together.
The original storybook was published in 1990, while the sheep was born in November 1994. Shrek the Sheep went missing in 1998, nearly a year after the animated movie had already begun animation production (although the film itself had been in production since 1991).
Dreamworks Studios released the first film in 2001, while Shrek the Sheep was still missing. In a twist of fate, the studio would release Shrek 2 in May of 2004, just one month after Shrek the Sheep was once again found.
Shrek the ogre would go on to outlive the sheep. The sheep would be euthanized in 2011 at sixteen years old, while the last installment of the series was released in 2010.
Other Overgrown Sheep Around the World
There have been several similar stories that have emerged since Shrek’s global fame. Chris was another Merino sheep in Australia who set the record for most wool shorn at once with 91 pounds (41.4 kg).
Just recently a sheep named Fiona in Scotland was rescued after two weeks of isolation at the bottom of a dangerous cliff. Videos documenting her rescue have been shared on YouTube.
Finally, there was another sheep in New Zealand whose name, Shrekapo, is a homage to Shrek and was partly inspired by Lake Tekapo, near where he was found. Shrekapo was found with over half of his weight in wool grown out.
Corlett, Eva. “Sheep shorn of 18kg fleece after three years on the lam.” The Guardian, April 19, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/19/sheep-shorn-of-18kg-fleece-after-three-years-on-the-lamb.
Palmer, Carol. “The Story of Shrek the Sheep.” Montessori Handwork, June 1, 2018. https://www.montessorihandwork.com/post/the-story-of-shrek-the-sheep.
Lee, Ella. “Fact check: Partly false story about Shrek, a very woolly sheep from New Zealand.” USA Today, July 31, 2021. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2021/07/31/fact-check-story-new-zealands-shrek-sheep-mistold-online/5441476001/.