Mina the sheep was born intersex
"She was the most beautiful sheep in the flock," says the owner of Mina's farm.
In rare cases, humans can also be born with both male and female reproductive organs, and the same goes for other animal species.
We visited a farm to investigate Mina's condition.
“These are Mina’s horns. Look how beautiful and big they are,” Ragna Kronstad says.
Mina had larger horns and body than the other female sheep. She also had a female reproductive system.
Kronstad is an agronomist, which means that she has studied agriculture. She works at Sørli visitor's farm in Oslo, and suspected that Mina might be intersex.
Mina suddenly exhibited male behaviours when the sheep were about to mate.
“Mina stomped and put their nose in the air. That’s what rams do to show off. Mina also protected the other ewes, the female sheep, from being mated by another ram,” Kronstad says.
Felt safe with people
Mina's behaviour confused the other sheep, and Mina had a hard time finding their place in the flock. Mina wanted to be the boss, but the other sheep did not accept this. Because of this, Mina frequently sought refuge with the humans on the farm,” Kronstad says.
The sheep felt safe there.
“Mina was not confused and did not feel a responsibility to take care of us as with the other sheep,” she says.
Kronstad googled intersex and sheep, but there was little information to be found.
“If a sheep starts behaving differently, it will quickly go to slaughter,” Kronstad says.
Therefore, veterinarians and other experts do not know much about intersexuality in sheep.
“I thought it would have been interesting to examine Mina more closely,” she says.
Both ovaries and testicles
Anette Kristine Krogenæs is a professor of veterinary medicine at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). She is one of those who met Mina.
When they examined Mina, they checked a small piece of her flesh under a microscope. It turned out that the sheep had testicles, a vagina, and an underdeveloped uterus.
“Mina was what we call intersex,” Krogenæs says.
Vets can see this in several species such as sheep, cows and pigs.
“But it doesn't happen often. Another issue is cow-twins,” she says.
If there is a female calf and a male calf in the stomach, they can affect each other.
“In such cases, the female calf can become sterile and acquire a bull-like physique,” Krogenæs says.
She also says that it is no wonder that Mina was frustrated by being with the other sheep in the flock. She adds that it is nice that they could examine Mina.
“The more we learn, the better we can do for animals in the same situation,” she says.
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik.
Read the Norwegian version of this article on ung.forskning.no