Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Studly Boys of Testosterone Row

Yesterday, the main sheep breeding season ended, and we separated the ewes from the rams. The ewes got let loose in the yard to graze on the lawn---where they proceeded to stampede gleefully up and down the driveway, leaping in the air like Lipizzans---and the rams got put together in the back paddock, next to Senter's paddock.

Because the rams and stallion have adjoining paddocks behind the barn, we fondly call that part of the farm "Testosterone Row."

It's always interesting putting the rams back together at the end of breeding season. There is the potential that they may fight with each other, and they could possibly do harm to each other, so I always stay and watch to make sure they're going to get along okay.

Here's a video of their first few minutes together yesterday, as they all got acquainted and established the flock pecking order.

The tongue-flicking and pawing with the foreleg you can see early in the video are typical courtship behavior. Being typical males, when meeting someone new they are always hopeful that it's someone they'll be able to mate with, so they do some of their courtship routines while they figure out that the newcomers are not ewes.

Nicholai takes charge right off, making sure they youngsters know that he's boss. He chases them and shoves them around a little bit. Notice that while all three of the rams can use their horns in a forward butting motion, Nicholai also takes advantage of his larger horns by swinging them sideways to poke the others with the pointy ends. Very effective!

Sometimes rams can get very aggressive with each other and need to be separated, but fortunately we've never had much problem with that on our farm.

Nicholai defuses a lot of the fighting, first because he's so much bigger than the young rams that they don't dare fight him, and second because he often acts as peacemaker. Near the end of the video, when the two younger rams start scuffling with each other, you can see Nicholai charge in between them and break it up.

You can also briefly see Senter in the next paddock over, taking interest in all the action.

The rams only scuffled for a very short time. When I gave them their afternoon feeding, Nicholai guarded both piles of hay and wouldn't let the younger rams eat without his permission.

By today, having firmly established himself as King of the Flock, Nicholai is now good buddies with the younger boys, and will continue to be kind and friendly to them throughout the rest of the year.

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