As you can see by the title, our breeding ram fiasco has continued. It has been quite a rollercoaster ride, with the situation changing almost daily. Read this post, and this post if you are not caught up on this story yet.
So when last I updated you we had put Daisy (the injured ewe lamb) into a jug (small lambing stall) with Remi (younger breeding ram) in the jug next to her keeping her company but unable to breed her or bother her. And then we had Fergus (older breeding ram who is being aggressive) out in the main barnyard with all the other ewes (2 adults and 2 younger). This seemed like it was helping Fergus’ behavior somewhat, but he was still acting pretty crazy and constantly going into the stall and putting his front feet up on the half wall to see over it to where Remi and Daisy were. And in the mornings especially he was pretty aggressive with us and the ewes, and just over-all riled up. Mtn Man was the only one interacting with him at this point and Fergus continuously was trying to ram him whenever he got a chance. Fergus never was successful at actually ramming him, and each time he tried Mtn Man would grab him as he was about to get to him and would flip him over on his side. This type of dominance “training” didn’t seem to have much effect though. The rest of us stayed completely out of any pen or stall he was in at all times for safety.
After a few days Daisy’s limp was pretty much gone and she seemed a lot better. So we moved her and Remi out of the jugs and into the smaller stall in the barn. We really want to get Daisy pregnant if she matures in time this year, so we wanted to see if Remi would be nice to her so we had a possibility of that. We did not want to put her back with Fergus since he had bullied her to the point of giving her the shoulder injury and he is quite a bit bigger than Remi and thus more weight to bear during breeding, and she is very small. It worked, Remi was nice to her and they were getting along fine in that stall. So we left them in there together. The benefit of this set up, besides that Daisy could get bred if she comes into heat, was that Fergus could not see them anymore. He could hear them and smell them, but he couldn’t see them and thus couldn’t obsess about where Remi was, etc.
After all this moving around Mtn Man and I were surprised with an opportunity to go away alone for a night and have a nice little romantic getaway. We gave all the kids specific barn chore instructions. Young Man was to be the only one that was interacting with Fergus at all and he was to be very careful. The next morning when we called to check in we were told “Fergus got Young Man.” Aaaargh! Young Man had been hauling a bucket of water across the barnyard, keeping his eye on Fergus, but the barnyard is super slick and a big snow mess because the snow still hasn’t all melted off from the big storm the week of Thanksgiving. He started to slip and so he took his eyes of Fergus just for a second to look down at his footing and catch himself and Fergus used that little opportunity to ram him. Thankfully, Young Man was not injured, but it was kind of the last straw for us in a long line of aggressive behavior from this ram. We have kids who love participating in the farm, and we have a small set up and are not able to keep an aggressive ram safely. We spent the drive home discussing options and called some people we know with more experience with rams than we have.
We have found with keeping roosters that there are usually three different times in their development where they will become aggressive. First, there are some that start showing aggression very young, around 9 weeks. This is even before sexual maturity. Then there are some that get aggressive around 16-17 weeks, this is right at the beginning of sexual maturity and the ability to breed and is the most common time. Then there are some that seem super docile through all of that, start breeding females, everything seems to be fine. They continue to grow and sexually mature and generally really reach their full size and maturity around 7-8 months old, and some of them that have been docile the entire time become aggressive right around this time. And then there are the ones that never become aggressive, and those are the true gems that we want to keep and not ever get rid of.
So after talking to some people that have much more ram experience than us, we found that apparently this is the same scenario with rams. Fergus was fine and docile through his first two breeding seasons, but he didn’t fully finish growing and maturing as a ram until this last few months. A lot of rams just get more aggressive with age and fully maturing. Add to that the fact that there is another ram around, which he has never experienced before, and both things could be causing the aggression. Another thing we heard is that some rams can get very frustrated with younger ewes that haven’t quite come to sexual maturity yet and are just on the border of it. If they don’t have enough adult ewes to keep them busy, they can bully the younger ewes because of this frustration. Which is pretty much exactly what was happening with Fergus too, he only had one adult ewe, and two young ones on the edge of maturity, and it caused frustration and bullying of the younger ones, which is how Daisy got hurt.
Our questions became “Will this ramming behavior stop after breeding season?” “Will it stop if we get rid of the other ram?” and “Will it stop if we castrated him?” He has our favorite fleece in the entire flock (and all the sheep we have owned over the years for that matter), so we really do not want to have to butcher him and lose that amazing fleece. The answers we got are pretty much – no. It won’t stop. Once they start down that road of ramming everybody they just keep doing it. The recommendation to us was that we get a ram shield on his head (it blocks his view so he can’t ram) and let him finish the breeding season so we can get as much of his genetics as possible in next years lambs in case we want to keep a new ram lamb. We should be careful with him during the rest of the breeding season and only have Mtn Man deal with him, and then after this breeding season, butcher him.
This is a hard pill to swallow, because it goes back to that amazing fleece of his. We see a LOT of fleece through our business, and I am telling you, he has an AMAZING fleece. It is nice and long, but also very very soft. Most fleece that are very soft are short, and most long fleece are not very soft, so his is the best of both worlds and makes yarn that I love. BUT, we can’t keep an aggressive ram. So we ordered the ram shield and kept thinking everything through.
Then Mtn Man had an idea. We had noticed that Fergus was most aggressive in the morning. At night, we had been closing him away from the ewes because we felt like the stall the ewes were in was too small to deal with any breeding shenanigans overnight and we didn’t want any of them getting hurt. But Mtn. Man said he wanted to try leaving him with the ewes. So we tried that out and left Fergus with the girls overnight. His behavior the next morning was significantly changed, he was much calmer and relaxed and didn’t try to ram anyone or anything. Hmmmm. There are just so many factors involved, it is so hard to figure out what is causing the issue, or what combination of factors are causing it, and whether or not it can be fixed or managed.
After a couple of days of Fergus being with the girls overnight and having good behavior all day we decided to put his new calmness to the test. Daisy’s limp was completely gone, and her and Remi were tired of being closed in the small stall. We decided to put the two of them in the back pen, sharing a fence with Fergus and his girls, and see if Fergus started up the aggression again. The most surprising thing happened at this point. Fergus and Daisy were walking along the fence together, one on each side of it, trying to get to each other. They were licking each other through the wires and just completely obsessing with each other. Remi seemed pretty uninterested in anything that was going on and didn’t care that Daisy was trying to be with Fergus. Why was she doing this? This is the ram that has been bullying her for a month now, and now she is with a ram who is nice to her and all she wants is to be back with Fergus. What is that all about!? Some sort of bad-boy obsession thing? LOL. Seeing this behavior made us think one thing clearly – she must be in heat. But why wasn’t Remi trying to breed her? Remi has already successfully bred one ewe this season, so we know he knows how. Our curiosity got the best of us and we decided to put Daisy back in with Fergus and all the other ewes, leaving Remi alone in the back. Sure enough, the second she got in with Fergus she stood for breeding. We kept a very close eye on them all day to be sure he didn’t start bullying her again. He didn’t bully her, but she was definitely in standing heat and got bred.
We have no idea why Remi wouldn’t breed her. I don’t know if we are just completely missing something here that other shepherds know about sheep and their behavior. We have a lot of experience with ewes, and after two breeding seasons I felt like we were starting to understand rams too. But this third breeding season has thrown us for a loop for sure.
So we left Fergus with all the ewes, including Daisy, and including overnight in the stall. We checked them often in the evenings at first to be sure it wasn’t too crowded and there wasn’t any bullying. Remi stayed in the back pen and in the smaller stall overnight, by himself. At first it seemed like it was working and Fergus was settling a bit in his aggression. But then, yesterday morning, he had that kind of crazed look in his eyes and was all of a sudden very upset about Remi’s existence.
He kept going back and forth from the feeder to Remi’s fence line. Remi was completely chill and didn’t seem to care about anything. But Fergus was very riled up.
Even when he was at the feeder eating he kept looking over at Remi.
Then he went to the one last section of fence line that we had not secured with an extra board and started ramming the wire. We quickly got a board on it, but not before he did a good bit of damage. And while Mtn Man was putting the board on, Fergus tried to ram him several times and didn’t really back off when Mtn Man went after him. Not good.
None of his ewes were in heat that day, so we really don’t know why the change.
Once he and Remi were done eating they decided to spend ridiculous amounts of time trying to ram each other through the gate, which has wood where their heads land, so really they just both stood there ramming and rubbing their heads on opposite sides of a piece of wood. Which would lend itself back to the original theory that this has to do with having 2 rams instead of just one.
At this point we are just leaving things as is. Remi by himself and Fergus with all the ewes. We are still waiting for the ram shield to arrive. We are keeping a close eye on everything to be sure none of the ewes get hurt by Fergus again. And Mtn Man is the only one going in the pen that Fergus is in. Things are changing so fast that I have no idea what exactly will happen. But for now, since it looks like Fergus will be butchered after this breeding season, we just really want all the ewes to get bred. This week will prove if Fiona took or not. If she doesn’t come back into heat then we know she is pregnant.
At least indoors everyone is getting along. 🙂