Everything that I’ve ever read on training ram lambs states quite imperatively that you are NOT to pet them….but to maintain a physical distance, keeping them “off balance”, so that they don’t know what to expect from you. This is very hard to do, because in point of fact, they generally seem to be more personable and friendly than the ewes…But I have been trying to cop this attitude with our little ram. To even the playing field, Bob has been giving Studley pets….just like he and I do with the “girls”. Time will tell….
The way the division of labor on the farm has currently evolved, Bob communes with the sheep, and I finesse/manhandle the ducks, geese and dogs. When he’s gone, or sick, however, I’m placed in the role of shepherdess. Now, I pretty much know the girls….their personalities (yes, they DO have them!) …but that was because our roles used to be reversed: Bob used to take care of the ducks and geese up until about 3 months ago, when the little duck and geese psyches became my province.
Back to the ewes though…The way I have the girls pegged is as follows: There’s the prima donnas, Nandina (2 years old and the Grand Dam) and Arabella (Lamb. how could she NOT be a prima donna with a name like that?), the tomboys, Juno and Rosie (Lambs: they’re constantly stalking and then headbutting each other), the wildchild, Vesper (Lamb), the food slut, Moe (1 year old) and my favorite, the inquisitor, Curly (1 year old).
Enter Studley DoLittle. Gorgeous little guy….a morrit, or brown sheep like Curly and Moe. About the same age as our younger girls, he sports impressively curled horns, a curious mind and a fierce desire for attention/pets….along with a need to butt things….and a not so bright intellect. He’s already taken out one whole wall of the 10′x10′ puppy kennel/lamb confinement pen. It looks like a chainlink accordian at this point. We need to get him some wethers (castrated rams) to play king of the mountain with before he tears apart the entire barnyard and pasture areas…..The girls are obviously not providing him with enough diversions!! In the meantime, he’s a fleece covered, battering ram, looking for action!
Bob has been gone for about a week and I’ve been playing shepherdess…everything has gone along relatively smoothly….until today. As I’m letting the sheep out into the corridor to the pasture area this morning, Studley holds back….the rest of the sheep are happily trotting off towards their daytime grass heaven. Not so Studley. I fasten the barnyard gate open and turn around just in time to see him starting to run straight at me, eyeing me the entire time. The strangeness is that his head isn’t down….like it would be for butting. I yell at him and he stops in his tracks and starts moving ambling down the corridor. But only for a moment. He turns around and again makes his pretend (?) charge at me…and again I stop him with firm words that I’m sure also stopped some of the drivers out on highway 34. Again Studley starts slowly down the corridor and again he stops. …But this time he walks over to me and raises his front leg towards me in a pawing motion — the same gesture that he uses on the ewes to see if they’re receptive. Oh great…now he thinks I’m a ewe!!! Like I said, he’s not the sharpest stick in the forest. This time, I stopped drivers cold out on the highway with my verbal chastisement…. With the whites showing around his eyes, Studley moved off down the corridor and into the paddock where his flock was happily munching on grass.
From the ram’s point of view, you are either a competitor to headbutt, or a ewe to breed…. or a giant question mark, that they want to steer clear of — the latter is what you want to be regarded as. If a ram lamb EVER lowers his horns at you, to challenge you, you’re supposed to immediately “take him out”…flip him on his back, so that he’s forced into a submissive posture: horns and all. (have you looked at Studley’s horns?????) If you don’t do this, you supposedly end up with problems with them later on when they mature and achieve their full body weight and horn dimensions. Bob has taken Studley out twice. (I have yet to see this….it’s on my want-to-see list though!!) I myself have impulsively slapped him hard on the side of his muzzle, as if he were a dog…. to break his focus during a confrontation between him and the pups (I use this term loosely; they now weigh-in at about 95 pounds each). The slap worked though….at least in that instance! By MY reasoning the nose is fair game and easily accessible—Besides, it’s much easier than flipping 70 pounds over onto its back….
When I “tucked” the sheep in tonight, everything was normal. The question for me now though is will Studley up the ante, when I let him out of the barnyard tomorrow? Was he merely demanding affection in his own inimitable style today, or was he trying to sort out how he was going to classify me….and if the latter, did I pass his test?
I’ll have to remember to wear my wrestling gear and brass knuckles, just in case. Sheep Psychology 101.
Update on Studley: Brass knuckles were NOT needed by me this morning….A chin rub bought him off instead. This evening, however, he needed a physical reminder by Bob of his status in the world after he tried to head-butt him…but in all fairness, Bob had been making pounding, head-butting noises on metal t-posts for an hour…and right near him! What’s a ram lamb to do???