Since Sandhill Flats is a small, young farm, there currently isn’t a location to put a rutting ram where he is out of sight of his women (ewes). This can be problematic. Also, it would be impossible to prevent him from sniffing out his female companions if he was downwind. Hence, fencing becomes a huge issue for such a gentle and easy-to-contain ruminant.
Rams get aggressive and testy during the breeding season if they can’t reach their women. Even though we are in Florida and the ewes could practically be bred twice in one year, the true breeding season (apparently, August to October time-frame) is fraught with drama. Ah, yes, the exuberance of a young male trying to attract a female for purposes of copulation and procreation – good grief can he do damage to a fence if he has a set of horns!
On our farm, the current ewe pasture is separated from the current ram pasture by a set of unfinished chutes and a paddock. The paddock happens to have a decent shelter in it. It happens that previously the ram had been with his ewe-wife, and he was a wife-beater. She was fine with it as she had Stockholm Syndrome. She did not produce a lamb last year, presumably due to the fetus never implanting because it never had a chance with the ram around. This is the problem with starting with such a small flock of sheep. Having only five sheep meant we had to pasture them in unconventional matches.
Eventually, the two wether-lambs and the ram-lamb got old enough (big enough) to take a chance being in with their father. The ewe-wife moved out of the paddock and the lambs moved in – the gate to the ram pasture left open. Things went well for a while, up until breeding season began. Then we found one of the wether-lambs beaten within an inch of his life. The ram was removed and pastured in a solo fashion in the paddock. The beaten wether-lamb occupied a small, hospital jug (pen) until he recuperated from his bruises, and was then re-pastured with the other lambs again in the ram pasture with a tarp-shelter.
Then began the ram’s pacing, and endless bashing of the fence, as he tried to get the ewes attention and attempt to gain access to them. We joked that he had a “beat” he had to walk every day. He would eat his morning rations and then pace all day up against the fence nearest the ewe’s encampment. Soon, I noticed he was “breaking in”. He was bashing the fence in and it was coming loose from the posts. I had visions of him ducking under the mesh and gleefully prancing into the flock like Casanova.
A DMZ (demilitarized zone) was created with heavy-duty metal panels, which he would not attack after he tested their strength. This tided us over until breeding season.
After his breeding opportunity was over, he was turned out into the ram pasture and the lambs got the paddock. The ram-lamb did less fence damage due to the fact he only has scurs. Then it was time for the ram-lamb to have his first go at breeding, and he was turned out with the ewes. This greatly angered his father.
Next, during a fight between the ram-lamb on the ewe’s side of the fence and the ram on the other side, the ram managed to get the end of the fence pushed in. I barely had a chance to get the fence fixed before he broke through. We’re talking moments here. Observation can save a lot of headache.
That’s when the paddock got closed for the season.
Finally, it was time for the 10-month old ram-lamb to be reintroduced to his father. The ram-lamb lacked about 25 lbs. and a set of really good horns, and I hoped the ram would not fight the ram-lamb to the death. We had tried ram-shields, but they fit poorly and caused a slight abrasion on one of the ram-lamb’s eyes in the first few hours. We had no other choice due to our limited situation and infrastructure. Perhaps we were being too paranoid anyways.
The gates were opened and father met son. There was a terrific CRACK as both of their skulls met for the first time. After a few more CRACKs, it was over. I recalled watching big horn sheep fight in this manner on PBS when I was a child. This was just in miniature! The ram-lamb came away with one bloody scur, which would heal, and a new wariness of his father. His father kept him at a healthy distance from the wethers (which the ram-lamb kept trying to attempt to breed) for the first 48 hours, and respect was established thereafter. Now we have a dominant ram and a well-established ram/wether flock, and all is well.
Moral of the story: things take time, and it’s best to wait until the ram you are introducing is of a similar size and breeding season is over. It helps to have wethers in the flock to act as buffers or decoys.