…and your enemies closer”.
This time of year, I hold my breath watching the antics in the ram pasture. The older fellows vie for supremacy; the young boys are rowdy, roughing each other up, standing in huddles, learning to be “rams”. (If only they wouldn’t)
Today I went looking through our photofiles, and found ones that tell the story….
On the face of it, there seems to be a friendly bond between dominant rams as the weather gets cooler…over time, we have taken several photos of them whispering “sweet nothings” into each other’s ears….more likely threats!
There are serious conferences where they seem to be discussing who’s who in the hierarchy…..and who deserves to be the breeding ram for that year.
There are shoving matches…
And lots of posturing…which leads to photo-ops…which leads me to show you this year’s winners!
We used three rams…but we only bred 5 ewes to lamb here in 2012; because of our flock reduction plans, the groups were small, really small.
Loki was an easy choice. His lambs this spring were exceptional, and his amazingly fine soft fleece is coming through in them all. He got to breed 2 ewes whose fleece qualities should compliment his.
Spats was bred to our finest fleeced ewe, Heka. We have great hopes for this cross.
And contrary to our usual rules, we also used a 2011 ram-lamb (Galileo). He is an outcross to our flock, and with his soft mioget fleece and so many good qualities, he seemed a natural for a couple of ewes who carried the modifier gene. We hope that it doesn’t go to his head!
The lamb crop for 2012 will be small, but the lambs themselves should be very special. Will we part with any of them? Not for a while…..
It is THAT time of year, and I was about to post some rammy stories when Kara Mapstone mentioned (on the Shetland List) the document that we created a while ago as a guide to ram management. I will copy the entire document below and attach a pdf that you can print out…the title looks funky but the link works:
Yes, I am going to blog again….and likely more about rams. It is the season!
ToughLove for Rams
Many people believe that rams are inherently dangerous and shouldn’t be given attention, but some of them can be very affectionate for their whole lives. Congenial, and even close, relationships with the shepherd are very possible as long as the ram understands, and wholeheartedly believes, that the shepherd is the “alpha ram”.
It is our premise that badly behaved rams are made, not born. This is not to say that some rams are not more challenging than others. And it is important to note that rams who have been well-brought up in the flocks of their birth, can still be rendered dangerous by poor choices on the part of the shepherds into whose flocks they move as adults.
The point is to prevent this eventuality; from the time that they are lambs, all rams need to be taught (and reminded) that they are subordinate to the shepherd, and that they must NEVER challenge that fact!
They have to understand (in the core of their being) that there are RULES that cannot be violated. Unfortunately ram-lambs are often the most friendly and charming, and so it is vital not to allow them to ever “demand” attention. To permit this shift in dominance can be life-threatening later on.
Note that the behavior of an adult ram who is already dangerously aggressive to people likely cannot be modified by the techniques we will describe later. Unfortunately, that ram needs to be euthanized.
Here are the RULES we go by:
•Rams (including lambs) must not ever butt or paw for attention, or press their heads against you, or push another sheep out of the way in order to dominate your attention.
•A ram must never approach a human with his head down, and must not “bob” his head. He must never back up, and feint a charge (as young ones do with the older rams).
•Jumping up on people is absolutely forbidden, no matter how cute a little ram-lamb might be at the time.
•A ram should always move away from you when asked to do so.
•Ideally, a ram should not approach his shepherd without being invited. But if he does, he must stand quietly, and wait for a pat or a word.
It is in the genetic nature of every ram to understand the hierarchy of his living situation. Any ram who moves into a new situation needs to know immediately “who is in charge”. In some way or another, depending on his personality, he is going to test the situation to determine his authority. He may challenge other sheep in the new flock, but may also his shepherds.
Unfortunately many rams move to new homes as breeding season approaches, when their hormone levels are rising. Placing the ram with or near ewes, and/or feeding grain, only intensifies their stress and desire to control their environment.
Although most well-brought-up rams will automatically be submissive to humans, in the stress of a new environment, some may test the shepherd. This would not usually be an aggressive attack, but head-bobbing or other warnings may be used to solicit a reaction.
Under any circumstances, it is critically important that the shepherd respond immediately, and confidently, to any threats or displays of dominance toward humans. An inexperienced shepherd may not sense that they are being tested, and may inadvertently jeopardize their authority. For example, showing fear, backing away, avoiding the ram, or trying to ply the ram with treats can send the message to the ram that the human feels subordinate..
Once a ram believes that he is in charge of the shepherd, there is a serious potential for dangerous behavior. When truly aggressive behavior occurs in an adult ram, that ram may never be completely trustworthy again. It is vital to prevent this sort of escalation.
•NO RAM SHOULD LIVE ALONE In the boredom of isolation from other sheep, rams will find ways to take out their frustrations by bashing buildings, butting people or other animals, jumping over or destroying fences, etc. Wethers make excellent companions, but more than one is recommended when keeping a single ram.
•We do not ever give food treats to rams. Once treats are expected, the ram’s eagerness to get them can lead to impatience with the giver…and he may respond with butting behavior.
•NEVER pet a ram on the top of his head….they consider this a challenge and it makes them butty. Rams should always be “chin up”.
•Be aware of what the ram is doing at all times. When entering the ram’s pen or pasture, it is a good idea to keep him in your field of vision.
• Never use just a single fence to separate rams from ewes, or from other rams in breeding season. For breeding pens, the perimeter should be made of a solid material so that the rams can’t see each other, or be separated by a distance of 50 feet or more. In the off-season, this can be only a few feet, and at this time, see-through fences are fine. Some folks run rams and ewes together for a couple of months in summer, but we never have.
•Never strike a ram…he may consider this a provocation, especially if one hits them on or about the head. They think: “This human is fighting like a ram….and well, it doesn’t hurt THAT much….BRING IT ON!” So the uppity ram becomes even more interested in the confrontation.
EXPLANATIONS & DISCIPLINE
who violate “the RULES” (see page 1) can be disciplined more mildly than older rams, but never less definitely! The idea is that they learn immediately that they are not in charge.
For any undesirable behavior, push the lamb away with a firm “No”, even if you are smiling inside.
If “No” doesn’t get the idea across, pick the ram-lamb up in a way that is uncomfortable to him…allow him to dangle until he feels frightened…all the while, saying “no” or giving some other verbal reminder.
Alternatively….or if these methods don’t have an effect….you may move along to more serious dominance demonstrations. We flip the ram-lambs on their backs or sides, shouting “No!” This is physically easy while they are small, and one such treatment as a youngster often makes a lasting impression; that ram may not ever require another reminder!
In the case of a major misbehavior, we have chosen a method for teaching rams that they must never question their lesser position to humans, or the requirements of living in a flock situation. These dominance demonstrations can be used for disciplining a ram for threatening a human, and for various other bad behaviors, such as barn or fence bashing.
The goal is the same as that for naughty ram-lambs: to get them on their sides or backs (helpless) with you holding them down. You establish yourself as “alpha ram”.
1) You may use the classic shepherd’s maneuver for placing a sheep on its rump, but then move the ram to his side.
2) In the heat of the moment, you may grab the ram by whatever you can, a horn is easiest for some, but however you do it, be prepared to hold on. The horns can be used as a leverage point to flip the ram, but that is sometimes more difficult to do with the big boys.
3) As a point of interest, there is another way that may be easier on your body. After you have caught the ram, get him sideways to you (right against your thighs) and lean over his back, grab the far front leg and a handful of the skin in front of the far back leg and flip him like you are shaking a rug, stepping back as you do it. He will go right on his back. One wouldn’t ever hold on to the skin or wool of a sheep otherwise, because it hurts them, but this is a lesson and need not be pleasant. This works especially well when one is irritated….adrenaline helps a lot!
After the ram is on his side/back, hold him with his head turned severely around to the side, and use a knee to hold him down, until he gives up struggling. If this is a first offense, the sense of helplessness may be all that is necessary. But if the ram has needed discipline more than once, also hold his nose for several seconds with one hand, with the other hand holding the head or whatever body part necessary. Don’t hold their noses until they pass out…they lose enough brain cells on their own!
While the ram is down, shout at him! Shout something that you can use as a verbal reminder later. It may take more than one application of this treatment to make an impression, especially if he has decided that he can misbehave and still remain alive!
For the majority of rams, it shouldn’t take many of these lessons, perhaps only one, to establish your “alpha” position. Nevertheless, you are armed with the confidence of your dominance, and can repeat the lesson if needed. Hopefully you and your ram can be friends for life.
The time has come: I promised sheep for sale would appear here…and so I will begin.
We are making up the sales list and have two ram-lambs on it so far; these are fellows that we have a high level of confidence in…not very good grammar…and whose genetics we have safe in other boys. One of these young ones is now promised, but this handsome lad (Higgins) is waiting for just the right home.
Higgins is the ideal ram for those who love single-coatedness and crimp, and he is very balanced in all his qualities…excellent conformation and tail, wide sweeping horns and a uniform fleece carrying the softness of his parents.
but all that has faded now to some sparkles on his forehead. His twin is a wildly spotted yuglet. Those two were a real trial for their mother (you may have seen this photo last spring….it still makes me laugh):
Higgins is cautiously friendly, but very polite and respectful (he has had an iron-clad good beginning). He is only for sale because our ram-flock is much too large…and we are retaining rams from both of his parents.
When anyone asks how many sheep we have, I always answer (truthfully): Too many! This is part of an effort to try to turn that around…
The last blog detailed my personal pain, but there is another sadness that lurks in my mind…and something that I do not relish talking about. But a couple of days ago Tina passed along the Meme from Miss Peach’s blog and this lead me to look in our photo files (sixth folder, sixth photo).
That photo is of Centaurus as a lamb. So it seemed that I had to bring up this subject, as painful as it has been to me.
Here he was….a lovely fellow in all ways. Centaurus grew into a beautiful ram, and has sired (let me see now) 9 ewes still in our flock and the ram, Andante (who was sold; he and his get were consistent prize-winners in the show-ring). We were so impressed with Centaurus’s genetics that we bought back an Andante daughter this year…a lovely dark brown lamb (Misty View Sprite)
As many of you know, Centaurus broke his leg last September, and was given the chance to live and pass along his excellent genetics; he was splinted and did heal reasonably well, with a little deformity, but not too bad considering the severity of the fracture.
Centaurus lived in a paddock beside the house for these past 3 months with his wether-son Achilles, so that he would not be lonely. On Wednesday, they were about to rejoin the ram-flock; we had decided to put him with the ram-lambs to protect him from further damage this winter.
The day he was to be transferred, Centaurus charged and knocked down a friend who came to help me with the exchange…happily she was not severely injured. The same day, he charged me, and on another occasion, Brook….he did not connect, but the will to attack was clearly there.
Centaurus is no longer with us….he was loved, cared for, and protected from harm for his whole life, but he ultimately was willing to do damage to humans. Granted it is high testosterone season, but we cannot live with a ram who is dangerous and willing to attack, whatever the circumstances. There are many reasons why he might have stepped over the line….but NO excuses.
I guess that this is the ultimate conclusion of our ToughLove philosophy….and this week, we had to “walk the walk”, not just “talk the talk.”
A couple of days ago, this little black ram-lamb was bashing the barn where the little boys and wethers are housed, so when usual measures (ToughLove variety) didn’t work, his little backside was thrown into DETENTION (read: the big boys pen). This gave him something to think about!
He will go back with the little fellows soon, but may go back as a wether….his horns are clear, but possibly too close for my taste. Too bad, he and his sister both had blindingly lustrous lamb-fleeces. I have held off so far because his fleece is still exceptional and I DID want to have him turn out well as a ram…but he may fail both the horn and the behavior test! Time will tell…..
As for me, I have been in a self-imposed “detention”…I am finding myself with no energy to write, or indeed to do much of anything these past few days. I am in the midst of an attack of the facial neuralgia (Trigeminal Neuralgia) that has plagued me off and on for most of the past 25 years. You can learn more about it here at the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association website where you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about this “beast”.
Basically TN is a misfiring of the nerves that give pain sensation to the face….similar to the pain when a dentist hits a nerve. There are 3 divisions to this nerve, but the second division is the one that causes my pain. It involves the entire side of my face from below the eye to the upper jaw. It is an electric jolt that, in my case, can repeat itself a couple of times per second for a minute or two at a time….or can be a searing burning pain. It is exhausting and although the rest of me can function if I have to…..talking eating, brushing my teeth, even smiling can set off a jolt.
Knowing this about me serves no useful purpose except to explain why I might not write from time to time, or be able to talk on the phone, and why I might shun activities that genuinely give me joy….TN has made me more insular than I ever wanted to be.
We have shown photos of the two lovely yearling boys for sale in past, but since they are relisted on the Shetland list today, I am adding more photos.
Because we want to have fewer rams (nothing new for most Shetland breeders) and these boys are too nice to send to little white packages, we will offer to help with transportation…we make lots of trips to the West side of the state. Our dear children are there….if you are near, we will bring one of these handsome lads to you; if you are further, we will meet you half-way.
This is his second breeding season with us, and since there were too many of his 2008 lambs that I couldn’t part with, we made an effort to prevent a repeat of my dilemma. (Tactics that we hope have some chance of success) First of all, we bred him to fewer ewes, and secondly, at least 4 of his potential lambs are spoken for. THAT should work…maybe.
His ewes were:
is a Shetland black ewe with a soft lustrous single-coated fleece. She is sired by our Centaurus (who brings a good infustion of Maple Ridge blood and comes from our finest fleece line), and out of Puddleduck Freia (who carries 50% Flett genetics). I don’t think that Imogen carries spotting, although you can see a little moon-spot on her shoulder. This should be a cross made in heaven.
an elegant black with nearly pure Maple Ridge breeding top and bottom. Olivia sets the standard for soft blacks! These will be her first lambs, and they should be challenges to my resolve let lambs go next summer!
is a fawn, wrongly registered moorit…she was our first lamb ever (way back then) who has arguably the nicest fleece in our flock. Chloe is 11 this year, so these will be her last lambs. I am afraid that we have to keep at least one of them!
Sacred Lily Towhee…
is an emsket ewe who was bred to Constantine last year, and who gave us two amazing ewe-lambs. We are hoping for a repeat performance. But this time we wouldn’t mind a ram-lamb or two….promised to very special homes!
I know that it has been a long long time since I wrote anything…and there is so much to catch up on. This photo was supposed to be part of a post that didn’t get written:
It was taken around 3 weeks ago…but amazingly at present, we still have sheep and horses out on pasture. The sheep are being supplemented with hay; the horses are grazing the upper hay fields and although there isn’t any tall grass, the 50 or so acres that they have to roam in provides enough forage that they are still VERY well-nourished!
The three rams from our flock used for breeding this year have been returned to the ram-flock…back to the world of group huddles, hurled insults, cheap shots, and full-on head-butts.
I love our rams, but this time of year finds me waxing Darwinian. We intercede when things get too rough….but thank goodness the numbers of boys spread the bad behavior around, and mostly the squabbles don’t amount to any serious damage. Photos of these fellows and their girls will follow…
But in our breeding pen, there is one ram still with ewes:
This handsome lad is Shady Oaks Spats who is here on lease and will return to his own flock in a couple of weeks. We brought him in to breed some of our ewes carrying spotted genetics. He is an ideal ram in all ways… perfect HST markings, carries the modifier, has a soft uniform fleece and great conformation. And in addition to this, he has a sweet respectful personality (not a surprise since he was raised by Marybeth). I adore him and I can’t wait to see his lambs!
Sheltering Pines Sarah…a spotted emsket ewe with a soft silky fleece, and a special darling of mine. Sarah chose me and we have been best friends ever since. She is the mother of Sterling, whom you will see in a later post.
This is Sheltering Pines Plein Jeu..an HsT katmoget whose fleece has am amazing amount of color underneath. She had to have the tips of her fleece trimmed, but I thought this photo was better than the sheared version. In any case, it shows her sweet face and her beauty mark! She gave us a very special katmoget ewe-lamb last year.
Well friends….it’s almost time to go out for afternoon chores. The hours fly by faster than usual…the short days are forcing us to cram so many things into the daylight hours!
We choose only a few ewes to be bred for spring lambs in an effort to keep our numbers down. As a result, some excellent quality rams and ewes are marking time here, and need to be fulfilling their potential in other flocks. This post will list rams…ewes to follow soon.
First and foremost…the two yearling rams who are tentatively on our sales-list have grown up to be excellent examples of their breed. There are actually four yearllngs that we would have liked to keep as breeding rams, but we have too many to overwinter in our ram-flock, and are forced to these decisions.
was linebred for fleece quality and is a son of Cairn Farm Nicolas out of a Centaurus daughter (Viola). He is a mild mannered ram who also has great conformation, good tail and wide-sweeping horns. He carries Dailley lines and some Flett genetics. His fleece is intermediate, soft and dense.
is also by Nicolas and has excellent structure, slightly smaller stature (a definite plus), and classically shaped horns. He is a bit shy, but very calm and respectful. He has a uniform intermediate fleece with lots of lustre, was born a flecket and so carries spotting genetics.
is another one of the sheep-for-sale that I wouldnâ€™t mind at all having to keep! This young lad is a grey sired by Sheltering Pines Constantine, and out of a ewe (Bess) who is from our foundation MRSF lines. His fleece is gorgeous and looks to be a dense single-coat.
If we had fewer rams, Olav would stay here through next summer, but as it is, he will be sold with a horn guarantee. He is a Constantine son, and is very much like his father….great body (an especially strong rear end), a correct tail, and laid-back temperament.
Stay tunedâ€¦more for-sale sheep in following days (this promise forces me to make decisions I have been putting off!)
This year we were bringing yearling rams to the OR Flock & Fiber Festival. We have never traveled to a show with yearling boys in the fall when hormones were rising…but the ones who were coming were all calm respectful fellows and I thought that the trailer space would allow for three.
But since I didn’t make it to OFFF, two of the yearlings (Gyasi and Callum) won’t be seen anywhere but here on our blog or on our farm (at least for a while)…unless some wise sheep show organizer decides that classes for mature animals should be created.
Gyasi (sired by Robin Goodfellow) was given this name as he is the “beloved child” of our dear departed Guro….she doted on him, kept him by her side constantly. She must have known how special he was. Gyasi has grown up to be the kindest, most polite young ram we have. Sweet-tempered and friendly but never pushy, always respectful, and completely trusting.
Callum (son of Baltazar and Dodge Cascadia) was to go with me too..He was born with a solid moorit fleece, and no apparent pattern (aside from being a solid Aa/Aa). But in the last few months, Callum has developed interesting facial markings, with teardrops initially, which now have spread somewhat. At first I was wondering if he could carry the English Blue pattern (one not necessarily related to color), but he has none of the variations in body fleece color. So he remains an enigma…but a beautiful one. He was for sale, but by the time that he developed the tear-drops, we had already taken him off the sales list (his fleece convinced us that he should stay). Needless to say, Callum will be in our breeding line next year.
There are two very promising ram-lambs who were to show….This is Loki, born of a golden cross from two fine-fleeced parents (Nicolas X Moonstruck). His fleece has the exquisite silkiness that I love, and as his parents are now retired from breeding, Loki will stay here to carry those lines.
The second ram-lamb is Matteus, who is a friendly but a respectful young fellow. He gets much less attention than he would like and is gently pushed away fairly often..so hard for me to do, but necessary. Matteus is a half-brother to Loki, and they are very alike, although Matteus has a super-dense single-coated fleece, and Loki’s is a bit longer.
Stay tuned…this weekend is the SSS&T (Shetland Sheep Sales & Trade) on the Shetland Breeder’s List. More sheep-photos to come!