On Wednesday, I described how Romney ram ObiWan had taken over as leader of our ram flock last fall after breeding. After I picked up two new Romney rams — Cary and Sangria — for a winter layover on their way to the West Coast, I gave them a quarantine period and then put all of our rams into a squeeze pen in the Storage Barn to work out any issues, determine leadership, and integrate the flock. The two new rams made a concerted effort to unseat ObiWan as leader of the ram flock, and the pounding continued late into the night.
When I went about my chores the next morning, the dynamics in the squeeze pen had dramatically changed. ObiWan rested in a corner, head facing the wall, defeated and looking at no one. Cary and Sangria had assumed joint leadership of the ram flock and mingled with the other rams. Cary, the younger of the two, was the lead ram, but old-man Sangria acted as his “muscle,” stepping in to help Cary if needed. When I opened the stall doors to allow all the rams back into the ram paddock, no longer did ObiWan strut in the lead, nor did he raise his head to look for me. He walked with head lowered, looking at the ground, careful not to get in the way of the two new Romneys.
It has now been a couple of months since this leadership transition, and although I think I understand what has happened, it still surprises me. ObiWan had earned his leadership after breeding season, but he wasn’t leadership material. He seemed to have little confidence in his ability to do the job, so he was continually looking for situations in which to prove himself — picking fights with other rams over small slights, and looking to do the same with me. He ended up winning a position he really didn’t want, and his lack of confidence created daily misery that came out as anger. In hindsight, I think he was unhappy with the constant need to prove himself every day.
Cary and Sangria have no such issues. Now that Obi is simply part of the ram flock, he can relax — he no longer has anything to prove. Even more interesting, if he tussles with the other rams and then suddenly turns towards me, it takes only a single glance from Cary to bring ObiWan’s nose to the ground and his attention away from me. In the early days, this dropping of his attention was not so quick — and that’s why Cary and Sangria punished him. Cary has let all the rams know that the shepherdess is off-limits. None of the rams are allowed to lower their head in my direction — ever. If they do, both Cary and Sangria charge from separate directions. No ram can win such a lopsided battle, so the lesson has been well-learned and I am safe once again.
Even more interesting is the fact that ObiWan actually seems happier. I once offered him a bit of cracker when he was lead ram. He didn’t even sniff to find out what I offered, but instead backed away and lowered his head, shaking it from side to side and pawing at the ground in readiness for a run. Everything, including a cracker, was a threat; there was no safety for him. I remember immediately moving behind another sheep for protection, having learned my lesson: no treats for the rams! Yet under Cary and Sangria, this is a non-issue. I can come and go, offer treats or not, and none of the adult rams even considers acting aggressively. The leadership of the flock is everything when it comes to the rams, and a good leader sets the tone for the group, keeping a structure in place where all are safe and protected.
I will be sad to see Cary and Sangria leave in spring, and I’m hoping that when the time comes, Sterling, Pine or Noa will take their place. The Romeldales are a bit more active in their approach to the world than the Romneys, but these boys have a good healthy respect for humans. Having watched them grow up, I believe that any of the three would be a strong and benevolent leader — and hopefully keep me safe, as only they can do. But we won’t know how that will turn out for months yet. In the meantime, I’m happy to have Cary and Sangria here for the winter. After they leave, we’ll just have to see how it goes.