Now that breeding season is upon us, it becomes obvious that — just like with every ewe — every ram is an individual with his own personality and way of interacting with the world. From the very first day, Noa caught my attention. His courtship ritual is much more involved than any of the other rams so far, and I can’t help but smile each time I enter his pasture. He certainly knows how he likes things to unfold!
Noa and his group are currently in the West Pasture with access to a very small sliver of the back of the Sheep Barn — and Noa is making full use of the shelter and its current layout. He is nothing if not predictable in his courtship; it has been identical with each of the four ewes so far! First he walks behind her, constantly sniffing to see whether she is in the correct part of her cycle for conception. When he feels that the time is right, he ushers her to his favorite tree (there are two in the pasture, but he prefers the one centrally located) and courts her, pulling out all the stops. For Noa, this includes all of the ram mating rituals: circling the ewe, pausing just behind her shoulder to chortle in a manner only used for courting (or when mothers “talk” to their newborn lambs), pawing the ground at her side, and lifting his top lip in the Flehmen response, which exposes a scent gland that picks up the pheromones of a ewe in heat. He repeats this routine until the ewe is receptive — and then mounts her there under the tree, marking her with his yellow crayon.
Once she has been bred several times, he ushers her to the back of the open barn and traps her in the back corner, blocking her escape by lying down in front of her. Noa will come out of the barn for crackers, but if he sees his “sweetheart” beginning to wander out, he gently but firmly puts her back into the corner — she is not allowed to leave until her heat cycle has finished. I can’t help but wonder whether he is trying to make sure that no other ram has access to her during this period of fertility. Since he has already bred her, keeping her from other sheep will ensure that all of the lambs she bears next spring will be his.
Yesterday Noa had two ewes in heat, so I was curious to see how he would handle things. When I came out into the pasture, Noa had Ilaina tucked into the back of the barn, away from the attention of other rams in neighboring fields. Midnight, the other ewe, was precisely positioned on the other side of the same barn wall, and Noa spent all of his time moving back and forth between the two, making sure that each was still where he wanted her. They were not allowed to spend time with each other; he was insistent that they had a wall between them. Interestingly, neither ewe was very insistent upon leaving. There was plenty of opportunity to do so whenever Noa left to check on his other girls who grazed in the far corner of the field — yet both ewes happily stayed in place cudding where he had left them. Ilaina’s heat cycle ended first, and when she left the barn Noa ushered Midnight into the place Ilaina had just left.
As of today, both Midnight and Ilaina have rejoined the grazing ewes, and now Noa has Natasha under his tree. He is nothing if not predictable, and I can’t help but wonder how this ritual developed so quickly. After all, we’ve only had the group together for a few days, but Noa sure does seem to know how he wants his breeding group run! I’m curious to see whether this evolves or whether it is what it is. I will let you know!