Rams and ewes are often very different in how they interact with the world, and today’s blog is about one of these differences. Our adult rams overwinter in a paddock that shares a fenceline and a shelter with the younger ram lambs. The young rams have an automatic waterer, but I must fill the water tank for the older rams from a hydrant about forty feet from their shelter. The entire ram paddock sits on a ridge, making it very cold and windy in the winter. Since the older rams’ water tank would be prone to freezing in those conditions, it must be heated to keep water available. That means we need electricity up there — and that means trouble.
Years ago, when we had the hydrant installed, we had the electrician run power in the same trench as the water line. We put an 8-foot 4×4″ post just behind the hydrant and mounted an electrical box with an outlet for warming the water tank. We thought we had it all figured out at the time — but we were wrong. We didn’t know enough about sheep, and rams in particular. We didn’t know how ram-bunctious rams can be. But we’ve learned. Over the years, the project became an us-against-them situation in which the humans struggled to prove that we can outsmart our sheep.
The problem is that our adult rams sit up in that paddock all winter long with nothing to do but eat, sleep, fight with each other, and figure out how to destroy the waterer and its power source. Hitting a tank full of icy-cold water is no fun when the temps are cold — but destroying the electrical box is obviously great fun, based on the number of times we’ve had to rethink and rebuild that part of it.
To start at the beginning, in the early years, the rams decided that the best winter fun was to head-butt the 4×4 post buried about four feet into the ground. With regular ram head hits, the post became loose — most probably because it was a new installation into fairly loose soil. When it got to the point that you could almost pull the post out of the ground, we anchored it with a bit of cement. That held the buried part in the ground, but because it was so solid, it was much easier to break off. Which was the rams’ next move: they broke off the post at ground level.
Rick was quite peeved about this, since he figured we couldn’t put in another post without digging up the first one. I finally convinced him to bury another post just behind the first one and bolt them both together. That way, we didn’t have to rewire a new outlet; we could use the whole assembly of outlet, box, and post and simply bolt it to the new post. It was a simple fix, and we were pretty sure that we had lost a battle but now won the war. We were wrong. The rams tore the ground wire out of the box and shredded it.
The loss of the ground wire meant that we needed an electrician, who then buried a new one. He suggested that we put in a heftier box with a stronger cover to protect the outlet from the weather and the rams. We authorized the work and he installed the box and cover. We could lock the cover in place with a wire to prevent the rams from unplugging the tank and freezing their water. We again thought we had won the water tank war — but we were again wrong. The rams broke the cover off of the box and pulled the plug out of the outlet. The outlet was then open to the rain and snow – and to more punishment from the rams.
We thought about surrendering, but we knew the rams needed water. So we bought another box, and eventually another after that — and one more after that. I could envision my rams sitting up there day after day, trying to figure out how to destroy the power to their water tank. It must be boring up there all winter long, and the post with the electrical outlet box is an obvious source of entertainment for them. But since it must be working for them to have water, we kept trying to build the box bigger and better. We started putting a bit of plywood on either side of the box to protect it, but that was even more entertaining: the rams would smash the plywood until it looked like a pile of toothpicks and the box hung by its wire, the mounting screws broken off and plastic pieces scattered about like confetti. We began to realize that over these many years, we humans were not winning the water tank war — the score was approximately rams 18, us 0. And then our son Justin came to visit for Thanksgiving last week!
Justin has always been a pretty handy guy. He learned a lot of handyman stuff from his dad and a lot of just-make-it-work stuff from me — and he added a lot of his own innovation, experience and learning over the years. While he was here, he saw the mess that the rams had made of their electrical outlet; what remained hung there in nearly unrecognizable bits. He took on this project as both a favor to us and a challenge: could he come up with something that would actually outsmart the rams? Well, I think that perhaps he did. The photos show the result — and so far, so good!