There is something about rams that is very different from ewes, besides their physiology. There is something mental—psychological, you might say—that makes their way of thinking about the world, and therefore their behavior within their world, much different than their female counterparts. As their name implies, they really like to ram.
Now, I need to clarify that I am not talking about their behavior with human beings. We breed our rams to be sweet-natured and respectful around people, and if one of our boys is looking to ram a human, that boy has a very short future. No, I am talking about their general interaction with the world around them—in their paddock or pasture, with other rams of similar size or age, and with the functional equipment we must have around them. They can be quite rambunctious!
Rams just really like to ram things with their heads. For example, when I feed a Christmas tree to the ewes, they quickly mob the tree, stripping needles and small branches within their reach. Other ewes push in to get to the tree, but all of the activity is geared toward pushing, shoving, and eating. There is no ramming. When I put a fresh Christmas tree in among the boys (who are all in one group, ram lambs plus adult rams), the first thing any one of them thinks to do is to ram it – what we call “killing the tree”! They all come to see the tree, but once they spy it coming over the fence, they come running with heads lowered, pounding the tree into the fence, the ground, or whatever object it hits as it’s rolled and tossed around the immediate area. Only after an hour or so of this activity do they settle down to actually eat the tree, little bits of evergreen scattered throughout the wool of their heads. Until then, it is the odd-shaped ball in a ram version of soccer. Who would have thought?
Christmas trees are not the only things they like to ram. They happily ram each other! Rams pounding heads is much like men exchanging a “high-five” or a “fist bump.” It’s a social thing—a social thing best not interfered with. You certainly don’t want to get caught in the middle of two rams celebrating—it is a dangerous place to be! I am very careful when entering the ram pen to make sure that the excitement of my appearance has begun to pass before I actually open the gate to enter.
Our equipment in the ram pen must also be well assembled. If any of our rams see something beginning to come apart, they take it upon themselves to help it along—by ramming it, of course! When one of the nails holding the siding to their shelter wiggled loose last year, the rams took nearly all the siding off of the building by ramming against first one sheet and then another. We’ve since “upgraded” their shelter by not only repairing the siding, but also adding “ram guards” all around the inside to help keep the siding on. Of course, I probably don’t need to mention that we’ve never had this issue with the ewes. They may shove and rub, but they just don’t ram against their walls like this!
This past Saturday, I noticed that one of our hay feeders in the ram pen had a loose corner. It wiggled just a bit when I leaned against it. I mentioned to Rick that we needed to tighten it before they took it all apart with their heads. Twenty-four hours later, Rick and I approached the feeder with our tools, only to find pieces of the feeder strewn around the shelter in the bedding – it had obviously become the focus of a ramming game among the boys! Was it the young ram lambs looking for a fun game? Or the older guys fighting boredom? There is no way to know—but the feeder looked more like an unassembled kit than a feeder at that point. This is not something the ewes would ever do. This play at smashing is a trait seen almost exclusively in the rams!
So this explains why many new shepherds do not want to keep rams. Instead they look to rent a ram or perhaps use artificial insemination to impregnate their ewes. Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than having your own ram or rams, seeing them in the field and knowing they are not only beautiful themselves, but can and will breed their ewes and produce lovely lambs with their genetics. Having said that, we must all keep in mind that rams can be rambunctious and make sure that their equipment and surroundings reflect that tendency—and that we, as shepherds, keep our wits about us when we visit. It can definitely cause injury if we end up accidentally participating in their ram-ly celebrations!