We shear our rams tomorrow, and as a result, I have rams on the brain. This morning I had to move all of the adult boys and the “keeper” ram lambs into the barn for shearing, and that got me thinking about our boys and their behavior. Anytime I have to move rams on my own, I’m very conscious of how seriously I could be injured if things go wrong. Unlike when I move the ewes, I pre-plan every move with the rams, imagining not only how the move will unfold but also everything that might go wrong along the way. It doesn’t take much for a routine move of pasture to turn into a charging-ram crisis — and I can’t take that risk.
Of course, I’m never totally on my own in moving any of our sheep. I always have my trusty canine helper, Coda, to help me. Not only is he well-trained, he’s also determined to please and is willing to risk his own life to save mine. Having that kind of help is both a great blessing and a tremendous responsibility. Not only must I plan the move to keep myself out of danger, but I also need to protect this forty-five-pound bundle of energy who convinces the rams that they do, indeed, want to move where I need them to go!
Thankfully, our rams are selected for temperament, and I know the personality of each since they have been here since they were small lambs (and most were born here). Having that information allows me to know which of the dozen or so rams are most likely to make trouble and which will be a bit more playful than Coda will like. In our current group, Martin is the most helpful, guiding the flock according to Coda’s instructions. Nahe is the most playful, still gamboling at two years of age while carrying 15-20 extra pounds of wool. They all have their own way of being in the world, but generally all of our rams are respectful. None of these boys have ever taken a run at me or tried to injure me in any way — but I must always keep in mind that they could, and so I behave accordingly.
When I moved them this morning, they were curious to see where they were going. I opened the gate and sent Coda out to let them know we were moving. Before he even got around behind them to give them direction, they were already running towards the gate I held open. Watching this group of rams come running towards me in full fleece was quite a sight! Their wool was flowing back in the breeze created by their speed, and I could feel their hooves pounding the soft Iowa soil as they ran.
They slowed only a little as they approached the gate and made their way through. Once the gate was closed behind them, I repositioned Coda to push them towards the open barn door. In only minutes, the rams were in their pen, ready for tomorrow’s shearing. As we did with the ewes, we lock them in the day before so that they don’t become wet in the hours before shearing.
Tomorrow we will shear eleven adult rams and three ram lambs. Noa and the yearling rams (Otoe, Opus, Oliver, ObiWan, Osiris, and O’Connor) will have their fleeces sampled for testing, giving us a better idea of what they might pass along to future lambs in the way of fleece genetics. Noa is included in this group because he spent his first year at another farm, returning home last August. Since management and feed quality can factor into the fiber diameter of any sheep, we will test him this year to more accurately compare his fiber diameter with that of our other rams.
The ram lambs don’t have enough wool to do much with — certainly not enough for testing, even if testing at such a young age would give us any useful information (which it will not — sheep need to be at least a year old before fiber testing yields any useful information). We will discard the fleece, but only after keeping a small sample bag for each ram lamb in case there is any question in the future what his birth coat was like. Yet, shearing the ram lambs can be important if we decide to use them in a breeding group this fall. Without their birth coat, they will be cooler in the summer heat, which will encourage a greater weight gain and make them less likely to lose fertility in the weeks before breeding.
We will shear a total of 28 sheep tomorrow — 15 of our own and the rest from 4 other farms. These other farms have too few sheep to make getting their own shearer feasible, so we invite them to come here. Although shearing day is always a lot of hard work, the chance to get together with other shepherds and talk about all things sheep is something few of us would miss. Twenty-four hours from now, this big job will be over — and I think both the shepherds and the sheep will be happy, at that point, to put it behind us.