Rams are particularly possessive of their ewes once breeding season begins, largely because of their strong drive to procreate and push their genetics into the next generation. It’s not unusual for a ram to willingly suffer the shock of the electrified fence in order to breed the ewes next door. But that ram is generally met by the ram already in that field, ready to kill him. Literally. The desire is usually not to chase this interloper away; instead there tends to be a serious fight, and if neither ram is willing to give in, it can be a fight to the death. Although we would love to keep an empty field between each of our groups, we had to let go of this concept long ago as our flock grew. We still leave an empty field between the different breeds, but same-breed groups still share a fenceline. I watch the groups carefully throughout the day to make sure that every ram is still in his own group, and I take quick action when things seem amiss.

So when I finished the heavy mucking of the ram shelter yesterday afternoon, I did my usual quick scan of our breeding groups as I was heading inside. I just wanted to make sure that everyone was where they were supposed to be and that there weren’t any new markings to record. As I stood at the top of the ridge, looking down across our four groups to the west, I suddenly noticed that all of Parker’s girls in the Rock Pasture were huddled together, watching something. As I watched and wondered what was going on, I noticed that one of our rams was working among the group. Since I wanted to record this new marking, I started heading that way.

As I got closer, I could see that the working ram was Parker, and I began to wonder which of his girls he might be marking. Just a moment later, however, I glanced back in the same direction, and just beyond the gathered group of ewes I now saw Nahe also marking a ewe. Nahe’s group is just on the other side of the fence from Parker’s group, so I figured they must have been on either side of the separating fence, each marking their own ewes.

Once I hiked the quarter mile out to the little huddle of ewes, I could clearly see what I had only guessed at earlier: Gabby was obviously in heat and Nahe had suffered the shock of the fence in order to breed her in Parker’s group. For some odd reason that I still don’t understand, neither of the rams decided to fight over her; they had instead agreed to share, so first Parker would breed her, and then he would step aside and Nahe would breed her. Back and forth they went, politely taking turns while Gabby stood in place, surrounded by Parker’s group, happily watching the event!

Now this is very strange — strange beyond explanation. I have seen rams fight over a ewe in heat. I have seen the ram from the neighboring field come in and chase the resident ram away to a far corner, taking over his ewes. But I have honestly never seen two rams — particularly one very large ram and the other a ram lamb — take turns, politely waiting while the other guy finished before getting back into position! What the heck was going on?

Even worse, I had to figure out a way to send Nahe back to his own group, since they were now out in the Timber with no ram to cover if any of them happened to go into heat! Needless to say, Nahe was not a fan of my plan; he was perfectly happy sharing Gabby with Parker! Neither of the rams was willing to back off as I approached. They just continued taking turns as if I was simply another spectator to their curious event.

When I got close enough, I pulled Nahe’s head and shoulders away from Parker and Gabby and began the short but difficult walk to the gate that separated the two fields. Nahe did not want to go, and he outweighs me by more than a little. I did all I could to move him, inches at a time, towards the gate. Eventually I could reach the latch and was able to open the gate far enough for him to pass through. Yet the struggle wasn’t over since, just as I opened the gate, Parker hopped off of Gabby and she must have decided it was the big guy’s turn again. She walked over to where he and I were battling for control and began to flirt with him, driving him crazy — and out of my control!

The second time, I got Nahe to the gate, through it to his own group, and closed into his pasture with the gate shut. So far, so good. He hasn’t come back through the fence. Yet when Gabby’s lambs arrive, I will have a puzzle before me, trying to figure out which ram is their sire, since both rams had multiple chances at breeding her. I sure hope the color genetics of the lambs will be clear enough to help me figure it out, since at this point, Gabby could deliver lambs belonging to either or both of these boys. Sharing is better than trying to kill each other — but this was certainly an unusual event. Definitely a first for our farm!

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  • Jane says:

    Well could you have lambs from each ram if Gabby had twins? Honestly I laughed out loud reading this.

    • Dee says:

      Oh, most certainly, since identical twins from the same egg are very rare in sheep! So that means that each and every one of Gabby’s most likely triplets will have to be evaluated individually to determine its sire.

  • Emil says:

    Are the two rams at all related? Like if one were an older cousin- “Here, kid, lemme show you how it’s done. There, now you try.”

    • Dee says:

      Nope, no relationship that they would recognize – some common blood generations back, but not close. Most rams in the same field like this would fight until one gave up and self-exiled to a far corner or died. This sharing is something quite odd. I’m thinking that Nahe must not have considered Parker a threat or even a worthy adversary.

  • Elisabeth says:

    Any genetic mapping tests you can do in sheep like you can in Dogs?

    • Dee says:

      It is possible to do genetic testing at UC Davis if the dam or sire is known, but it’s pretty expensive. First, we will see whether she even settles, then whether the lambs are born alive (last year, she lost all three as they were too premature), and then finally whether we can determine the sire based on color genetics. If it’s still a mystery at that point and the lambs are worth the investment, we may send out samples to figure it all out – but that’s still a long way off!

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