Goliath, our oldest Romney ram, is stuck in a rut. Actually, he is usually stuck in a fence – but the fact that he does this nearly every day through the breeding season for the past few years has me thinking that he is not only stuck in the fence, but also in that proverbial rut. Let me try to explain.
You see, rams have an incredibly strong drive to find and breed ewes in heat. The scent that these ewes give off is not only attractive, but downright overwhelming! There are few rams who can resist the call – and those are honestly not worth a lot. You want your rams to be driven to breed. That’s why they are on the farm – to produce lambs for the shepherd and the flock. Any other type of ram is pretty much worthless!
As breeding rams go, Goliath was a gem. In his heyday, he bred every girl in his group in the first cycle. He was kind and considerate to his flock, and even-tempered with the shepherdess who had to enter his field daily to see which ewes had been bred. He didn’t like my entering his world, but would tolerate it. He would accompany me around to see every girl and then would slowly begin to nudge me towards the gate. After I had seen each of his ewes, he made sure I got the message that I was finished and strongly encouraged me to leave via the nearest gate. I got the message.
I was hoping to use Goliath one more year this year to retain a son of his. I have a number of his daughters, but wanted a ram lamb who I could use to replace the sire. Unfortunately, I waited too long, and although Goliath was in a breeding group this fall for a couple of weeks, it was obvious that he was too ill to do his job. I sadly replaced him with Martin, and moved Goliath to the adult ram paddock with fresh hay and water to live out his time on our farm in peace.
The problem is that it is still breeding season and for a driven ram like Goliath, sitting in a paddock is anything but filled with peace! Because of a lack of pastures, Noa’s breeding group is right next door, sharing a fenceline with the adult ram pasture – and Goliath is well aware! He can both see and smell the ewes just across the board fence, and he is determined to get in there to do what nature is driving him to do: breed! He doesn’t care that they are Romeldales. He doesn’t care that the vast majority of them have already been marked by Noa and are pregnant. No, he can smell the scent of heat on them (perhaps even from their last cycle, weeks ago!), and he wants to get in there with them to work. He is sick but determined.
As a result, Goliath bashes his head against the board fence and with the weight of the charging ram behind it, the boards give ever so slightly, allowing his big Romney head to pass through between the boards. Unfortunately, these same boards don’t give so well in the other direction once he decides he wants to get his head out from between the boards. No, then they hold tight – and Goliath ends up with his neck stuck between them, head on one side and body on the other!
Each day, when I go out to check on the rams, I find Goliath stuck in this way. Every day, I had to find a way to free him so that he could eat and drink and be a ram. It had become a problem.
In my first plan, Plan A, I used a crow bar to loosen the boards, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t quite get them loose enough that he could pull his head back. I am sure that part of the problem was that as we worked to get his head free, Noa’s ewes would come to see what all the fuss was about – and Goliath would decide that having his head in the field with them was not such a bad thing, even if his body couldn’t quite follow. With me trying to pull him out and him pushing to get further in, the project was a disaster – and I decided I needed to make the head opening bigger. I moved to Plan B.
Plan B meant removing the entire end of the board from the post to which it was nailed. It took some doing. I had to find a hack saw in the barn and then work on each of the three ring-shank nails until they were cut through. Goliath didn’t seem to mind my work; he would slide down to my end to check out my progress occasionally, but when the ewes were on the move, he slid to the other end, far from my side. He obviously didn’t want them to think that he was with me!
When I first got the problem board free from the post, I could finally convince Goliath to remove his head. It had been over twelve hours since he had pushed his head through and he was thirsty. Unfortunately, before I could even find nails in the barn to reattach the board, he had stuck his head through again. As a result, I decided to use screws instead – that way, I could unscrew them any time he got stuck, saving what would have been lots of hard work. After the second time, I put the electric drill with the appropriate bit in the hay shed in the ram paddock. I had a feeling that since it had happened twice in two days, it might happen again.
And it sure did. Day after day, I’ve been removing Goliath’s head from the board fence – and day after day, Goliath seems grateful – and then sticks his head right back through the exact same spot only hours later! It is a daily frustration: I get him out and he pushes back in. Thank goodness, it now only involves the removal of two small screws!