Surprising peacemakers

Ewes are usually gentle creatures with little interest in fighting unless they’re protecting young lambs or find themselves cornered with no other option. Unlike rams, bringing a new ewe into an existing group is simple. Within a relatively short time after adding the new member into the space, they  become a seamless part of the flock — one part of an entire unit.

Yet as with any large and crowded population, disagreements can break out. These are usually short-lived, but I find them interesting when they occur. I can’t help but wonder what started them and how they’ll end. Was it about food? Real estate? Are there lingering hard feelings? Because the health of the flock is in my hands, I have watched many of these small skirmishes over the years, making sure that the physical and emotional health of the flock continue on a positive note.

The other day as I walked into the lean-to to feed, I noticed an obvious problem between Harmony, a white Romney, and Hope, a moorit Romeldale. As I cleaned out the feeders, the two girls repeatedly backed up and ran toward each other, crashing head against head. My work was accompanied by the cracking sounds of their heads, and eventually I stopped to watch, wondering what could have pushed these two normally mellow girls to such dramatic action.

I eventually stepped in, softly talking to each of my friends and redirecting their attention away from the other. As soon as I returned to my task — feeding — the two were back at it, staring each other down and then slowly backing up with obvious intent, perhaps hoping that the other would stop and walk away. The ewes that gathered to watch reminded me of a middle-school hallway when a fight erupts — a semi-circle of onlookers crowded shoulder to shoulder, watching to see who would win. Hope and Harmony bashed each other time and again, and I was just about ready to intervene when something interesting happened.

As the younger girls rubbed and walked, the tension defused and calm returned to the flock. Left to right: Kiera, Harmony, Hope, and Odelia.

From among the watching crowd, two ewes whose fleece color was similar to the fighting pair (Odelia, a moorit yearling Romeldale, and Kiera, a six-year-old white Romney) shouldered their way forward from the back, heading for the battle. Their heads were down with eyes diverted from the fight ahead of them. As they approached the head-bashing pair, they carefully lifted their own heads and walked between the two, each turning towards the fighter of her own breed. These two peacemakers had obviously come forward with intent, since they seemed to work in unison, each mirroring the other as they began to defuse the situation. Odelia stepped up and rubbed the back of her neck on the chin and the front of Hope, and Kiera did the same with Harmony. The younger two girls would occasional glance at each other, as if this was all part of some master plan. Occasionally one would pause in her rubbing and walk around first one and then the other fighter, eventually returning to the adult of her own breed to continue leaning and rubbing. I had never seen anything like this before, but as the younger girls rubbed and walked circles around the fighters, the older ewes began to settle down, seeming to forget the recent battle.

In a few minutes, it was all over, with the four involved ewes happily eating grass hay at the same bale feeder. As I continued to observe, I noticed that at one point, Hope shoved Harmony, obviously liking the section of bale that Harmony had found. Immediately Kiera and Odelia slowly moved from their places at the bale to stand and eat between the two older ewes, once again defusing any tension. By the time I left the area, the flock was back to normal, with all four of the involved ewes scattering to stand with their usual friends. Crisis averted.

I’m left with the incredible image of this battle and its resolution — and with many, many questions besides those that I normally have. It was obvious that both Kiera and Odelia knew and understood the intended result of their actions. Did they decide to intervene all on their own? Are they friends of the two fighters (if so, I haven’t noticed), or did they come forward for the good of the flock? Would they have defused the situation as well if they hadn’t been the same breed and color as the corresponding fighter? So many questions and so few answers — but what a blessing to have witnessed this remarkable scene!

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  • ElaineChicago says:

    Such a touching, fantastic story!! Perhaps you can start carrying a video camera in your pocket for times like these!!

    • Dee says:

      Yes, I have a problem remembering to take photos until whatever I’m watching is half over – but in this case, I remembered early enough, but got a whole lot of blurry photos, most likely because the lighting in the barn wasn’t the best. This photo that I posted only came out well, I think, because they had pretty much stopped moving. I’m also having trouble posting videos, but I’ll keep trying!

  • Jane says:

    Just a wonderful story. Very very special!

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