|Suggestions for Ram Management
Rams must be respected for the breeding animals that they are. No ram should ever be 100% trusted - meaning - NEVER turn your back on a ram. No matter how friendly and easy going they are, always know where your rams are when you are working in their pastures/paddocks. For those who are new to handling breeding stock, this page is dedicated to some things you need to be aware of when you bring home those testosterone driven sheep. Remember, please that the words of advice here are MY opinion - others manage their farms differently and again, like raising children, raising sheep has many management style possibilities.
Buy two male animals - either two rams or one ram and a companion ram that has been wethered (neutered).
This relates to suggestion #1 - house your rams separately from the ewes except during breeding season. This way you will be able to enjoy your ewes and lambs freely, without having to watch your back for fear of a ram charging you. You can let your children and visitors into the barnyard or field without fear of them being injured by a ram. And since I strongly recommend rams live in separate areas, you will need a companion for your ram. Sheep are flock animals, and should never be left alone. We offer discounts to our buyers so that they can afford to take home either two rams or a ram and wethered companion when they buy two or more ewes from us, because we believe strongly in this management practice. The meanest rams are usually the lambs that were the friendliest. When people take home one ram lamb with a couple of ewe lambs, leaving them all together, the temptation to pet and love the ram is too strong for most families to resist. Those cute, friendly ram lambs will have no fear of people. Unfortunately when that ram matures, his hormones will force him to protect his ewes from other rams and if he sees you as his equal, he'll see you also as a rival for his ewe group. This is when rams are most dangerous - when they have grown up with no fear of humans. And NEVER let your children play with rams or ram lambs. We keep our rams separate from the ewes and never allow our children in with the rams. This is a precaution. Our rams are actually quite docile and easy to work with, but this is because we treat them with respect and keep them at arms length, especially when they are growing up.
Make sure your ram's fences are STRONG and escape proof. Many "unwanted" lambs have resulted from rams who have jumped fences or battered down gates that were not strong enough to contain them. The longer you wait to put your rams in with the ewes, the more this will become an issue. I know of one breeder whose rams are separated from the ewe flock by a 25 acre parcel of land, and still a ram lamb has managed to jump two fences twice to get into the ewes' pasture. Rams can be amazing "Houdinis" and extremely aggressive when it is breeding season. Icelandic sheep are seasonal breeders, but that season can vary depending upon the climate they are in. I have heard of one breeder who had a surprise Icelandic lamb born in January, which means the ewe cycled and was bred accidentally in early September. The ewes will continue to cycle until bred throughout the winter months. So even after rams are removed from the ewes, if a ewe did not "catch," if your fences are not escape proof, you may end up with ram(s) loose and where you don't want them. Another strategy is to use visual barriers during breeding season. The less rams can see each other (through fences), the less likely they are to batter the fences to try to get to the other sheep. We now tie tarps along dividing fences when rams are in adjacent areas (note this is in addition to have a double fence line).
If you are using two or more rams, do not put the rams with their ewe groups in adjoining pastures where they can "touch" each other at the fence or gate. Rams have battered each other through fences and been killed this way. If they are going to be in adjoining areas, create a "dead space" in between them with a double fencing. For instance, we use portable, heavy guage 16' stock panels that are 52" high and create a temporary second fence line anywhere that there will be two ram groups located in adjoining pastures. These heavy duty panels are working well for us and are portable and can be easily moved around the farm throughout the season for different uses.
When reintroducing rams to each other (to see additional information, click here), we have a small creep type area ready for them that is just big enough for them to stand up and turn around. We leave them locked in together for at least 24 hours so that they can get used to each others' smells. They will want to "wrestle" and head butt each other as they reestablish their "pecking order." Keeping them in tight quarters prevents them from backing up to get a "full head of steam" and really being able to hit each other hard. We restrict their food and water for the last 24 hours so that when we let them out they are only interested in eating and drinking, rather than fighting. Another "trick" we use is to spray their noses and genitals with an old man's cologne to confuse their sense of smell - trying to mask the smell of the ewes they were recently with. (Others suggest using Vick's Vaporub, but you would have to hold onto the ram and rub this product on him; using a cologne spray, we don't have to actually have our hands on the animal). Another idea that works is to spread some old tires around their ground area so they can't get up a full "run" at each other. Also, time their release to evening, when it is almost dark. If we put them in a small pen together, we've found that putting a bale of straw in the middle helps to keep them from reaching each other with as much force, as without the barrier there.
Always know where your rams are when you are working with them. We suggest keeping a spray bottle mixed 50/50 with water and white vinegar to spray the eyes, if a ram approaches you. This will usually cause him to back off quickly. Some people use large sticks or paddles when they enter a ram area to protect themselves, but I don't personally like to hit animals. You want your rams to respect you and they should not be encouraged to come toward you. We do train our rams to corn which helps us to catch and handle them. If I have to fill hay feeders when I'm by myself, I will toss out cob corn in another direction, which is a treat and a distraction to the rams and allows me to be able to do my work safely.
Rams are vulnerable to the winter weather because during the rut season they are much more worried about the ewes and competiton with other rams than they are about eating. If you shear your rams in the fall, and IF you have a cold winter climate, it may be necessary to supplement your rams' diet with extra calories. Normally our rams do fine on hay alone, but severe, extended subzero weather can cause them to lose condition quickly and they may not be able to eat enough to maintain condition during these severe weather patterns. We supplement our rams during this type of weather by giving them a couple of ears of cob corn each, each day, tossing the corn cobs around the pasture area. This is easier than trying to grain them for our farm situation. I also put out a protein/mineral block at this time of the year, in addition to their free choice minerals and kelp. We have decided to no longer shear ram lambs in the fall that are being used as breeding stock. Adult rams are sheared only if they are in very good condition and have a fleece that grows fairly quickly. We've found that the finer the fleece, the slower it grows back in, so our finer fleeced rams will not be sheared in the fall either.
Never keep a mean ram. We have found disposition to be a heritable trait. We are trying to breed for rams that are calm and gentle with the ewes, with each other and with people.
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