Today I picked up my third ram, a big black Katahdin named Angus, from a farm in Effingham, NH. Ever since the silly Dorset ram jumped out of the barn window, I’ve had problems with ram logistics, but Angus’s arrival pushed it into must-solve territory. The chain of complications went something like this:
- Need to give deworming medicine to the new ram, but he’s out in the big field and I can’t catch him.
- The dorset and cheviot ram are eating the scarce grass that should be going to the recently-lambing ewes. I should move the rams into the barn, but I can’t catch them.
- I want to unify the 2 flocks, but there are a bunch of fertile ewes in the lower flock, so I can’t have them in a group with the rams. I should move the rams to the barn, but I can’t catch them.
- The new Katahdin ram has arrived, and he and the other two rams need to get acquainted in a physically constrained setting that keeps them from killing one another.* This requires moving the cheviot and dorset into the barn, but I can’t catch them.
The astute reader will have discerned a pattern. Normally, I would use Cass to push all the sheep into the handling system, at which point it would be very easy to grab the rams, put halters on them, and march them down to the barn. With a field full of tiny lambs, though, this doesn’t work. The mothers are extremely protective of the lambs, leading them to stand their ground and attack a herding dog rather than moving as they usually would. And if I did get the sheep into the handling system, the tight quarters would almost certainly lead to lamb-trampling. So I was left to trying and failing to catch the (very astute and rather quick-reflexed) rams in a big open space. Bill would normally make quick work of a problem like this, but he’s been completely maxed out by a new job, house move, and caring for his parents. Instead, my tractor guru Bob came to the rescue; though he’s never been much around sheep, he grew up with cattle and hogs, and his livestock instincts are still sharp. We also deployed my new almost-secret** weapon, a cleek.
With one of us distracting the ram with a bucket of corn, the other could hook a back leg, and then we’d both tackle him. Once we fitted the ram with a halter, we could march him into the barn. Mr. Fancy Ram was the first to succumb.
The Cheviot ram is older and more savvy, so it took us much longer to grab him, but desperation breeds patience (and Bob is a really good friend).
Finally, we backed up my truck and lured Angus into the barn with a bucket of corn.
The last step was to make a bit of an obstacle course so the rams couldn’t get a running start and inflict damaging blows to one another. Bob’s collection of tires-awaiting-recycling was perfect for the task.
At last check this evening, the rams seemed to be tolerating one another.
* I learned when I was picking up Angus today that he may have killed a younger ram last year. He and his partner ram, Captain, were in a paddock with some young rams, and one of the youngsters developed a nasty broken neck when no one was watching. This gave me added motivation to ensure that the rams’ temporary home was inimical to acquiring momentum.
** My cheviot ram normally won’t leave me alone, following me, nuzzling me, gesturing toward butting me with his head. But if I walk into the field carrying the cleek, he becomes very wary and won’t come within hooking distance. Sheep have a wholly undeserved reputation for dim-wittedness.