Males, in the world of livestock, fall into two categories, lucky or unlucky. Without going into great detail, farmers don’t need a one to one ratio of male to female animals to raise more animals. One rooster can enable many hens to produce eggs which can be hatched into new chickens. One good bull is sufficiently adequate to produce a new generation of calves, one stallion, a herd of new ponies etc. With the exception of geese, which take one mate for life, and horses that can be driven or ridden, most males are destined to become part of the food chain.
Males that are not selected for procreation purposes are not usually kept for an extended period of time on the farm because they can get mean and fight. Stallions have been known to fight to the death. An abundance of roosters leaves a flock of hens bedraggled. Billy goats and sheep bucks will inflict serious injury on each other as they spar for the dominate position. Bulls not only fight each other but can attack the farmer. As a farmer, I subscribe to the notion, one male is enough and sometimes, one too many.
There is a saying in the sheep business, the ram is half the flock. In a group of 40 ewes you might end up with 80 lambs. Forty of them have one sibling. All of them have 1 sibling and 79 half siblings because they all have the same sire (father). Half the genetics come from the ram, half from the dam ( mother). If a ewe has an undesirable trait like producing a lamb with an overbite, only two lambs might be affected. If the ram has a defect, he could potentially pass that onto all his offspring (babies).
I have had numerous rams over the years. There are certain things I look for. I generally buy one that is purebred (out of parents that are both of the same breed). Purebred’s generally exhibit the best qualities of the breed. For example if I want fast growing, heavily muscled lambs that you would like to have over for dinner, I choose a blackface breed like a Suffolk or Hampshire. If I want to produce wool, I’d chose a whiteface ram like a Merino, Corriedale or a Lincoln. There are many breeds to chose from. I like crossing one breed with another because the result is a “hybrid”. Hybrids usually grow faster than the purebreds and have better livability.
Finding the right ram can be interesting. I have found them by word of mouth, on line, at fairs and on the bulletin board at the feed store. The first thing you need to make sure of is the ram is not related to the ewes. Father/daughter, brother/sister matings can result in some weird looking lambs that usually do not live too long. The next thing I look for is size and conformation for the breed. If I want a market lamb, I look for a ram with a long thick loin. If the ram is a skinny one, the lambs will be skinny too.
One thing I learned the hard way is to select for disposition. Once I bought a ram I found at a county fair. He was a handsome beast aptly named Rambo. Very friendly too, as evidenced by how well he liked to have his head rubbed. This was a crowd pleaser at the fair but turned ugly as breeding season approached. Rambo had lost his fear and respect for humans. He saw them as competition, which he had no toleration for. He was sneaky too, launching his attack when you least expected it.
I generally avoid getting in the pen with the sheep during breeding season, however sometimes it is unavoidable. On one memorable encounter, Rambo left quite an impression on me. It was during evening chores, well after sunset, that I entered the barn. I flipped the light switch, noticing that another light bulb had burned out. I made a mental note to change it on Saturday. As I carried a bale of hay to the fence line feeder, I noticed a ewe with her head down, limping. Straining into the shadows, I could see she had a twine string around her neck and caught in her foot. Not thinking, I opened the small gate and rushed to her aid. I should have seen Rambo backing up and lowering his head, but I didn’t. The ewe struggled to get away. I grabbed her around the neck and attempted to push her into a corner. She dragged me around until I finally got her pinned against the waterer. I fumbled around in my pocket, trying to find my jack knife. About the time I located it, the ewe resumed her struggle to escape, causing me to drop the knife in the straw. One arm clutching the ewe, the other reaching for the knife, i was in a compromising position.
Rambo seized the moment. By the time I saw him break from the flock, it was too late. He had locked unto my rear and meant business. The next thing I remembered was being airborne, somersaulting over the ewe and the Ritchie Waterer. I landed on the opposite side of the fence, flat on my back. The flock gave a collective gasp, interspersed with a couple of snickers and a chuckle. Rambo simply looked at me, and walked, head held high, back to the girls. Meanwhile the distressed ewe had magically shed the twine and resumed normal activities.
Later that night, Mrs Ed noticed a rather large black and blue mark. “Where did you get that?” she inquired. “Is it in the shape of a sheep’s head?” I asked. I related the story. “You shouldn’t get in the pen with a ram”. She advised.
Advice well taken. However I’ll always wonder what really was going on. A couple of nights later, about the same time, I noticed a sheep standing next to the waterer. She appeared to have her head caught in a gate. As I rushed to her aid, I noticed all the sheep lining up and looking at me. Front and center, slightly hidden in the crowd, Rambo stood, head down, legs gathered under him,watching my every move. I decided to feed hay before making the rescue attempt. Miraculously the entangled ewe freed herself to go eat with the others. To this day, I wonder if sheep need amusement too?