Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In solitary

Here's our silly teenage ram Shaun locked away in the barn, the delinquent.

(His name is taken from Shaun the Sheep, a kid's cartoon in Britain, sometimes broadcast on PBS in the States. Not very original. I'm sure there are thousands of pet lambs named Shaun in the UK. But I like the show. It's right about my mental age.)

Our Shaun, also "a bit of a lad", just like the original, has been thrown in the slammer, for climbing fences, instigating large volume escapes, and generally being a pain in the rear end.

He's not at all happy about this, and in fact this would be a very cruel thing to do to any other sheep. Sheep are herd animals and will do just about anything to get back with their herd. We only separate ewes when they are sick, or old and crabby and being mean to lambs.

But rams are forced to live solitary lives, on account of the fact that sheep can breed for the greater portion of the year -- roughly September through May for our Corriedale/Romney crossbreds -- and so if you leave your ram in with your herd, you get early and late lambs. A late lamb killed our Tillie, just last week. Shaun had managed to breed her in late spring, but she was too old to give birth successfully and had to be put down, a great pity, since we loved our old Till. She was a very old sheep and probably would have gone one way or another sometime soon, but still.

Lambs born into a snowbank in the middle of a Maine winter don't survive either

So we always keep our ram away from the ewes during the first and last parts of breeding season.

In Shaun's case, he would have been separated anyway in just a few short weeks, as soon as the first ewe was seen in heat, but we did it early because the ewes were not getting enough grass. He's been climbing fences and barging through hot wire as if it wasn't there.

He's gotten very good at this fence-jumping, to the point where only serious tall, taught, sheep-wire fences can keep him in.

We only have one of those, around the main three-acre paddock we call the "Back Forty," our largest.  The rest are flimsy structures put up when we need them.

I'm building an extension, a serious bit o' building, concentrating hard on that job up to ten hours a day, and so I can't be dropping tools to go run after sheep that get out. Instead, more and more, I kept them locked up in this large paddock where the grass is thin but the fence strong. I fed them hay instead, creating another potential problem, using up our hay too quickly. We have 200 bales of fresh Amish hay in our hay loft, but that's supposed to last until February or March, when we start bringing in more hay from a different Amish farm.

So because of Shaun's misbehavior, the whole herd was essentially being punished. All sheep much prefer green grass to hay. And we were wasting $3.50, more or less, for every day that this situation continued.

The last straw was Sunday, when our neighbor had to drive down to tell me the ram was out and on our shared access road. Our phone has been acting up -- Aimee ordered a new one online -- and so neighbor Andrea wasn't able to get through on the phone, so she jumped in her car and drove down, bless her.

Of course I immediately dropped tools and got a bucket of grain, for which Shaun would usually be gaga, and follow you just about anywhere.

But he wasn't going that easy. He's a young ram, essentially a teenager, and is trying to figure out who's who in the pecking order, so he wasn't going to be lured in from his pleasureful wandering idyl for no stinkin' lousy cheap bucket of grain by some weak little human. I think I had a similar escapade one time with my own dad when I was about 17 or so, when I threw him a punch (missed) and he pushed me out of the front door and told me not to come back.

So, our neighbor was treated to the sight of me grabbing my ram by the neck, then when that didn't work, by the front leg, and wrestling him in to the barn.

(It's not recommended practice, but if a big sheep really is giving you trouble, grabbing a front or back leg is a good way to move it -- the sheep is off balance and has less strength on just three legs. They usually fight less this way than with a halter. A small sheep can just be picked up.)

My intent was just to confine him for the day so the ewes could continue to eat green grass, their favorite food, of which we have plenty due to the on-off rain and sun and warm humid nights we've been getting. But once he was in there, I thought otherwise and set the ram pen up for the duration. He'll be in here until October, when he can go back out with a selection of the ewes.

He's now reduced to bleating unhappily to himself, but he's easily ignored. He'll have to get used to it. Rams have to be separated. You can't take half measures with livestock.

The alternative is the butchers, for our Shaunie.

He does get a little extra grain, though. On the one hand I do feel sorry for him. On the other, I want him to fill out, to take on that finished Romney ram shape, with the heavy forequarters and the 250 pounds of rammy solidity that a full grown Romney ram carries.

We'll see him climb fences then. He won't even be able to get off the ground.

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