Well, that didn’t work.
I’m putting the series on the farm boys on hold again to write about a (failed) experiment earlier today.
Warning: sheep biology, sociality, and sexuality discussed below!
Shemp the ram suitor got here the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. We think all four ewes are pregnant because Shemp has largely lost interest in all of them. He keeps checking to see if their estrous cycle has started again. And they don’t appear to have. If so, that means they are preggers. If all four ewes are indeed pregnant and bring their lambies to term, that means we’ll have four (or more) lambs running around in early May (!).
Shemp will be moving to another farm (more ewes!?) or return to his home in another week or two. At that point we can reintegrate the flock. The only down side to the current arrangement is that the three wethers are in a smallish pasture by themselves. They have less grass to graze on and there’s a higher concentration of sheep poop per square foot of pasture now.
And then there is the forlorn factor. They tend to stand at the fence closest to the driveway with the best view of the large pasture below with Shemp and the ewes, looking a bit forlorn. They have quit baaing at the rest of the flock for the most part, but they still look a little sad and pathetic.
Given our human guilt over this, the fact that Shemp seems to have completed his job (!), and the sheep have been curious and friendly across the gate separating the two pastures (and flocks), we have gone back and forth about integrating the flock.
I have to say that I was more skeptical about integrating them. For one, Shemp isn’t ours and I would feel terrible if anything happened to him on our watch. In addition, I was skeptical of rocking the boat on the current situation, even if the wethers (and foremost Half Moon) seem a little forlorn.
Ron has spent a lot more time with the sheep over the past month. They have seemed quite friendly and relaxed across the gate. And he’d rather have the pasture more evenly used. The wethers are beating up the upper pasture a bit with tracks and concentrated sheep poop in places, although it’s easy enough to rake and spread it out.
Since we weren’t sure sure when Shemp will be leaving, Ron suggested that we try integrating the flock while I’m still on vacation. If anything happened, it’s a lot easier to deal with it with two humans around.
So, we tried integrating the flocks this morning.
It started well enough.
The wethers were both excited and nervous to cross where the gate normally is. They stood there with the gate wide open, excited to turn the corner but not brave enough to do so. Until they did. Surprisingly, Tatanka went into the ewes’ pasture first.
Shemp and the ewes left their beloved hay feeder for a while to meet the wethers. They were pretty curious, too.
And in an especially sweet moment, both Half Moon and Brownie baaed at each other. Moreover, they were the only ones to do so. Half Moon was 5.5 months old when we separated the two flocks and they’ve been apart for a month now, but they clearly are still bonded.
And then things didn’t go so well.
All the sheep were smelling one another. Not that surprising. There were a few head rubs and walking by one another, rubbing their woolly coats on one another.
Shemp was most curious about Tagine, the biggest and most dominant (if a castrated male can be dominant…) wether. He sniffed Tagine a lot–and then decided to mount him. Several times.
Was this a dominance move over the biggest “foreign” sheep? A specifically male dominance move over the biggest male sheep (in fact, Tagine is actually bigger than Shemp)? Confusion by an in-tact ram? Don’t know.
But Tagine got Fed. Up. And Fast.
Tagine backed up and head butted Shemp. Several times. Shemp has four horns (this is normal for some male Navajo Churro), but he’s a small male. Tagine has two small horns, but he’s big, strong, and at times very stubborn.
They rammed one another (literally…) about a half-dozen times with the other sheep scattering to get out of the way.
Ron and I quickly agreed: this was not going well. We needed to go to Plan B pronto.
We had discussed the broad contours of what we would do if integrating the flocks did not go well, but we hadn’t worked out all of the specifics. Fortunately, Shemp is extremely sweet and comfortable around Ron (any human, really). Consequently, Ron walked between Tagine and Shemp as they were about to head butt again. Both stopped right away. Ron walked over to Shemp who is not at all skittish or shy. He simply straddled him (which is easy because Shemp is a small male) and held his two biggest horns. Shemp did nothing.
Talk about (human) male dominance.
Then we stood there. Now what do we do??? Shemp was secure, but the two flocks were together–and now couldn’t be. Ron stood there holding Shemp while we worked out the details on the fly.
Ron would get Shemp into the corn patch and shut the door. Then we had a little time to think. But I would get the silver tin of corn while Ron got the catch pen set up. I would then get the sheep to come around me (with the corn) and walk them into the catch pen. Ron would shut the door behind us all. And somehow we would get all the girls out of the catch pen, yet keep the wethers in. Once the boys were inside, we would run the ewes back down into the lower pasture, close and secure the gate, and then release the wethers into their pasture. We could also release Shemp from the corn patch back with his ewes.*
*All this makes more sense if you know our property and where everything is.
At that point, everything would be like normal again, before we tried the (failed) integration experiment minutes earlier.
Fortunately, this is exactly what happened. Despite the kerfuffle between Shemp and Tagine, all the sheep ran for the corn and followed me. Brownie and June Bug stayed out of the catch pen, which is pretty typical. But since we wanted the girls out of the catch pen, their skittishness was actually convenient.
So, in something like ten minutes we went from integrating the flock to male sheep fight to separating them again. In the end, having the wethers separate in their pasture is a much better quality of life than having Shemp and Tagine butt heads (literally). They may have worked out their sheepie issues if given a few hours, but we didn’t want to risk anything happening.
We’ve learned our lesson: no integrating of the sheep flocks, no matter how pathetic the looks that Half Moon gives us. Even though the sheep seemed fine across the fence, even curious and friendly, things can rapidly go south if introduced to one another.
For the time being, Shemp and the ewes are back in the big pasture below. The three wethers are in the smaller pasture uphill. And that’s where they will stay until Shemp leaves our farm in another week or two.