Testosterone

Not all farm stories have happy endings. A few weekends ago I was visiting my mom in Wisconsin when Melissa called. Duncan, our big, black-faced ram, was dying. Melissa has seen enough dying animals to know when there’s the possibility a vet might save the animal, and when there isn’t. Remember that sheep hide their illnesses until it’s almost too late. It’s a hard, hard call, but during our first five years on the farm we spent a great deal of money on vet bills for animals that didn’t live.


Duncan is the big ram in the middle (surrounded by some young rams as they all try out their best pick-up lines on the shy girl on the other side of the fence.) Without those eight wires of electricity, I guarantee there would have been some unauthorized sheep sex going on as a result.

Duncan was born on this farm, and has lived the last three years out in the pasture with Erik, our white-faced ram. They spend 11 months together, then for a month they each live with their own harem of ewes. When breedings is over and we put the rams back into the same pen, we must put pallets all over the floor. Pallets prevent them from backing up and getting a good run at each other, since after breeding is over the rams are still feeling protective and in a fighting mood, and will bash heads so violently necks can break. We hear stories all the time about rams killing each other. Like I’ve said before, “ram” is not just a noun.

After the rams have lived in the pen with the pallets for a day, we pick up the pallets, and the boys are fine.

The best thing for Duncan was to end his suffering, whatever had gone wrong (Melissa suspected a urinary problem, which had killed another of our rams years ago despite the vet’s attempts to save him.) So the next day our friend Lloyd came over, killed Duncan swiftly, then he and Melissa did a post-mortem.

Turns out one of Duncan’s kidneys was severely damaged…the sort of damage you’d only see from a major blow to the body. There’s nothing in that pasture that could damage Duncan… except Erik.

Testosterone. I know we all have it in varying amounts, and that it can do great things, but it also leads rams to—for whatever reason—ram each other.

For a week after Duncan’s death, Erik was alone in his pasture, and he didn’t like it. Every time Melissa walked by he’d come running, bleating frantically. I don’t know if he missed Duncan specifically, or if he just didn’t like being alone. Lloyd drove by a few times and saw Erik standing out in the pasture, woefully alone. “It’s your own fault, buddy,” Lloyd said.

Finally the main flock had rotated through the pastures close enough to the barn that Melissa and I could lure Chachi (our oldest llama) away from the flock and lead him into Erik’s pasture so the ram would have some company.

Erik has stopped bleating, and looks calmer. He can’t ram Chachi’s body because the llama is too tall. Also, if Erik does try to ram him, I’m hoping Chachi will bring a wad of green, smelly, partially chewed cud up his throat, and spit it all over Erik.

Good thing I’m not bitter, eh?

Truth is, I’m really not. Rams bash each other with the intent to harm, but they also love to play, knocking heads and pushing each other around.

I guess sometimes that play—or testosterone—gets carried away.

4 thoughts on “

  1. So sorry to hear of your unexpected loss of Duncan. That’s not ever very easy, especially when you can’t “fix” them, or make them well again. I suppose that’s the risk of letting your rams be rams, because the boys will scrap, especially this time of year! I have four bucks, and on their calendar, it’s Autumn.( and that odor is back…Phew!) The two dominant ones spent a couple of days clashing horns, but they never seem to take it too far. They tend to take a long break, then head out to graze together. I must say, though, the pallet technique sounds very ingenious! I need to tuck that one away for possible future use.
    Just finished the new book, it’s a good one, and hopefully alot of people will read it and gain some insight, not to mention saving Old MacDonald’s farm!

  2. I’m also sorry to hear about Duncan. Has gotten me worried about my three little goats – I’m new to livestock – and the fact that they love to ram into each other’s sides (they’re only 1/2 year old, mostly it’s playful, sometimes it’s about food). The little girl, though, seems to get the worst of it from the two wethered males. Even with the snip-snip, those guys still have their fair share of testosterone. Sigh.

  3. I’m sorry for your loss. It was kind of you to give Erik a llama buddy. I may have let him dwell on what he had done and suffer the resultant loneliness a little longer. But I’m mean like that.

  4. I wish animals learned from their mistakes…I’m not sure they do…

    Although our puppy has learned a few things. She knows she’s not supposed to steal our socks and play with them. So when she hears me approaching, she spits the sock out, scoops up her nearest toy, and runs to the opposite side of the room. By the time I arrive, the sock is all alone in the middle of the room, and she’s standing there, the toy in her mouth still swinging, as far from the sock as possible.

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