Katahdin yearling ram
3/4 White Dorper ram
Young Katahdin males
Natural and learned behavior
Head butting is both a natural and learned behavior in sheep.
Contestive head butting is a carry-over from when sheep ran wild
and from those that still do. Since only the dominant rams get
to mate with the ewes, rams must fight to earn this privilege.
Classic head butting among rams is highest during the rutting
season which preceeds the onset of estrus activity in ewes. It
is a way for rams to get into physical shape for the breeding
season and to establish (or re-establish) the dominance hierarchy.
Establishing a social order
Sheep are the classical flocking animal. They work out a social
order by head butting, poking with horns, shoulder pushing, blocking,
and mounting. This is seen most clearly in rams who back off,
then charge, meeting head-to-head with a large bang.
Rams begin to butt at a young age. To discourage butting,
you should avoid petting or scratching a ram on the head. The
ram may see this as a challenge or aggressive behavior. To a ram,
a person is part of the flock and he wants to dominate.
It can be difficult to stop an aggressive ram from butting. Striking him may make him more aggressive or cause him injury. Spraying water on the ram's face may dissuade him from butting. You can put a mask on the ram to keep him from butting. The mask blocks his side vision. Sometimes, the best course of action is to cull a ram that is overly aggressive.
Never turn your back on a ram
No matter how friendly a ram may seem, he should never be trusted.
You should never turn your back on a ram. Ram can cause serious
injury to you and other sheep.
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