Sunday afternoon we finished putting up our woven wire fence that will winter our grazing animals. Putting up a fence is no small task and we’re happy to have the project behind us. Our project went rather quickly since we were able to utilize a vast majority of posts already in place. The hardest part was getting the woven wire fence taut. We rotationally graze our animals in tight paddocks with portable electric fencing (Electronet) through our small pasture. We can have about 20 paddocks in our 3 acre pasture. The “flerd” (flock+herd=flerd) has just finished up a full rotation and we think we can run them through the pasture once more this fall, which would allow us to graze them into November, even though the growing season has now ceased. We still have green grass in the pasture where our animals haven’t been in weeks. This benefits our bottom line. The longer the flerd grazes on free, nutrient-rich grass, the less purchased hay they will consume.
This winter fence will not only be utilized in winter, but it will contain our ram during summer when we’d like him separated from the ewes. This year we had no satisfactory way of separating our ram from the rest of our sheep, which gives us no control over when our ewes will lamb. The other problem this creates is that our ram is always with the sheep when we want to interact with our ewes and lambs, who are quite friendly. We enjoy petting the ewes and holding the lambs. Up until last week, interacting with our sheep with the ram present was a non-issue.
We are new farmers, but we have the sense to stay away from a ram when the ewes are in heat. We thought that had already come and gone. However, the past couple weeks, the ram has been a bit bossy around food. Ryan had told me the ram “nudged” him on the arm while he was bringing pumpkins to the sheep. I had also watched the ram head-butt the ewes if he was trying to eat a special treat they wanted. (I much prefer the chivalry of the roosters who serve delicacies to the hens rather than the rude ram who hogs the good stuff for himself.)
The warning signs were there and I should have heeded them. I brought some butternut squash that had been bruised or nibbled on by garden critters to the sheep. I usually just throw it in and leave. But that day I decided to enter their paddock and hold one of the squash while the sheep ate. The ram was busy in a different corner eating a squash lying on the grass. Elijah also climbed into the paddock with me. We were having a great time scratching the lambs and ewes behind the ears while they happily nibbled the squash we were holding. We each had a crowd of lambs and ewes surrounding us and we were thoroughly enjoying watching the adorable sheep, their noses and lips turning orange from the squash. After a few minutes, I noticed the ram had left his half-eaten squash and was standing near us, watching. I didn’t trust him, but I also didn’t expect what was about to happen.
He came up and quickly nudged me on the arm, similar to what Ryan described with the pumpkin the other day. The nerve of this ram to “bite the hand that feeds” irritated me but then I watched him take a few steps backwards with his gaze fixed upon me. I knew what was coming, but I had no time to react. He ran towards me and rammed me right in the gut. I was on the ground before I even knew what happened. I got up quickly, fearing he would come at me again while I was still on the ground. He didn’t. He walked away and I instructed Elijah we were to leave immediately. I was surprised more than hurt, though my wrist was sore from instinctively catching myself when I hit the ground. It remained stiff through the following day.
I now trust the ram less than ever. I used to feel sorry for him when we talked about separating him from the sheep. Sheep are flock animals and are happiest with other sheep. I was concerned he would get lonely and depressed if we separated him. I may or may not care a whole lot less about the ram’s emotional state since getting knocked over by the small, gutsy beast. 🙂 He needs to be separated when the new lambs are born, as well. I won’t take the chance of one of the kids getting hurt by him while visiting the lambs.
It’s good to have a trusty, permanent fence on the farm for a variety of situations. Although the fence is complete, Ryan still needs to build a hay feeder for inside the fence. We also have to begin stocking our hay shed for the winter. These tasks are next in line on our project list for fall. .