Though I bought my new breeding ram lamb in August, he’s been in the barn all his time. First, to quarantine, then later to breed to sold ewes. So finally it was time to introduce him into the dude gang. I wanted to do it before breeding season. This way, the rams will all be acquainted, causing less social drama after breeding season, when I put the whole lot together.

I approached this integration with some trepidation. This is an expensive ram, the last thing I need is him killed in a fight. On the other hand, it’s not practical for me to maintain multiple separate groups of sheep. So it’s necessary to get over this hurdle. Carefully. Here’s how I approached it.

I have three adult rams here, and they are currently pastured with a half-dozen or so intact ram lambs born this season. They all get along. Day one, I led the new guy out on halter and lead rope. It’s amazing how the sheep instantly notice a newcomer has appeared, and they all rushed over to check him out.

Unfortunately, the new guy was housed in the barn next to some ewes, so likely smelled like ewes, and even ewes in heat. This does not help, but it is what it is: I only have so many places to sequester sheep. So, naturally the ram peers were all over him, grunting, pawing, mounting, and sniffing, treating him like a ewe. Even if he didn’t smell like a girl, I find his is somewhat normal. It’s part of the hierarchy sorting-out period. In so many ways, it reminds me of how prison is described, this kind of basal, gender-bending, animal-brain dominance game.

The poor new guy tried to politely yield. He kept his head down, and didn’t retaliate much. He did meet a minor head-butt once or twice. He put up with some humping, and tried to scuttle away from the chasing, in deference.  This rapidly turned into hot-and-heavy pursuit and a lot of running around. I observed for a while, and identified the biggest perpetrator: Duke, a yearling ram, would not leave the new guy alone.

So I captured Duke, and put the two of them together in a small pen in the barn. For the first few hours, separated by a panel, then together. I let them hang for a week. So, now, they are friends, smell like each other, and smell like the ewes in the barn.

Step two, put the two of them out in the bigger group. Now they both get pursued, sniffed, mounted, pawed, and shoved. But Duke is able to stand his ground more, since he knows these peers. And interestingly, he intervenes on behalf of the new guy, intercepting butts, and staying near his new friend. There is much jostling.

The other two adult rams become disinterested and go back to grazing. But, a ram lamb is now the main pursuer. I let the two of them race around for twenty minutes until they’re out of breath. Then I put them in the barn together, in the same small pen. This time, I just give them a day. They’re over it.

I put them back out. I was prepared to do this in more iterations, if there were any remaining rams who really wanted to hassle the new guy. But there weren’t. A round of jostling and sniffing occurred again, then everyone started eating grass. No big deal. In the below photo, you can see a smaller, wooly ram lamb doing a subtle, touching-grazing behavior with the new guy; which I think is part reconciliatory, part dominance. Part let’s-share, part I-can-graze-here-if-I-want-to. It’s very interesting how they sort out relationships.

I checked on the group every few hours that day, then twice daily over the next week. No conflict, they are all hanging out as if they had always been friends. The new guy is taking cues from his peers, traveling with the group, and eating together with them. So, I think he’s “in”!