The Battle for Alpha

The battle for Alpha wages on.

But this month, the struggle between farmer and ram took an interesting turn.

Andy was deep in thought as he walked the narrow alleyway along the side of the barn after feeding rams on a cool, fall evening. It was time to put the rams in with the ewes and breeding season preparations were at the top of Andy’s to-do list.

With pasture ground as his most limited resource, deciding which groups to put at which location was a question he hadn’t yet settled. As he neared the gate at the front of the barn, he was mulling over tree covering and forage availability and proximity to the farm not thinking about what the rams might be doing behind his back. They *should* have been finishing off their grain ration and nosing their way through the fresh hay in the feeder.

But our rams seldom do what their farmer asks of them. It doesn’t matter that Andy faithfully feeds, shelters, doctors, provides, and cares for them 365 days out of the year, rain or … snow (edited because: Michigan).

No, instead of returning affection and loyalty for this incessant devotion like our mostly docile ewes the rams lie in wait … plotting their next surprise attack.

So when Andy’s usual watchfulness was displaced by distraction on this dusky evening, one of our rams was quick to capitalize on his mistake. He turned around just in time to see Earl, our youngest ram, running at full speed toward him.

Earl had spotted Andy with his back turned when coming around the corner of the barn. He took off toward Andy and had gained top speed about three quarters of the way up the 50 foot length of the barn.

Andy had about two seconds to get through the gate and close it behind him before getting rammed in the back by 250 pounds of brute animal force.

He did just that, feeling highly motivated not to become permanently disabled at a young(ish) age.

Farmer and ram eyed each other with racing hearts and heaving chests and narrowed eyes on each side of the gate. The farmer kicked the gate with the toe of his dusty boot, pulled the lock sideways and fastened it, and walked away muttering under his breath.

The rams tend to view every other local source of testosterone as competition to be dominated. And they had been even more hostile toward each other than normal in the weeks leading up to this day, as they somehow sensed their time to shine was upon them. Only a week before, we had one of them in the working shoot to clean and sterilize a bloody forehead.

The rams knew it was breeding season too.

So Andy the farmer had prepared himself for a fight with Andy the ram (long story) the morning of Tupping Day, AKA the first day of breeding season. The ram needed to be fitted with a chest harness holding a marking crayon that would help us track which ewes had been bred and when.

Before the ram could be turned into the ewes pen (on the happiest day of his year), Farmer Andy would need to catch this contentious, ornery, testosterone-laden creature and somehow keep him still while giving one long, drawn-out bear hug to fasten on this complicated, multi-strapped harness.

Right.

Did I mention the rams knew it was breeding season? That’s the only explanation for what happened when Andy stepped into the rams’ pen.

Because that ram was a perfect gentleman. He stood absolutely still and let his master walk right up to him, holding his head high as the strap was arranged and tightened around his chest.

Andy smirked and shook his head knowingly as the ram stood there like a statue and said, “You want me to stand here patiently while you pull and tug on this harness and crawl underneath me and nudge me this way and that for a quarter of an hour? Sure thing.”

Andy the farmer stood up and considered the next step of getting the ram to the loading chute and onto the trailer, which usually involved a not-very-friendly game of tug of war between a 180-pound man and 300 pounds of stubbornness. Fully expecting the ram to thrash his head, jerk around, and dig in his feet, Andy was again curiously astonished.

Because a gentle tug was more than sufficient to accomplish his purpose. The ram followed Andy like one of those highly trained and lavishly pampered Irish Wolfhounds in the National Dog Show, proudly strolling beside his master and jumping onto the trailer right on cue. Then he stood patiently in the trailer and quietly waited while Andy loaded another sheep beside him.

Once they arrived at the field with the ewes, he trotted right off the trailer and went right to well, work. He knew just what to do. Not once did that ram kick or jerk or thrash or try to kill Andy at any time on Tupping Day.

Nah he’ll save that move for a more opportune time. There’s other important business to take care of first.

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