Ram, a male counterpart of sheep. Horned, robust animal. Larger and meaner of the duo. Still, without it, there is no sheep breeding, and thus no sheep farming as well. Rams are an essential part of the sheep flock, but they come with quite an additional challenge for the farmers. Rams can be stubborn and aggressive and in that way could pose a danger for other animals in the flock, but to the farmer as well. Let’s tackle everything about ram’s behavior, aggression, and how to tackle their aggression, safely. So, are rams dangerous?
Rams can be dangerous. Rams might show their most aggressive behavior during a breeding season. They can be aggressive for territory or they might just react to fear or stress. Their charges and head-butts can actually cause harm to humans and animals as well. A way to reduce potential harm is to properly manage and train a ram. Sometimes, even a more permanent solution might be needed.
Table of Contents
Rams, particularly during the breeding season, can be very aggressive. Still, their behavior largely depends on how they are managed. Proper ram management is essential to ensure the safety of both the farmer and his or her animals:
- Behavior: Rams can be impressive animals, and their aggression during the breeding season (or rut) is natural. They should be respected but not feared.
- Companionship: Keeping rams in pairs or small groups can help prevent aggressive behavior from developing. It’s advisable to not make a pet of an intact (not castrated) ram lamb. This can easily turn them into aggressive as they mature.
- Isolation: Housing rams separately from ewes except during the breeding season is advisable. Not all farmers/shepherds do this. My farm doesn’t practice it.
- Fencing: If you do isolate rams, make sure that their fences are escape-proof. They can be real escape artists, especially during the breeding season.
- Segregation: When using multiple rams during breeding season, you should put them in separate pastures, and don’t even allow them to communicate through the fence. Again, I don’t practice this, but it’s advisable.
- Husbandry: Rams require proper care, including hoof trimming, deworming, and a balanced diet. If you want to delve deeper into sheep nutrition, follow this link.
- Confinement: When reintroducing rams to each other, provide a confined space for them to become accustomed to each other.
- Caution: Always be aware of the ram’s location. As rams should respect you, so should you respect them. Be aware that sometimes you might be forced to use physical force on them.
- Temperament: Never keep a mean ram, as temperament is a heritable trait.
Why are rams so aggressive?
This is a good first question to ponder. Root causes are important to know if we want to make a correct approach to ram management. There are multiple reasons why ram could show aggressiveness:
- Rams, by instinct, want to control a territory, especially during breeding season. To control a part of a territory is to have access to ewes on that territory. Rams want to dominate and they try to do that by charging, head-butting, or generally showing aggressive behavior towards other rams and anything that comes before them, people as well.
- If a ram perceives you, or someone else, as a threat to themselves, their ewes, or lambs, they will display protective aggression. If they see you as an intruder, definitively expect a round of head-butting.
- Ram might simply be stressed or afraid, and attack out of fear of being cornered or even harmed. It’s just a simple self-preservation behavior.
If he was raised as a pet, he would be more aggressive because he doesn’t have any fear of people.
Am I to blame for having a mean ram?
The way we handle our rams will certainly affect the way they behave. As with all animals, they can be trained and have their temperament influenced. There is always a part that we can’t change, the part that’s just written down in genes, but everything else is malleable to a certain degree. Let’s consider all the factors that can influence ram’s behavior:
- Socialization: There are two schools of thought here. One way is that rams should have a regular positive human interaction and in that way, we can make them more docile. It says that positive and gentle handling will make rams less aggressive. Other school says that treating a ram like a pet since birth will make it disrespect you and not fear you enough when it grows to its teenage years. Then it’ll be impossible to make it less aggressive. I lean more in the second way.
- Breeds: We can make some general observations here. Some sheep breeds are really considered more or less tame.
- More aggressive:
- Mouflon and Wild sheep: those are not domesticated breeds, so of course expect them to be more aggressive.Merino: Tend to have weak nerves, and that nervous behavior can be mistaken for aggression.
- Less aggressive:
- Dorset: Docile and friendly and for their temperament often sought by farmers and shepherds.
- Suffolk: Often described as calm and adaptable.
- Rambouillet: Considered gentle and cooperative.
- More aggressive:
- Health: Having a healthy and well-fed ram will certainly make it more docile. This doesn’t need to be mentioned anymore, I believe.
Rams can be aggressive, especially to outsiders not in the flock.
Can rams be left around lambs and ewes?
Sure, rams can coexist with other sheep. They did it for many millennia. Still, many farmers are timing and introducing rams to ewes only during breeding seasons. It’s your choice, you’ll have to monitor them in one way or another. I consider my sheep semi-wild, as I mostly don’t keep them enclosed. That means that my rams do coexist with ewes and lambs. Still, I tend to not have too much ram competition in the herd.
My rams are friendly. It’s handy when they are hooked on delicious grains. They’ll behave properly.
Will rams hurt my lambs?
Accidents can happen, mostly around breeding season. Additional supervision is recommended, especially if you have very young lambs.
Fill up a spray bottle with mint sauce and spray the ram in the face when he gets out of line.
Can I keep rams together?
It’s not recommended to have multiple rams together, especially during breeding season. They’re a competitive bunch and are certain to try to fight each other. These fights can lead to injuries. Either have just one ram or separate them in some way.
In the future, if you have an aggressive male lamb get it castrated. Wethers are much easier to manage.
Can rams co-exist with sheepdogs?
Of course, rams and sheepdogs can coexist. However, if they haven’t been raised together from the start you should introduce them gradually and under strict supervision. Ram can be a lot tougher challenge for a sheepdog than just ewes and lambs.
A trained dog helps.
How hard does a ram hit?
Rams are quite powerful. With a good charge and a head-butt, they can deliver quite an attack. Imagine a big and fast ram, it can do significant damage to humans, dogs, or other sheep.
How much damage can a ram do to a human?
It depends on a ram and on a person as well. Rams have thick skulls and horns and those can certainly cause bruises, fractures, lacerations, etc. So, never turn your back to an angry ram.
Also, make sure you are checking their feet. Maybe there is something bothering your ram.
How to tame a ram?
Prevention might be better than a cure in this instance. A lot of farmers decide to get permanently rid of a ram if it becomes an aggressive nuisance. Ram should be socialized, but also has to have a certain degree of fear towards people. If you treat it like a pet as it’s growing, then it will not fear you as it comes into the teenage years. And an animal that doesn’t fear you at all might prove difficult to tame. If you still insist on trying to tame an aggressive ram, then there are a couple of things you can try, but there is no definitive way:
- Spend time with the ram regularly.
- Train it with basic commands.
- Reward it for calm and non-aggressive behavior.
- Castrate or neuter it. This will certainly lower the aggression of a ram during the breeding season.
How to get a ram to stop charging me?
If you are already in a situation where a ram is acting aggressively towards you, the first thing is to disengage and then look for help. You could always prepare a little bit before you engage with the ram, like wearing protective gear like a sturdy jacket and gloves.
- Stay calm, don’t panic or make any sudden movements. Don’t escalate further.
- Remove yourself from the scene, and give a ram a space to calm down.
- Get behind something, like a fence, gate, or even a tree.
- Climb to a vehicle or some sort of platform.
A plastic bag (or other such material) tied to the end of a stick can also help with shooing.
Without rams there is no sheep farming, still, they can pose an additional challenge to a farmer or shepherd. Rams are not pets and you shouldn’t treat them like ones. Understand them and manage their behavior. Do anything to have a safe and secure environment for your sheep and for you as well.