Well, I guess I could’ve picked a more subtle title, but it does sum up my topic and attached video pretty nicely. If you are interested in behavior, and doing good ethological style observations, here’s a video for you. I had just introduced Redford the Ram (so called because he is handsome and talented but shorter than expected, like Robert Redford) to the ewe flock.
Before I go any further, don’t worry about his bright red chest, he’s not bleeding. It may look like a slasher movie, but the red stuff on his chest is “breeding paint.” You mix a powder with vegetable oil (I passed on my expensive Olive Oil and used the more moderate Canola oil, but don’t tell him) and smear it on the ram’s chest so that you’ll know who gets bred and when. Any ewe with a red butt has been bred. It’s sort of fun… every morning Willie and I run out to the barn and look for a new red butt…. (5 so far!). In this video, some of the paint has been smeared on the ewes, but he hasn’t bred anyone when it starts. We put them together, herded them into a small pen, smeared his chest and then let him out, so this is his first time back with his ewes since early summer.
The video shows him investigating the ewes to determine who is cycling, including doing “Flehmen,” a behavior in which the male sniffs around a ewe, often smelling her urine, and then raises his head and upper lip. (Lots of male hoofed animals do it, horses included) This posture apparently allows them to more easily pass the large molecules associated with oestrous into their Vomeronasal organ, a sensory device housed in the upper palate.
Redford does find a ewe in heat, and then illustrates his version of courtship behavior, which I’d categorize as something akin to “Nerdy guy performs appallingly lame foreplay.” Most rams do what’s called a “fore leg stab” in which they raise one front leg and push it into the belly of the ewe. If she stands still and doesn’t move forward, she’s ready and it’s worth using the energy to try to mount her. Redford replaces a fore leg stab with a chest pump that seems designed to put off any but the most desperate of females.
But you can see it works. What I find most interesting about the video is the behavior of the ewe in question, Lady Godiva. (She’s all brown, black face, chocolate colored… watch for her early on trying to get his attention). When I watched the video the second time, I paid more attention to her and realized how active she was in the process. She is no shrinking violet. As a matter of fact it looks like she had to work to get Redford’s attention at one point. Notice how she urinates in a place that he can’t miss, and how often she ‘wags’ her tail (and is the only female doing that–the only other time you see sheep ‘wagging’ their tail is when they are nursing, unless they are slapping off flies.)
And yes, that huge white sack hanging at the back of his belly is exactly what you think it is. No wonder Lady Godiva stood still.