This mode of herd growth suits me just fine, but the Real Doctor assures me that there is another way. Strange as it is to me as a microbiologist, the Real Doctor tells me that you can both increase the number of animals and reap the benefits of genetic recombination by combining haploid cells from two animals—but you need male animals to do this. I admit, I have had some reservations about this way to grow a herd. Consultation with textbooks has reassured me about the biological plausibility, but the male animals themselves give me pause.
First, there’s some terminology: male goats are bucks, not billys. Goat people give you the hairy eyeball if you call male goats billys. So, bucks. Bucks are weird. They have some behaviors that simply are not fit for polite society, impolite society, or any human society. There is a medical term, hircismus, describing “offensive odor of the axillae,” or foul body odor, and tellingly, the word is derived from a Latin word for a he-goat (sorry, buck. I keep forgetting). Bucks have an earned reputation for single-minded lechery. And, they butt. One of the contractors who worked here related the story of a friend of his who wanted to see what butting was like. So, he donned a football helmet and challenged a buck. One bop, and the contractor’s friend was k.o.’d.
Well, we don’t have just one buck, we now have two bucks. There’s Guy Fawkes, the seasoned pro, and Arion, the naïve yearling.
|Guy (left) and Arion (right).|
Then, there’s rams. With a polled, fifteen-kilogram buck that comes up to your knees, there’s not too much to be afraid of. However, rams are scary, and anyone who works with rams knows that you have to watch your back when you’re with them, even cute little Shetland rams. They lack the bucks’ rich bouquet of personality quirks—everything seems to be about butting.
We now have two rams, a pair for the same reason we have two bucks. We got them a week ago, much sooner than we were planning on acquiring any rams. However, a friend had a ram with excellent genes, but just didn’t get along with any of her other animals—so, as long as our friend can use his services, he’s ours. Also, our friend has a buddy who is shutting down her sheep operation, and she had a really nice ram, and another ewe, going at a fire sale price, so we picked up both of those animals too.
Rams, like any ruminants, need at least one companion. However, they also need to know their place in the herd hierarchy, even if the herd is only two. So, at first, they spent most of their time butting each other. We were advised to keep them in a small pen rather than an open pasture, so they couldn’t gain too much momentum before impact, so I built them a 5-by-8 pen and closed them in. After that, I couldn’t watch; I don’t like violence, and even though I knew it was their program and that they weren’t just built for it, but they needed it, I found it disturbing enough to turn my stomach. Going to bed at night, it sounded like distant artillery—a steady, muffled “whhhump… … …whhhump…” that would go on for a half hour, then pause, then resume. It continued in the morning.
After a couple of days, the rams seem to have sorted out the general terms of their social contract (Glenfiddich is the boss, Pirate is the underling; both have the scars of negotiation on their heads).
There are still occasional collisions to iron
out the details of their relationship, and we’ve been advised to keep them
penned up for a week or more to make sure that everything is resolved. It’s been a week, and for the last few days
their efforts have been less focused on damaging each other, and more
concentrated on damaging their pen. They
have smashed the door of their pen three times, and I’ve spent a lot of time
and hardware reinforcing it. Instead of
waking up to the noise of a distant artillery duel, I woke up this morning to
the sound of splintering wood.
|Glenfiddich (left) and Pirate (right) in their momentum-limiting pen. Blow up the picture to see the battle scars.|
This doesn’t endear them to me; I don’t appreciate my work being trashed, and I don’t appreciate having to fix it in the cold and dark. It’s especially unnerving to do work on the inside of the pen when the rams are pawing at the ground and looking at you as if they’re wondering exactly which of your ribs they’d like to break on their scarred foreheads. So, while I like the ewes and does and most of the chooks, and I am even getting along well enough with the boy goats—no, with the bucks—the rams are still a problem for me. I hope they calm down, and that we can at least achieve détente. And we should see lambs and kids ere too long, and they are loveable.