A Hands-Off Approach To Safely Living with a Ram 

An aggressive ram can present a serious safety risk for the shepherd, so follow these tips to protect yourself against injury from your sheep.

by Jana Wilson
PHOTO: Paul Taton/Unsplash

Have you got a sweet ram you raised from a lamb that suddenly butts your back or charges you? Make no mistake: This is a dangerous situation. Shepherds should always stay aware of their safety around a ram.

I often decide what I’ll write about based on what I am interested in or what I hear others talking about. Sometimes I see a lot of topics from a Facebook group, my personal contacts or friends of those contacts.  

One topic I see quite often is the issue of a ram becoming aggressive toward humans after having been perfectly friendly.  

In many cases, the ram has been part of the flock since it was a young lamb. The owners petted and handled the cute little guy because he was “so sweet.” Suddenly, that sweet boy starts butting the person when they turn their back or the animal begins running at them.

The owners write a post on Facebook wondering why their formerly friendly male is suddenly not so friendly. 

A Frightful Tale

I have heard stories of farmers being injured or even killed by a ram.

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One story I heard from a sheep owner was particularly chilling. She was in her barn feeding and watering and a ram began charging her. He cornered her away from the gate. Her border collie happened to be with her, and the dog lept into a barn stall and held off the ram so the woman could escape.  

Read more: Flush feeding maximizes sheep breeding success.

Causes of Aggression

Your ram may indeed be more docile and may not seem to pose a threat to the keeper’s safety. But it’s important to know that any ram can turn on a human or another animal. According to The Ohio State University Sheep Team,Aggressive behaviors are associated with normal sexual behavior and highest during the breeding season.” 

Aggressive behavior can be anything from pawing or stamping the ground as a human approaches to nibbling, head butting or charging. 

Sometimes the worst aggression offenders are those cute little lambs that may be bottle lambs or simply very friendly. Because the ram is overly comfortable with a human, he may become more aggressive with his owners. That’s why it’s really best not to pet and handle ram lambs, instead simply letting them socialize with the flock. 

It can be especially harmful if the young ram has been petted or scratched on the head. Later on, this may lead to the ram taking that pat as a challenge. And honestly you don’t want a 180-pound animal charging at you out of the blue or when your back is turned. 

Also read: Oh Boy! 7 FAQs About Rams

What to Do

So first of all, if you decide to raise a ram lamb, don’t spend a lot of time handling him. Let him stay off by himself or with the other ram lambs. The folks at the OSU Sheep Team recommend keeping that distance, as otherwise the ram will not develop a healthy respect of their humans.   

Once your ram has begun breeding, his behavior could change. Even if he does not seem aggressive at first, you need to be aware that he could be at any time.   

And what do you do if a ram is coming at you? Well, first of all, always be aware of where the gate or other exit is when you go into an area with an adult ram. Some people have been known to successfully yell and threaten the charging ram enough to stop it. 

But once your ram charges, he probably will only increase his aggressive behavior toward you, so stay vigilant about your personal safety. 

I personally never go into a pen with a ram unless I have my border collie, Dash, with me. We kept one ram for two years of breeding after getting him as a lamb. However, after that (and a couple of foot stomps every time I came near), I realized he might need to go.

And so, we sent him to the processor. Now our farm keeps two growing ram lambs we are using for breeding this year. 

I recommend not overreacting and getting rid of your ram. However you do need to keep a respectful distance from him, no matter how docile he has been in the past. And if your ram is especially aggressive, you may want to consider some different genetics.

This type of behavior can be inherited. 

We’ll be looking for lambs at our place in April and May. But happy lambing to all of you who are undergoing that fun right now. Stay warm! 

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