One of the hardest decisions we have to make is which animals we keep and which we butcher. But sometimes, the animal himself (and usually it is a “him”) makes that decision a lot easier for us. A prime example was Buddy, the Icelandic ram. He had been kept in line by Star, the alpha ram—but when Star died of bloat, Buddy became incorrigible. I couldn’t turn my back on him without risking getting pummeled, and it was impossible to tend to other members of the flock. If I even tried to trim a sheep’s hooves, Buddy would launch himself at me. It was with great pleasure that I took Buddy to the butcher.
I was reluctant about keeping any ram lamb from Buddy’s line for breeding, but his lamb Coco Puff had too beautiful a fleece to turn down. Setting aside my animus for Buddy, we kept Coco Puff as a breeding ram.
I intended to limit his breeding, and use “Pinch” (so-named because we brought him in as a pinch-hitter for Star) as the primary flock sire. Pinch was an absolutely magnificent animal, with a nice disposition…but he died of worms in the summer of 2006. Fortunately, he produced this beautiful ram lamb before he left us.
We finally got the pasture subdivided for rotational grazing in the summer of 2006, and when the fall breeding season arrived I separated the flock. Most ewes went in one section, with Pinch’s son. The remainder went with Coco Puff in another section. However, Coco Puff soon began exhibiting behavioral problems. He started rubbing and pressing hard against all the fences, searching and straining for weak portions. He squeezed under the fence in several places, forcing me to spend considerable time reinforcing them. Here is an example of what he did to the fences:
Once the fences were iron clad, he tried another tactic: pounding the sheep shelter to bits (The photo above shows what he finally did to it — and the fence). Fortunately, the shelter and fence were sturdy enough to last until the end of breeding season, but everything finally came completely apart earlier this month. I gave up and reunited the flock, hoping that the separation was what had caused his acting out.
No such luck. Yesterday, he began pounding on the other shelter, and today it all started coming down. I had to leave work, collect my tools, and run out in the frigid weather to repair it. I managed to put it back together, but who knows how long it’ll last. Here is what it looked like once I put it back together — note what he did to the shelter on the other side, and to the plywood separating the two shelters (those holes are from his horns).
So, thanks Coco Puff, for making my decision about you all the easier. As soon as we have enough freezer space for 50 pounds of ground ram (basically what Buddy yielded), you’ll be getting yourself a one-way trip to Forrest Meats — and your lambs born this spring will be joining you in the fall. As a breeder, we just can’t keep this kind of a genetic line in our flock…no matter how beautiful the fleece. As I noted above, that’s the toughest part about raising livestock. I’m just glad when the animal makes my decision this easy.