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Where a number of rams are kept together outside of the breeding period, they will show no interest in the females. However, when the mating season approaches, the rams will struggle for an order of dominance. Aggressive activity between the rams, although sometime fierce, is not intended to kill the opponent, merely to win dominance and establish the hierarchy.
Introducing a new mature ram to an existing ram group can generate increased aggression and therefore it is wise to pen the ram group relatively tightly so as to provide a safe environment in which the jostling for dominance can be carried out, without sufficient room for backing off and charging. Alternatively, introducing a new bloodline for breeders can be achieved with less aggression by bringing in a ram lamb which will not pose the same threats or generate the same aggression as will a mature ram.
Blocking can be observed amongst rams that are unfamiliar and will not confront each other. The encounters are therefore inconclusive with rams standing side by side, head to tail or head to head, for sometimes relatively long periods, nudging and hooking each other in the flanks until they tire.
Rams’ horn displays
Rams interact with each other largely through horn displays where the size of the horns is very important. As rams mature they will display to other rams in three possible ways:
Presenting horns: Presenting horns occurs between rams particularly after a clash. Rams raise and turn their heads to one side, thus presenting the greatest mass of horns to their opponent. The rams remain still and take time to assess each other’s horn size. The rams with the smaller horns will back away and dominance of the other ram will be established.
Low stretch: Horns are displayed with a lowered head which is turned very similar as in presenting horns.
The twist: Rams display the twist as an intensified low stretch and this is accompanied by the ram flicking his tongue in and out whilst he utters a low growl. If he is standing behind a ewe or a subordinate ram he will be likely to push his horns into the other’s flank and may continue by mounting.
Usually occurring where a subordinate ram challenges a dominant ram, the clash is a sophisticated piece of behaviour whereby dominance is asserted or challenged. Each ram musters all his force to deliver as hard a blow as possible to the opposing ram’s skull and that force is gathered as each ram steps back, prior to charging. In primitive breeds, including Loaghtans, rams will also lift their front quarters clear of the ground so as to achieve maximum impact with the increased force of gravity.
Whilst the structure of the skull has evolved so as to cushion such blows and brain injury is rare, broken necks can occur. Most of the damage is sustained by the head, horns and neck.
A period of review, although this may be momentary, follows the clash during which there is an assessment of damage sustained, whilst judging the relative size of the other ram’s horns and likely outcome of further contact.
Four-horned rams will clash in the same way save for where the horns point forward in which case dominance is asserted or challenged by side flicks of the horns onto the other’s flank. Four-horned rams with horns pointing forward are considered to be less aggressive and therefore more easily handled than two-horned rams, but rams are to be respected at all times, whatever their horn configuration!