Sunday, January 27, 2008

What's Wrong with this Picture?

This was the general scene in the main sheep pen for at least five minutes after I released the ewes to eat their breakfast of alfalfa hay along the fence. Note that two ewes are oblivious to the tasty treats...too busy deciding who's top ewe.
The ewes are Tailor (grey, on the left) and Perfle (white, on the right)...both good, productive Lincoln crosses. I watched for several minutes as they butted--hard!--and shoved one another around. Then walked to the house for the camera, without too much hurry. Sure enough, they were still at it when I got back.
Perfle has been the "spokesheep" of the flock at least since last summer. There's always one ewe that's the bosslady, signaling when to rise and when to move from one area to another. She also is often the first to come up to the gate when there's treats, or to stand there and yell at me if the mineral feeder needs refilled. The bosslady role tends to be filled by one ewe for years.
A ram has some influence on the social structure of the flock, but not a lot. The bosslady is the real leader, the matriarch. Nevertheless, the ram's one-way trip last week (part of him becoming yummy lasagna as I type this) probably opened up the social hierarchy of the flock for "discussion".
I suspect Tailor has been challenging Perfle's position in the flock, and Perfle decided to put her in her place this morning. Though there was quite a bit of circling, mostly Perfle had her back to theflock, and was relentlessly keeping Tailor away from the flock and the food. They would back up a couple steps, then slam foreheads together...not the 20 paces back and charge of fighting rams, but enough force to make a sickening thud each time the two ewes collided. They would shake their heads a little, almost imperceptibly, then slam each other again. After a few frontal slams, one would sidestep, and they'd throw their heads at each other sideways, then shoulder each other around in circles.
Eventually they worked their way nearer the flock, and after a few last shoves (mainly Perfle slamming Tailor) they burrowed in with the rest of the flock.
I'll be interested to see how this plays out over the next few days, and in the long run.

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