We’ve got a new face in the flock here at EEC Forest Stewardship. “King” is a 2018 born St. Croix ram from Yelm WA. What?!- not a Katahdin? Well, the Katahdin breed came out of St. Croix genetics, so reintroducing them to our flock through this ram for a few years is a fresh boost of genetics to reaffirm certain standards we’re going for. King is still a hair breed sheep- meaning he sheds each Spring. He’s also naturally poled, like the ladies- we avoid horns for safety. Though I did embrace it with my goats, I’ve begun to shy away from such risks as I am usually handling my animals alone, and don’t want another potential hazard if I can help it. I’m not a fan of disbudding or docking– which seems counter productive to good old domestic selection. Luckily for me- the Katahdin and St. Corix are both naturally poled (no horns) and have tails which do not need docking. They are also naturally resistant to parasites and hoof rot. These are all great characteristics of a domestic livestock breed.
King is showing great promise in another stellar feature of La Corix sheep- he’s got a chill attitude. Just watch how he handles hanging out with our Kangal (Anatolian Shepherd) Gill for the first time. Many sheep would panic and seeing such a large carnivore at their heels, but King takes it in stride, though he’s never been with an LGD before in his life. It’s amazing how quickly their instincts arrived at a mutual agreement to live and let live- at least for now. It is not recommended to introduce rams to young pups- in fact, it’s recommended that Anatolians not begin working with livestock directly until they are two years of age. If a pup gets introduced too early, he’s libel to rough house with the sheep, and potentially get killed by a ram who will not tolerate harassment of his harem. Timing is crucial with any introduction, and livestock are no exception. I’ve learned over the years to take new relationship building on the farm very seriously, especially inter-species socializing.
When King arrived Saturday afternoon, I started by putting a thick collar on him for safe handling, and then tested a tether right outside the house where I could keep an eye on him. Gill was alert barking from the barn down below, seeing a new animal on the land and showing good concern for the new animal. King has never been tethered before, but stood patiently, enjoying his fresh grass pasture and paying no mind to the barking. He was hesitant with my approaches, but I brought some treats and did not pressure him into an encounter, I let him come to me, sniff, lick, then allowed him to back away and return to grazing. Every time I engage with the ram, I remain facing him, use his name, remain respectful of his body language (when he backs away, I keep my distance to respect his space). Gill offered the same respect, and when he did start to come too close, King stamped his foot and lowered his head, sending Gill away. It was amazing to watch these two species pick up on each other immediately.
The introduction to Gill came on day three. Day two, King was invited into the barn, to his own small enclosure, to meet the ewes and Gill behind a safe fence. He was calm and curious, bright eyed and brilliant. The ladies sniffed and cooed over this new stud, and he was eager to meet and greet through the fence. Gill was relaxed and happy to be in his den, and got a good smell of King when he came in to know it was just another sheep in the herd. After a successful two nights of pen acclimation, we put King out with Gill on his tether with supervision. The ewes were let out on the other side of the fence, and you can hear the bell ringing nearby in the video above. Gill checked the area and hung out with King for a bit, then went about his business making the rounds of his territory while King enjoyed some Douglas Fir branch tips. St. Croix are browsers, like Katahdin. Yet another quality we’re selecting for here at EEC. Blackberry is not grass, so we need animals that like shrubs as well as grass. Most wool sheep are strictly grazers, so they would not take out blackberry on this farm- and we’d have to shear each spring.
These are still early days of introduction, but I have confidence in the characteristics of these breeds and what they are selected for- ease of handling, multi-purpose, and resiliency. King will most likely become more protective of the ewes when he is in rut, which is just the nature of breeding. When working with any ram, you have to remain vigilant. Rams got their name for the physical action of ramming others. It is a grave mistake to turn your back on a ram, even a gentle one, as they could intellectually charge for any number of reasons. By remaining face to face with the animal you are telling it that you are aware of his presence, and respectful of his “majesty”. In return, the ram will form trust with you, and be more at ease. I’m sure King will teach me many more lessons. He’s been a pleasure to work with so far, and I look forward to getting to know his personality and behavior with the ewes later this summer. For now, as a precaution, he’s being kept separate from the ewes who are still heavily pregnant and would not welcome a love sick ram on their backs. Stay tuned for lambing updates, and ram work ahead.