October 28, 2008
In the fall, a young ram’s thoughts turn to mating. We could see this in Firefly’s every action as September transitioned to October. His previously collegial exchanges with the younger ram, Calvin, suddenly became territorial: “Hey bub, take a walk,” punctuated by a firm butt. And the occasional bons mots that he once exchanged with the three ewes now took on a more urgent tone: “Hey babes, wanna see my etchings?”
Firefly began bulking up, wolfing down alfalfa pellets, budging Calvin and the girls out of the way, a ram with a mission. Between meals, he would sidle up to the girls, nibble on their sides and sniff for signs of estrus, ever the attentive Casanova.
Since the onset of Texas’ pleasant autumn, the sheep had hung around the run-in shed that sits in the front of the pasture near our house. But now, Firefly led the troupe to the farthest reaches of the lot, several hundred yards away. You know, the back. The way back. Out of sight. Fade to black.
One morning we were surprised on a walk to find the five sheep gathered in the back, four on their feet and Firefly lying down, his back to the others. He looked terrible! Not only did it seem he had lost weight but when we coaxed him to stand (with our secret weapon, Fig Newtons) he inched forward, walking gingerly. Gradually he made his way back and plopped down, his back to the others once again. We were anxious with worry. Next day, more of the same. He wanted nothing to do with the ewes. The following day, same thing. Each time we checked on him, his eyes looked strong, he was eating fine, but he had no interest in the others. What was going on?
We checked with the breeder and it turns out Firefly is doing what rams have done during mating season from time immemorial. After the annual ram-ewe dance, the males basically opt out of the relationship for a bit. Men! Firefly just vants to be alone, thank you.
Today, for the first time in more than a week, Firefly happily joined the others on their morning constitutional. We’ll keep an eye on him, of course, but it’s good to know that something that seemed so troubling just a few days ago may just be one more milestone along the path of the circle of life.