I have debated on whether to post this story because I don’t want people to get the wrong impression about Icelandic Rams. I have decided to go ahead though because this incident is part of the reality of living on a farm and working around livestock. Near the end of October, we had all of our rams and wethers together and separated from the ewes. In this group we had about 20 of this year’s ram lambs and 3 adult rams. Even though it was the beginning of rut, the lambs showed no signs of change. The adults, on the other hand had all begun to exhibit that familiar “ram smell” and were being a little more aggressive toward each other. I knew that they can be unpredictable this time of year so I was taking a few extra precautions to avoid unnecessary contact with them.
I needed to do some work in the barn so while they were all outside, I quietly slipped in and closed the door to keep them out while I worked. When I was done, I knew that they would all come running when I opened the barn door because that generally meant they were about to be fed. In order to avoid an unwanted encounter, I took a few small flakes of alfalfa out and threw them into the ram’s pasture. I thought that would keep them occupied while I got the door opened back up. My plan seemed to be working as they eagerly dove into the alfalfa so I went back into the barn to slide the door back open. From inside the barn, I peeked out and saw that they were all happily munching away so I decided to open the door. I slid it open and tried to latch it but there was some hay in the way that wouldn’t let the latch snap into position. I went about getting that fixed and wasn’t too concerned because the sheep were distracted, or so I thought. Just as I was about to get the latch snapped, I realized that some of the lambs had started to head into the barn. I was keeping my eye out for the 3 big guys while still feverishly working on the latch. I saw Goth and Eli come in, pass behind me and move over to see if I had left anything in the feeders. They seemed completely unaware of my presence so I thought, “great… now where’s Vidar?”. At that moment the latch finally snapped onto position and I turned back into the barn to figure out where Vidar had gotten off to. Just as I turned, I saw him out of the corner of my eye as he delivered a crushing blow to the side of my right thigh.
I am not exactly sure what happened in the next few seconds, but I was quite sure I didn’t want him to hit me again. I rushed him and grabbed him and the next thing I knew, I had him on his back and was basically lying on top of him. I reached up and grabbed his nose so he couldn’t breathe, all the while yelling at him. I have no recollection of what I said. Just a few days earlier, Tracy had read an article about how to train young rams to treat their handlers with respect. One of the methods described was to flip the young ram on his back after he had misbehaved and to hold him there for a few second til he got the idea of who is boss. If that didn’t work, the article said one could cover the rams mouth and nose to prevent them from breathing for a few seconds to further demonstrate who was in control. Apparently, that article had made an impression because in my instinctive reaction to Vidar’s head butt, that’s exactly what I had done. So now he’s on his back unable to breathe, with me on top preventing him from moving and screaming at him like a banshee. After a few seconds, I let go and pushed myself back from him. He was lying there on his back all four legs straight as a arrow and sticking straight up in the air. With his front toes, the was making little peace signs. Too late for that pal. I was back on my feet before I realized he couldn’t get up. In the scuffle, he had ended up cast against a fence panel and was unable to roll to right himself. I proceeded to slowly climb out of the pen and looked around to see if any one else wanted some. The rest of the sheep were in about a 10 foot circle around Vidar looking at either me or him and all with a concerned look on their faces. Once I was out of the pen I walked over to where Vidar was stuck. I took a few seconds to composed myself as he looked up from his vulnerable position. As I bent over the rail to flip him over, I said softly, “Don’t mess with me buddy.”
I learned several things that day. The old adage that you NEVER turn your back on a ram is to be taken quite seriously. The whole incident was ultimately my fault for not taking better precautions to avoid an encounter. I also learned that even though these rams are only 200 pounds or so, they can hit like a linebacker. My leg was still sore 5 days later. Finally I learned that rams aren’t the only ones who have primal instincts. Most of what happened is a complete blur, it is normally difficult for Tracy and I together to get Vidar on his back yet I did it alone in about 2 seconds flat! I was screaming at him the whole time and I rarely raise my voice with any of our animals. It took me about 15 minutes to come down from that adrenalin fueled state and relax again. So all told it was a good learning experience for us both. Vidar, by the way, seems to look at me differently these days and in the month and a half since the incident he’s been a perfect gentleman. I doubt he wants to let that particular genie out of the bottle ever again.