If you’ve owned sheep for any period, you’ve probably noticed how keen they are on headbutting.
This behavior is especially common in rams, but ewes certainly aren’t immune to it!
Sheep often start butting when they’re young. They ram other sheep and sometimes even their human owners as a way of playing. But sometimes, this behavior is also used to show dominance and aggression or to protect themselves or their herd from predators.
If your sheep are headbutting you or each other frequently, you might be feeling puzzled or wondering how to curb this behavior before things get dangerous.
Keep reading to learn more about why sheep headbutt so much and how to discourage this behavior or at least protect yourself and your other sheep from an especially aggressive animal.
What Makes Sheep Headbutt Each Other and You?
The first step to fixing any problem is understanding it.
Here are the top three reasons sheep butt and ram:
- Protecting themselves
- Asserting Dominance
Let’s walk through these one at a time.
Like other prey animals, sheep behave defensively a lot of the time.
If they can’t distance themselves from a potential predator, they feel unsafe and are left to attack.
This is why your new sheep, especially the rams, might be headbutting you when you enter their pasture.
Your fences prevent them from escaping, so they feel the need to protect themselves another way.
So, they headbutt.
This is also why ewes will butt at humans or other sheep.
Mothers tend to be very protective over their lambs, especially for the initial few days after birth.
So, even if you’ve raised the adult sheep since birth, their instincts for defense against predators could have them distrusting you.
With time, they will begin to feel safer with you, and the behavior will likely decrease.
But in the meantime, you have to keep yourself safe.
For new mothers, it might be best to keep a bit of distance between ewe and human for a limited period.
Obviously, you have to feed and care for your animals.
But don’t be too imposing.
Nervous animals get combative pretty quickly sometimes.
Like most male farm animals, rams like to fight to the top of the social order.
If you have a pair of rams living together in one pasture, they probably get into headbutting sessions from time to time.
Sheep assert their dominance with aggressive behavior in general, though, and this type of fighting isn’t entirely limited to rams.
Ewes aren’t as likely to be the frequent starters of stand-offs.
But they might headbutt other sheep or you if they need to prove their dominance.
Conflict over your backyard farm’s social order is more likely when you add strange lambs into your herd.
Ewes with lambs butt protectively.
But rams around alien lambs are likely to feel threatened or triggered.
The dominant animal doesn’t always care about the demeanor of non-aggressive animals.
They simply want to prove they’re in charge.
A lamb who likes to headbutt you or another lamb might just be playing around!
The best way to tell the difference between an aggressive sheep and a playful one is by watching how they act just before they butt.
A protective or aggressive animal will get the best running start possible, so their attack is as powerful as possible.
A baby ram who jumps around a bit and then butts at your hand or side is more likely interested in being your friend.
Still, it’s unsafe to encourage headbutting.
Even playful ramming is painful, especially coming from a larger sheep.
Headbutting isn’t limited to other animals and people, either.
They’ll even target fences and trees to a certain extent.
Further Reading: Sheep eating and damaging fruit trees (and how to help stop it)
Protecting Yourself and Your Herd
There are many reasons butting needs to be controlled as soon as possible.
For one thing, a baby being attacked hours after birth by an older sheep can prove fatal.
Even if lambs aren’t orphans from birth, their mothers may not be able to fight and protect them until some time has passed.
Displays of dominance on weaker animals are extremely unsafe!
So, here’s our first tip:
Separate aggressive animals from vulnerable ones.
Just as we keep distance between our herd animals and their natural predators, we must protect them from one another.
Keeping adequate distance between ewe and ram is a simple and effective measure for safety.
It’s especially important during breeding season when you don’t want your ewe to be bred.
A breeding ram often gets very aggressive, which might cause them to start headbutting more frequently and harm your other animals.
We recommend you always separate newborn lambs and their mothers from any rams on your farm.
But this is especially important if you have a ram that you know gets aggressive around other animals.
If you don’t have the space for this, utilize a breeding program where a ram comes in from another farm.
This way, your animals will be safe when they aren’t actively breeding.
Whether you raise rams, ewes, or both, this step is crucial:
Do not encourage headbutting!
Sure, it may be cute watching lambs roughhouse with one another when they’re young.
But these behaviors quickly stop being cute and become dangerous.
Even without horns, an animal head can pack a punch.
Don’t let your sheep get used to butting you or each other.
This is especially important if you have children who like to spend time with your herd!
Even a playful headbutt can seriously hurt a young child.
To protect yourself, your family, and your other animals, discourage butting!
You won’t be able to completely weed out instinctive dominance behavior.
But raising the friendliest sheep possible starts with discouraging butting.
Don’t be afraid to move rams off your farm and sell them if you have to.
Safety always comes first.
The goal is to keep healthy sheep while staying healthy ourselves and protecting our families!
Related Reading: How to handle broken sheep and ram horns
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