Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Impregnating sheep in Provence

It's early May and sheep and lambs are still much in evidence. My neighbours in the nearby hamlet woke one morning this week to find all the sheep had trundled over the string barrier around their grazing land and, followed by their lambs, had wandered into the hamlet where they were busy devouring flowers and greenery.

"I was making coffee, early" one neighbour told me "and I was still half-asleep. I glanced out of the window and saw about 30 sheep right there, eating my plants at one end, fertilising the ground at the other."

He called the shepherd, Antoine, on his mobile, and said "The sheep escaped again. What shall I do?" Antoine said "Take a bucket, wave it at them and make a sort of clucking noise to get their attention." The neighbour did.

"I've got their attention" he said. "Now what?"
"Start walking back to the pen" Antoine said.
He did.
"Are they following you?" Antoine asked.
"OK. Now you're at the pen, right? So lift the string-fencing up and duck under it. They'll follow you. They think there's grain in the bucket."
My neighbour followed the instructions and the sheep duly filed back in under the string. Once it was secured, again, they settled down to bask in the early morning sunlight.

Antoine appeared the same day with a new troupeau. This lot number about 100 and around 8 are rams. The idea is - surprise surprise - that the rams impregnate the unsuspecting sheep who are just moseying about hoovering up the grass.

I stopped to look at them yesterday and this morning and noticed something quite bizarre. A ram will approach a female from behind and try to mount her. Quite often the female simply moves away. What I noticed is a peculiar little routine that precedes a successful mating. Sometimes a ram approaches a female and appears to lean forward towards her right ear. She turns her head and it looks for all the world as if he then 'says' something, she bows her head - and he mounts. Call me daft but I saw this numerous times and where the little exchange took place, the ram mounted and mated. Where it didn't, the sheep walked off.

I told neighbours about this and one of them said the ram was tricking the sheep. "He calls her from behind" he said "and she turns her head round. Then he says 'Look at that. Look at that lovely daisy down there.' The sheep bends down and, oop, he mounts. It's courtship..."

I don't know what it is, but I certainly saw it numerous times. I'll tell Antoine next time we cross on the track that he should have a successful sheep pregnancy rate. The rams are typical French males - sexy and seductive.

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