With the beginning of spring Peter and I were anticipating two events: the start of lambing, and our annual escape to New Orleans for French Quarter Festival. We had moved our handsome ram, Osman, into the ewes’ pasture in November, hoping to start lambing in mid to late March. But as we approached our April 6 departure date, we were beginning to wonder when the scheduled lambing season would begin. True, we had had a very abbreviated lambing season running from late November to early January, a totally unplanned one which resulted from Osman having jumped the fence on a couple of occasions in June and July, 2016, where he obviously frolicked with a select coterie of ewes. We anticipated, because of the 10 or 12 lambs that resulted from Osman’s night raids, that there would be a considerably less intense Spring lambing season when it ultimately got underway.
Indeed, a couple of weeks ago we were beginning to get a little impatient and concerned. We knew several ewes were pregnant, but only a few were “showing” – i.e., waddling with bodies distended and udders filling to the size of soccer balls. But our minds were shifting from pastoral concerns to R & R in the Big Easy.
Then, last Monday, April 3, in the midst of our preparations for departure, the much anticipated lambing finally began, quietly, with the appearance of a single white capped black ramling. By Wednesday night, things heated up in the barn as the little one was joined by two sets of twins.. Peter learned of this bonanza from Daniel, our farm helper, Thursday morning as he was preparing to drive to the airport. Yet as he, with great relief, drove out of the driveway leaving all the lamb care behind for “the City that Care Forgot,” he spotted in the Lasher Avenue pasture as he passed by yet another ewe with a new lamb.
Nor was that the end of it. After Jet Blue unceremoniously cancelled our flight out Thursday afternoon, and we failed to find a replacement flight the next day, we returned to the farm, straw hats in hand, to find yet one more set of twins and a single, followed by another lamb on Saturday and more twins on Sunday. Instead of standing at the French Market listening to Tuba Skinny, we spent the morning tagging lambs, recording their identifying information, and banding the ramlings that would not be kept for breeding. We did our best to make this our festive event, inviting our new neighbors, Adam and Annette, in to help and make it into something of a lamb cuddlefest.
But still we were not done.
Monday morning, one of our older ewes, Nilufer, who had herself been pulled from her dying mother’s womb some ten years ago, becoming a bottle-fed favorite, shocked us by giving birth to beautiful healthy triplets, two black and one white with black spots. Triplets are a rare event for our Karakuls. Since then, two more sets of twins and another single have been born. And the end is not yet in sight.
This arrival of twenty lambs in ten days was something of a record for Turkana Farms. In past seasons we would more typically have lambing over three or four months, with breaks of a couple of weeks or so between bunches. Obviously, this concentration of births requires that the ewes (who menstruate for 24 to 36 hours every 17 days) be cycling in close synchronization, not uncommon in herd animals (and for that matter among close social groups of humans). But the rush of births also required a highly efficient and concentrated couple of weeks of impregnation by Osman, our ram. His ability to impregnate at least 15 ewes in about a week I found rather awe-inspiring. Granted, he is named after Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, who with his harem of concubines was rather awe-inspiring himself.
Contemplating the Lambalanche, I wondered whether this kind of concentration of births was because Osman was exceptionally “horny.” I wondered whether “rampage” might be the term to describe what Osman did. In fact, being the verbally oriented person I am, I next wondered about the etymologies of these terms: Does the term “horny” derive from comparisons with rams? Is a “rampage” called that because it’s something that “rams” do? The way arbitrage is something arbiters do and espionage is something spies “(espions”) do?
My conclusions: Yes, Osman was undoubtedly quite horny. For several months, I recalled, we had kept him confined with a few young ramlings in a separate field from the rest of the flock. He spent his days in exile gazing through the fence at all those lovely ewes, and in fact regularly shadowed their movements as they moved on the opposite side of the fence. He unquestionably experienced a very high level of sexual frustration. (Oh, the frustration of desires in sight but out of reach, like our trip to New Orleans – this dynamic I know.) Confining him in this way we apparently stoked the fires of his libido several notches above the level of our past rams, who were not isolated from the flock and thus had ongoing easy access to casual sex, resulting in a more leisurely rate of impregnation.
Osman’s performance, as I learned, did not, however,make him unusual or prodigious as rams go. The general presumption is that a mature ram can service three to four ewes in a day, and a flock of 35 to 50 ewes overall. It seems that we were finally adopting the successful “isolation and temptation” methods used by many other shepherds to induce “horniness.”
And yes, the word “horny” as a descriptive term for being lustful or sexually aroused most likely derives from observing horned male animals like rams. This usage is first seen as describing a human condition, i.e. as a term for human male arousal, in the late 19th century. In this century it has come to be used to describe that state for both sexes. The use of “horny” to describe sexual arousal may seem contemporary, but it was preceded by a seventeenth century expression to the same effect: being “on the horn.” Some have speculated that the derivation goes back to Greek mythology with its half-goat half-man god Pan and other satyr-like creatures that followed Dionysus.
The adoption of the term horny to characterize a ram is understandable based on both activity and appearance. If you check out Osman’s photo, below, magnificent horns are certainly his dominant feature. He is literally horny. I would go a little further to suggest that close observers of rams would likely see a ram, when in a state of sexual deprivation, paying great attention to his horns. During his period of confinement, for instance, Osman seemed constantly to be rubbing his horns against walls and fences. It seemed he actually had an “itch” that needed to be scratched, and that itch was somehow felt in the horns. That itch seemed to diminish to a substantial degree after he gained access to the ewes.
What about terms that might otherwise seem to relate to rams? Words like “rampage,” “rampant,” and “rambunctious”? The words certainly do describe some ram behavior. One early ram we had, the infamous Ryan, certainly did rampage, demolishing fences and gates, a cold frame, two barn doors, and on several occasions knocking Peter down, thereby earning a trip to the slaughterhouse. Osman himself got pretty ornery in his period of sexual deprivation, often charging us when we entered his pasture. Both rams could also be rampant, in many senses of the word: in the heraldic usage, which refers to beasts rearing up on their hind legs; in the standard English usage , describing an unrestrained quality;, and the colloquial usage referring to sexual arousal. Both rams could also be rambunctious, in the sense of exhibiting uncontrolled exuberance.
To my surprise, however, I was unable to find any suggestion that the word “ram” formed part of the root or origin of these terms. The word “ram” comes from an identical term for male sheep in Dutch and German. And the English verb “to ram” and the noun ram as in battering ram derive from these Dutch and German antecedents. But the words “rampage,” “rampant,” and “rambunctious”, according to the etymological sources I was able to find, come by different circuitous routes from the old French verb, “ramper” which means to creep or to climb. This French word became a Middle English verb (around 1300) to “ramp”, or rave, rush wildly about, which in turn became “rampage” It also in that century became a heraldic term “rampand,” describing beasts rearing on their hind legs, which in turn became “rampant” in modern English. “Ramp” also became “rumbustious” in 18th century England, a term that was transformed by a Boston newspaper in 1830 to “rambunctious” to describe a state of uncontrolled exuberance.
I’m quite sure that when we finally introduced Osman to the pasture where the ewes grazed, he was neither rampaging nor rambunctious. The ewes he encountered certainly signaled their readiness by coyly squatting and peeing for him as he sexily arched his head back and curled (snarled) his upper lip, seductively sidling up to them, each in turn for a consummation that is typically quiet, methodical, and decidedly consensual. And to our great relief, once he had had his time with his ewes, his itch having been scratched, Osman became considerably less aggressive and threatening to us.
The consequence of Osman’s horniness and rampant state is now here for you to see, twenty new lambs, a veritable kindergarten class, cavorting around the greening pasture and barn. We invite your visits.