A substantial Soay ram horn break with no ill effects

Nothing beats luck when it comes to using photos to make a point about raising Soay sheep, or anything else for that matter. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago when I was putting together the update about annual ram horn growth, I stumbled across pictures of our ram Hesket taken in 2013, about a year ago. You may have seen Hesket on our “for sale” page. He’s a terrific ram, good personality, successful breeder, and for several years had about the most eye-catching horn set imaginable — long wide sweeping horns with a dramatic back-curl on each horn.

Saltmarsh Hesket, breeding ram for sale

Hesket as shown on our “for sale” pages

Just in case you missed him on our farm website …

Hesket managed to get through five years of rut and its attendant head-butting without injuring his horns or suffering any other ill effects. And then one day last summer, the season when the rams are almost as mellow as wethers, we came out to the pasture one morning to find a big chunk of his right horn gone, with no indication of a fight, no bloody stump, apparently just broke off.

Soay ram with broken horn

Hesket with a big chunk of his right horn gone missing

I never really thought about taking a picture of Hesket minus his horn chunk, but a few days ago we were out checking for any horns that have shifted during this year’s 2014 horn growth, and I decided it was high time to capture his new look.

Once I looked at the photo up close and saw how cleanly the horn had broken off, curiosity got the better of me and I went back to see what the other pre-break photos looked like and whether they might shed light on what happened. Have a look at what I found: three pictures that to my eye show a fissure, or splitting of horn layers, or some sort of “crack” developing right where the break took place. The first two pictures were taken in January 2013 and the third one in May 2013. Click on them to see a larger view, easier on the eyes:

Mind you, there is absolutely nothing we could have done to prevent that horn from breaking off, short of taping it up, I guess. If you have ever put colored electrical tape on your heritage sheep’s horns to mark them for whatever reason, you know how long the tape stays on a mature Soay ram’s horns.

Ratty tape on Soay ram horns

Tape on Soay ram’s horns usually stays intact for only a few days, especially during rut

Let’s just say your hair will not even begin to think about going grey in the time it takes these fellows to rid themselves of such fimpy accessories.

Soay ram with ragged horn

How about this for a gnarly-looking horn? This is not Hesket, by the way. This ram’s horn appears solid and has not broken off — go figure

True confession time: we do not look at our rams’ horns every day, and neither Steve nor Shawn nor I noticed anything amiss about Hesket’s horns. And besides, we have rams with worse looking horns and this is the first time we have had such a big break. Not too defensive, am I?

The good news is that Hesket is none the worse for wear because of his broken horn. He is still handsome, still has great genes, and is still eager to continue breeding on another farm. One of these days, now that I have taken the archival photo of his broken horn, we may file his horn and smooth it off. When we have to trim horns that are impinging on a ram’s neck or jaw, we usually trim both horns so there will be a semblance of symmetry. I don’t know about Hesket. I really cannot imagine cutting his other long curled horn when we do not have to. If you have an opinion on this dilemma, please feel free to let us know.

For now …