Too Familiar


                They say, “Don’t get too familiar with rams.”

                It is advice we should have heeded. We have had Jumper, Bumper and Thumper for a couple of years now. Jumper is our breeding ram and we have Bumper and Thumper around just to keep him company. Another worthy bit of advice is that you shouldn’t keep a ram alone since it makes them mean.

                We heeded that advice, but Connie and I are suckers for affection, and Bumper has been exceptionally affectionate. When we drop the hay in the feeder he looks at it, but then turns and follows us to the sliding door and offers his head for a rub. He particularly seems to like it when Connie cups her hands over his eyes and strokes up his head.

                But Jumper has lately been out with the brood ewes in the south pasture. And the weather is brisk and those pheromones are in the air. So Bumper and Thumper have been living up to their names and bonking each other on the heads and shoving each other around.

                We have also been letting the ewes graze out on the hay field and the ones that are cycling have been wandering over to get near to the boys in the pen.

                Then it happened. I had just gotten home from a dog trial on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning I had the dogs around for their exercise and was feeding and watering the sheep when Connie came out to lend a hand. She went out to feed Bumper and Thumper. I heard a rumpus, but didn’t know what had happened till Connie came out holding her side and wincing. She asked, “Didn’t you hear me?”

                No I didn’t. I heard something, but I was carrying a load of hay to the hair sheep and the door to the ram’s area was shut. What happened?

                Connie explained that she had given Bumper a rub. He was a bit insistent, but she thought it was enough and she turned to check the water when he flattened her, hitting her with a kidney punch from behind with his head.

                In the house we took a good look at Connie but found no bruising. But her pain only got worse over the next couple of days. She could breathe alright, but coughing and leaning were very painful.

                Today, after morning chores, Connie decided to visit the convenient care center. The doctor ordered x-rays and determined that Bumper had indeed fractured at least one rib.

                Keep breathing deeply. Don’t bind the ribs. Be ready for weeks of discomfort.


                Don’t get too familiar with rams.

                It is indeed wonderful to commune with nature. It is a blessed thing to touch and be touched by God’s beautiful creatures.

                But we must also respect. We must understand that all things do not come to us on our terms. We must be open to the otherness of the other.

                Real bears are not Teddy Bears. Birds cease to be birds when we cage them.

                For a ram—a real live ram—it is not an act of violence to rare back on its legs and crash head to head with another ram. It is a hello. It is a way of sorting things out and making things fit. It is perfectly natural, neighborly and necessary.


                But a head in the kidney is like a sledge hammer to us mortal humans. That’s just the way it is.

It is good to learn the lesson: Don’t get too familiar. Keep a bit of respectful distance.

                It will now be up to me to feed and water the rams. And while the pheromones are in the air I’ll do it over the fence, thank you very much. Bumper is indeed affectionate, but he has a real hard head.  

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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1 Response to Too Familiar

  1. Janet Koehler says:

    I enjoyed this post as I, too, learned this lesson thru experience! Wishing Connie a quick recovery…

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