If you’re new to livestock, keeping up with all of the lingo attended with the different species of animals can almost feel like you’re being forced to learn another language.
Bulls and steers, heifers and cows, sows, pigs, boars, barrows, farrows, litters, and more. It’s enough to make your head spin!
Of course, sheep have their own naming conventions. Let’s look at one of the most common right now. What’s the difference between a ram and a sheep?
A ram is an intact male sheep older than one year of age. Sheep is a generic term applied to any member of the species Ovis aries.
Basically, a ram is a mature male sheep, outside of any other specific physical characteristics so long as it is uncastrated.
But there’s a lot more to learn about rams and sheep in general, as you might imagine, so keep reading…
Are All Rams Sheep?
Yes, all rams are sheep. Rams are known for their larger than typical size for breed, spiral-shaped horns, and aggressive behavior during mating season.
In farming and agriculture, rams are most often used for breeding purposes due to their ability to fertilize a large number of ewes.
Are All Sheep Rams?
No, all sheep are not rams. As mentioned, rams are male sheep, and make up only a small portion of a given sheep flock, usually. Female sheep are called ewes, and baby sheep are called lambs.
Ewes are crucial to the production of wool and meat in agriculture, while lambs are usually raised for their meat.
“Sheep” is a generic term for any member of the species, though, or a plural reference to any number of individual sheep.
When Does a Lamb Become a Ram?
A lamb becomes a ram when it reaches 12 months of age regardless of the breed.
But well before this point, the lamb will start to develop physical characteristics that are unique to rams, such as larger size, curved horns, and a more muscular build.
Once a lamb reaches true adulthood at 1 year old, it is properly considered a ram. Prior to this point it is considered a ram lamb.
It should also be noted that rams might be sexually mature as young as 3 months old, and can be used for breeding purposes way before their first birthday!
Is Every Male Sheep a Ram?
No, not every male sheep is a ram. Rams are specifically male sheep that have not been castrated and have the ability to reproduce. Castrated male sheep are called wethers and are unable to reproduce.
Wethers are often used in agriculture for meat production as they tend to be more docile and easier to handle than rams.
Castration, as with all mammals, eliminates the testes and greatly decreases hormone production that leads to aggressive behavior along with greater physique and size.
How Big are Rams?
As a rule, rams are larger than the typical size of female sheep of the same breed or species.
The size of a ram can vary greatly depending on the breed. Generally, rams are larger than ewes, and stand taller at the shoulder. Rams are also known for their muscular build and spiral-shaped horns.
How Heavy are Rams?
Again, the weight of a ram depends on the breed or species and several other factors, including age, diet, and breed.
As a rule, they are heavier than females thanks to that extra muscle, thicker bones, and massive horns, if present.
On average, rams can weigh between 100 to 400 pounds, with some breeds exceeding 500 pounds.
The Suffolk breed, for example, is known for its large size and can weigh up to 350 pounds. In the wild, bighorn sheep rams can be massive, topping the scales at over 600 pounds!
Do All Rams Have Horns?
No, not all rams have horns. Horn growth in sheep is determined by genetics, and some breeds of domestic sheep have been selectively bred to not have horns.
In addition, some rams can be born without horns, a trait known as “polled.”
But, in a species or breed where horns are present, males will always have them!
Do Other Sheep Have Horns, Too?
Yes, other sheep besides rams can have horns. Both male and female sheep of certain breeds can grow horns.
Ewes’ horns tend to be smaller and less developed than those of rams, though still formidable weapons.
Why Do Rams Have Horns?
Rams have horns for several reasons, including protection from predators, competition for mates, and establishing dominance within a flock.
During mating season, rams use their horns to fight with other males to establish dominance hierarchies and ensure access to females.
Horns can also be used as nasty weapons for self-defense against predators or intruders- and that includes you in some cases!
A charge and accompanying headbutt from a large ram can deliver bone-shattering force on impact, and rams have been known to kill each other in their scuffles. They are no joke, so take them seriously!
Are Rams More Aggressive than Other Sheep?
Yes, as a rule. Rams tend to be more aggressive than other sheep as a rule, and very especially during mating season when they are competing for mates.
However, aggression levels can vary depending on the individual animal and breed. Wethers, or castrated male sheep, tend to be far more docile under all conditions, and are much easier to handle than rams.
Can Rams Be Friendly with People?
Yes, some rams can be friendly with people. Rams that are raised around humans from a young age (especially bottle fed) and intracted with or handled regularly may become quite accustomed to and even fond of human interaction.
It is not unknown for a ram to seek out attention and touch from their owners!
But hear me well, and I am speaking from experience: do not, ever, underestimate a ram no matter how tame and sweet it seems. Especially if it has its horns…
What are the Differences Between Rams and Ewes?
As mentioned above, rams are intact male sheep older than 1 year of age. Ewes are female sheep older than 1 year of age. But the differences between the two go beyond sex alone.
Rams are, on average, significantly larger, stockier and stronger than ewes. Their horns are also as a rule longer, thicker and wider- all the better to bash into other males with!
This also makes them much better defenders against predators and intruders.
But rams are only so much larger and stronger, and also more aggressive, compared to ewes because they have significantly more testosterone in their system.
This gives them significant physical advantages detailed above, and also generally bad attitudes.
But more important for most owners is that this means rams will become sexually mature much earlier than the ladies.
Typical rams will be sexually mature at about 3 months of age and ready to reproduce, and it isn’t unheard of for a ram to be sexually mature at just 2 months of age.
Some have even impregnated their own mothers while still nursing!
Do Rams Live as Long as Other Sheep?
Generally not, since their high-impact lifestyles and intense energy levels usually shorten their lifespans somewhat.
However, rams can live as about long as other sheep, all things equal, if they are well-cared for and free from disease and illness.
The lifespan of a sheep varies depending on the breed, with some living to 12 years or even a bit more if not slaughtered or culled.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.