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Why Do Rams Headbutt? [Aggression, Boredom, Genetics? Or Something Else?]

There is something oddly satisfying about watching a ram headbutt his opponent. It is like seeing an animal dominate another using amusing (but slightly brutal) horseplay.

But why do rams butt heads in the first place? It turns out there is a reason for this bizarre behavior. And the reason was surprising to us – even though we are around rams, cows, goats, and poultry around the clock!

Let us look at what scientists have discovered about why rams butt heads.

Why Do Rams Headbutt?

Most rams headbutt one another as a show of dominance. This behavior is most common in rams due to their testosterone. But ewes can also headbutt to assert their dominance. And to show aggression. Very young rams may headbutt as a method of testing out the motion.

At first glance, it may seem like rams are just engaged in random acts of violence when they headbutt each other. However, there is a reason for this behavior. 

Rams are male sheep! They use headbutting to assert their dominance over other males. By headbutting, they can establish a hierarchy within the flock and determine which ram is the leader. 

In addition, headbutting helps rams to build up their muscles, which makes them stronger and better able to stake claim over their territory. 

While headbutting may look like aggression, it is a form of communication that allows rams to maintain order within the flock.

three big horn mountain sheep butting heads
Check out these two big-horned sheep locking horns and exchanging headbutts! We love the ram in the middle – it looks like he’s the referee! It reminds us of one recurring theme we’ve uncovered while researching why rams headbutt. It’s that not all rams are equal. Rams from some breeds and family lines are much more passive, friendly, and docile than others. In other words – some rams love to challenge potential competitors – but not all are overly aggressive.

Why Do Sheep Ram Heads? 

While it may seem like rather odd behavior, sheep ram heads for a variety of reasons. 

For one, it is a way of asserting dominance over other flock members. By establishing themselves as the alpha, they are more likely to gain access to food and mates. In addition, head-ramming can also be a way of releasing aggression or stress. 

When faced with a stressful situation, such as a predator attack, sheep may headbutt each other to release excess adrenaline. 

Finally, headbutting may be a form of play. Juvenile sheep often engage in this behavior as they learn to interact with others in their flock. 

So – head-ramming is a prevalent behavior among sheep that serves a vital purpose in their social hierarchy.

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Do Rams Headbutt People?

Sometimes, yes! It is critical to note that rams can be aggressive toward people if they feel threatened. If you encounter a ram or are dealing with an aggressive ram on your farm (particularly during mating season), it is best to give it plenty of space and avoid making sudden movements. Nobody wants a surprise headbutt from an angsty ram!

It is a common misconception that rams always headbutt and aggressively attack people. The truth is that headbutting in rams helps establish dominance and social pecking order. And – some rams are more aggressive than others. Headbutting can also be a part of their mating ritual!

flock of sheep and rams with big horns
We’d hate to get headbutted by these horns! So we’ve been conducting loads of research to determine why some rams headbutt. We learned that it might be unwise to hand pet your rams on their head! Petting your ram on their head may promote headbutting. And if your ram decides to test its might – it’s wise to make loud sounds. Don’t cower – or it may encourage the ram even further!

Why Do Sheep Headbutt Random Objects?

Why do sheep headbutt objects? It is a question that has perplexed scientists for years. It is also confusing to us – doubly so when we see sheep headbutt seemingly random items around the farm! But new research suggests that sheep may be using this behavior to communicate.

Sheep are more likely to headbutt when they see an unfamiliar object. This behavior suggests that the headbutting conduct may be a way for sheep to signal their distrust of something new.

Interestingly, sheep are likely to headbutt objects within their field of view. This headbutting nature suggests that the behavior may also be a way for sheep to assert dominance over their surroundings.

So why do sheep headbutt objects? It is still not entirely clear. But the new research provides some insight into this strange behavior.

Read more!

Is Headbutting a Sign of Boredom?

Headbutting is a sign of boredom – or angst – in some cases. If an animal is frequently headbutting, especially if combined with other boredom signs such as pacing or chewing on objects, the animal is likely bored. 

A lack of enrichment can cause boredom. So increasing the amount of time the animal spends outside its cage and providing it with more toys and objects to interact with can help. 

In some cases, headbutting may signal an underlying medical condition. If the behavior persists despite efforts to increase enrichment, a vet may need to get consulted.

two male dall sheep rams fighting and headbutting
We read a fascinating report about why rams headbutt from the University of Illinois Extension. The guide articulates that if you have an aggressive ram – the best thing to do is leave it alone! Contrary to popular belief – if you spend too much time with your aggressive ram, it may get used to human contact – and lose its innate fear of humans. It’s better to limit contact – so they attain some level of trepidation. (We thought the opposite was true! So – it’s good to know!)

Read More – Sheep vs. Lambs! What’s the Difference?

How Do You Deal With Aggressive Rams?

When faced with an aggressive ram, it is vital to assess the situation and determine the best course of action. If the ram is charging, it is best to stand still and allow it to pass. If you attempt to run, the ram is likely to chase you and could cause serious injury. 

If the ram is not charging but is simply displaying aggressive behavior, you may be able to scare it away by making loud noises or waving your arms. However, if the ram does not back down, it is best to retreat to a safe distance and call for help. 

Aggressive rams can be dangerous creatures, so it is always best to remain cautious!

This is my ram, Rambo. Rambo was raised in a petting zoo so he is very comfortable with humans. Before he became a dad, he loved a cuddle and a scratch on the head. With the arrival of the new lamb, Rambo has become actively protective and he will headbutt anyone who dares to come into ‘his’ paddock! He also headbutts to keep other sheep away from food, including the lamb. Rather disconcerting considering the lamb is only 4 days old – but they are tougher and more resilient than they look!

Here’s a video my 12-year-old daughter made of our newest addition to the farm – an adorable lamb!

How Can You Protect Yourself from a Headbutting Ram? 

There are a few recommended steps to protect yourself from a headbutting ram. First, try to keep your distance. If the testy ram charges, try to side-step or jump out of the way. 

Finally, headbutting may be a form of play. Juvenile sheep often engage in this behavior when learning to interact with others in their flock. 

big horn rams fighting running and headbutting
Rams headbutt one another to establish a mating rank – a form of social hierarchy. It’s how they determine their social pecking order! You may find that your rams are particularly aggressive during the mating season rut. And make no mistake. Many rams are sexually aggressive. To say the least! How sexually active are male sheep? Very. We found a guide on the Oregon State Extension blog citing how two healthy rams can accommodate up to 100 ewes. These rams work hard!

Read More – 11 Gorgeous Black and White Sheep Breeds! Perfect for Small Homesteads!

Can You Teach a Ram Not to Headbutt?

Headbutting can sometimes result in injuries, which is why many farmers choose to prevent their rams from engaging in this behavior. Even if you do not get injured from the headbutt – getting attacked on your farm is never good!

There are several ways to teach a ram not to headbutt. Our favorite methods are keeping the horns trimmed, keeping the rams separate, and providing plenty of space to roam.

With proper management, it is possible to teach rams not to headbutt.

Read More – Adorable Sheep with Black Faces! And the Cutest Sheep Contest!

Why Do Rams Headbutt – FAQs

We have spent the last few weeks researching why rams headbutt – and the best tips to help manage their violent behavior! Sometimes, providing ample personal space is the best bet. But we also want to share other ram-headbutting questions you may encounter.

We hope these help you and your rams!

Why Do Rams Headbutt Humans?

Rams may headbutt humans as a way of showing aggression or excitement. However, it is vital to note that not all rams exhibit this behavior. In many cases, headbutting is simply a matter of individual personality. We also notice that headbutting seems more prevalent in some breeds (and family lines) than others.

Why Do Rams Stand After Headbutting?

After a ram butts heads with another, it will often stand upright with its chest puffed out. This behavior is known as raising. Raising serves several purposes. First, it allows the ram to assess the damage inflicted on its opponent. If the other ram is injured or otherwise weakened, the act of raising can intimidate it into submission. Second, raising also helps to show off the ram’s strength and vigor. It is aggressive posturing!

By displaying its muscular body and bold demeanor, the ram is more likely to impress potential mates and deter rivals. Finally, raising gives the ram a chance to catch its breath and prepare for another bout of headbutting. 

Do Rams Get Concussions From Head Butting?

Unless the ram decides to headbutt your tractor – or a brick wall, it probably will not get hurt. Rams have surprisingly thick skulls and strong neck muscles, which cushion the impact of their headbutts. In addition, their horns curve so that they deflect most of the force away from their brains. As a result, concussions are rare among rams.

Do Rams Feel Pain In Their Horns?

Rams do not feel pain when their horns are touched. They are also impervious (mostly) when their horns collide with other objects. However, the horns can still be damaged, and rams will sometimes bleed from their wounds. When the horn is broken or damaged, the ram can feel pain.

Read More – Raising Sheep vs. Goats! Which Is Best for Profits? And Fun?

Final Thoughts

Rams are known for their aggressive behavior, including headbutting each other. While this may seem like a senseless act, there is a lot of genetics that go into their behavior. 

Most of the time, the rams do not mean any harm. However, we always urge caution when you are around your rams. Do not let your guard down. Even for a moment!

What about you? Have you noticed that your rams are more aggressive during mating season? Or – do you know any good tricks to help reduce headbutting in rams?

We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Thanks so much for reading.

And – have a great day!

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Author

  • Rebekah Pierce started a small farm with her husband in 2016 in upstate New York, near her native Adirondack Mountains. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in special education, she has been writing professionally since 2017, but only recently left the world of teaching to pursue writing and farming full time. She now writes full-time in the education, business, finance, and of course, homesteading and farming niches.