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Love is in the air (sheep rut)

20 November 2011
During the rut, male sheep move away from their normal home range to search for females they can mate with. This means untagged males from outside the study population are regularly seen wandering through Village Bay and mating with tagged females.
Untagged male wandering through the VillageUntagged male showing interest in a study animalTagged female in consort with untagged male, love on the rocks

Males become more aggressive during the rut and they assess the size and strength of a rival by kicking or walking parallel to one another.  If there is no clear ‘winner’ then the males may butt the flanks of their rival or charge and head-butt each other.
One male kicks another - FIGHT!

The display of flehmen - curling the lips back to expose a gland on the upper palate - is only seen during the rut. It allows a male to ‘smell’ a female sheep that might be in oestrous and therefore receptive to mating.
Flehmen!Smelling the female  (can you see the tongue?)

Body size plays an important role and large males with large horns are more successful at gaining access to females.  A male may guard and protect a receptive female in an attempt to prevent other males from mating with her.  
Tup (male sheep) mounts a female

But, smaller males or sheep with abnormal ‘scurred’ horns may try to mate with the females when the dominant male is not paying attention or is fighting other individuals.
In consort, the tup guards the female from other malesMale sheep with abnormal (scurred) horns

The rut started quite late this year, so come spring there will lots of lambs to catch in a very short space of time - good luck to the lambing team next year!


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