Axe body spray finds an unlikely new customer: grouchy sheep

Sam Bryce sprays her rams with Lynx deodorant, a brand known as Axe in the U.S.
Sam Bryce sprays her rams with Lynx deodorant, a brand known as Axe in the U.S.

Summary

A deodorant popular with young men proves oddly useful in keeping rams from fighting; “There’s no argy-bargy, no rowing.”

HARLESTON, England—A few years ago, retired police officer Sam Bryce posted a question on the U.K. Facebook group “Ladies Who Lamb."

A ram she owned had become very ill-tempered and was picking on his castrated fieldmate. Was there anything the other shepherdesses could suggest to calm him?

The replies came back within minutes: Lynx Africa.

Lynx is the U.K. name for the popular deodorant sold in the U.S. as Axe, a product that for decades has been marketed as a way for young men to become instantly irresistible to lasses.

In recent years, some shepherdesses have discovered the deodorant has an auxiliary benefit: When used among their flocks, it masks the hormones that get the boys butting heads.

“There’s no argy-bargy, no rowing," Bryce says of the deodorant’s effects.

Since getting clued in, Bryce has regularly used a few long sprays of Lynx on Cash and Casper, two testosterone-addled 4-year-old rams she keeps some 100 miles northeast of London. The pair have lived together since they were five months old but are prone to fight following any period of separation.

“They puff themselves up and square up to each other and make this grunting noise," explains Bryce, 55 years old, who often favors unwieldy Wellington boots paired with purple nail polish and sparkly eye shadow. “It’s like when you see drunk men put their fists up and say, ‘I’ll fight you.’ "

The deodorant isn’t just for the fellas.

Caitlin Jenkins, a 31-year-old shepherdess in nearby Suffolk, has used Lynx to successfully convince ewes to mother orphaned lambs. Ewes identify their offspring by scent and spraying them both confuses the ewe into believing a lamb is her own, says Jenkins.

“I always go for Lynx Africa because it has a very distinctive strong smell," she says. “The ones that don’t smell as strong have less chance of working."

Axe was first launched by Unilever in France in 1983 after the company saw a gap in the market for a strong deodorant that smelled like cologne. The brand was sold as Lynx in markets where the Axe trademark was already taken, including the U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Twelve years later, Unilever launched Lynx Africa (and Axe Africa), a scent it marketed as “deep and sensual with a fresh top note set on a warm oriental base." Unilever says Lynx Africa is the top-selling male fragrance in the U.K.

For years the brand’s ads drew complaints for being degrading to women. One early 2000s ad showed a teenage boy putting his feet against the nose of a girl in a library, who responded by enthusiastically licking them.

“In the animal kingdom, the horn turtle seduces the female by drumming his long toenails across her snout," said the voice-over. “Thank goodness humans have the Lynx effect."

Over the past few years Unilever has tried to reinvent Axe to be a more inclusive brand with more sophisticated fragrances and less gauche advertising. Its recent ads for Lynx Africa features a talking goat—a play on the acronym GOAT, for Greatest of All Time—whose curving horns, coincidentally, make it resemble a ram.

Unilever, which declined to comment, has said that Axe isn’t tested on animals.

The shepherdesses say they’re careful to avoid the animals’ eyes while spraying them.

As a child, Bryce enjoyed milking her neighbor’s goats. After retiring as a police officer 18 years ago following a back injury, she decided “in a mad moment" to keep some sheep. She now owns what she calls a “hobby flock" of about 30 sheep.

“Being a police officer is quite a high-adrenaline job. No day was the same and I think that describes sheep really well—you never know what they’re going to get up to," she says as a bleating long-legged lamb skips past and then leaps into the air for no apparent reason. “I adore my sheep, but they’re the naughtiest things I’ve ever owned."

Bryce says Lynx is especially helpful after Casper—a horned llanwern Cross Ryeland—and Cash—a woolly white Jacob—have been out mating with ewes. “When the rams come back from tupping, they stink," Bryce says. “They need a powerful smell."

On a rainy spring morning, Cash and Casper chomp on a breakfast mix of barley, molasses and rapeseed in adjoining pens as a peacock and peahen—christened Charles and Camilla—flap about on a nearby roof. Cash finishes first and occasionally charges at the barrier separating him from Casper, running his mouth along the metal and butting it with his nose. “Those are all displays of dominance," says Bryce.

Half a world away in Gisborne, New Zealand, 43-year-old sheep and beef farmer Toby Williams is also a Lynx user—but only for himself, not his 60 rams.

He has used Unilever’s Brut, Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice and Johnson & Johnson baby powder to convince ewes to mother orphaned lambs. “They all work the same," he says. “The point is you’re providing a scent that confuses the animal."

The fifth-generation farmer is skeptical that the Lynx Africa technique works, given how prone to fighting rams are, but agrees the principle is sound. “Animals can see each other, but smell is what lets them know it’s one of their friends," he says. “It’s triggering rams to say, ‘This is my mate. I don’t need to fight him.’"

Bryce says without Lynx, Casper and Cash “get full of themselves" and start to “bicker," so she likes to keep a couple of cans on hand.

“I’m not the only nutter, lots of ladies have it in their tool kit," she says. “It’s quite a well-known thing among the ladies—the shepherdesses—that Lynx works."

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