Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Ram is Half Your Lambs

Every three years or so, we look for a new ram to bring new blood into our flock of sheep. It really is true that the ram is half your flock since his genetics will predominate all of his progeny. Long ago, we gave up having a purebred flock of sheep. Although the Romney sheep we began with are beautiful animals and produce lovely long wool, our goal of selling market lambs meant we had to look into other sheep breeds for their genetic traits. Most of the time, we aren’t around when the lambs are born and our experiences with the vigor of cross-bred lambs helped us realize that a cross-breeding program was the way to go.

Over the years, we have picked up rams from other local breeders. We have tried Dorsets, purebred Romneys, Rambouillet, Finnsheep crosses, all kinds of breeds. Often we will use a colored ram so that we get some colored lambs. Our goal is to breed a lamb that will grow out to a market weight in two to three months. We also look for rams that aren’t too large – this could cause difficulty in lambing. We usually will purchase a ram who is a twin so that our sheep will have twins too – this helps the lambing percentage. We look at fleece quality as a minor factor but we still do have some lovely looking fleeces considering most of our flock has Romney blood in it.

We run four rams with our sheep so we have a variety of parentage and breeds. We keep some of our own better ram lambs for breeding the flock. We have been using some nice Romney crosses and a nice looking Shetland-Romney cross (his lambs are quite hardy as one might guess). A couple years ago, we purchased this cross-bred Texel-Dorper ram. Texel sheep were developed for market lambs in Holland. Dorpers were developed for market lambs in Africa. They are hair sheep which means they don’t need to be sheared. Since most of our lambs go to market, the hair quality of his fleece wasn’t important. Picking up a new ram and integrating one into the flock is always a risk. But this guy settled in just fine.

We did notice the first summer that he was limping a bit. This is caused by a nasty condition called “foot-rot.” Certain breeds of sheep are more susceptible to it. Romneys are resistant to foot-rot and so we never have had much of a problem with it. Once in a while when the ground is very wet, they will favor a foot but it never was much of a big deal.

This winter, lots of this big guy’s lambs were limping terribly. (Notice we don't name many of our sheep - it makes it easier when we have to get rid of them.) The Farmer treated the lambs’ feet with the common recommended treatments and most of it subsided. We started discussing the problem in earnest when it began to take up a lot of his time and some money for the treatment. (The treatment is by foot-bath – the sheep walk through a solution that will help the condition go away.)

I was lobbying for a new ram. I hated to see the lambs limping. At first The Farmer wasn’t listening to me but after a few days, he decided that yes, this guy should go away so we don’t have to live with the foot-rot problem for the next twenty years.

This cute little half and half lamb was born a few days ago. The Texel-Dorper ram is definitely the father to it – notice how the wool is straight and has no crimp. He sure is cute though, isn’t he? This ram has fathered quite a few “Holstein” looking lambs. We’ll keep some of the ewes but most have already gone to the auction.

This summer, we are buying a Border Leicester ram. We’ll see how he and his lambs do. Raising sheep is always interesting because even after several decades, there is still more to learn.


Felicia said...

I feel like I'm getting quite the sheep education :)

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating--it's nice that you keep some of your own rams. Sounds like you made a good decision about the ram. What a cute baby he did sire, though-I love that "Holstein" look (and mom looks so affectionate, nuzzling it that way).

TJ said...

I love your posts about your sheep - I feel like I'm learning so much :) I don't know how you don't get attached to them - I would be a terrible farmer because I'd have names for them all I think! They are so very cute.

Bernie said...

Wow, I never realized the process of sheep farming was quite complicated. Just like cross-bred lams, I've always felt that "mutts" were healther dogs, too. It must be the genetic variation. Lovely pictures. Half-n-half sure is cute! We had lamb at Easter this past week and it was really good. The lamb we buy here is actually imported from Australia.

Bernie said...

Ok, you all know I meant cross-bred "lambs" and not "lams" :)

fibergal said...

Ooh, all that talk about Romney and Romney crosses, especially the Romney-Shetland has me in a tizzy. So when are you going to offer some fleece to us city dwellers?

Regina said...

Half and Half is adorable. Thanks for taking the time to post about the process for how you breed. I don't think we will ever have rams, but it is fun to know how farmers make some of their decisions.

Meg said...

I raise Border Leicesters and I think you will like them. The meat is mild no matter how old you let them get and they are quite hardy. here in Idaho I turn my lambs out within two days of birth and they do just fine (although we do not have nearly the snow that you do) ... good luck. My last lambs were born 3 days ago ... so it's back to normal around here.

Anonymous said...

What happens to Mr. Cora??? Where is he going?

Can't you just get him fixed, so he can play around and live out his days as a neutered playboy with a gimp?

Seriously worried about his future. Please reassure me that you are just sending him to somewhere that has dry soil.


Benjamin said...

I'm a few years behind with your blog, but enjoying catching up! I think getting rid of that ram will prove to be one of your best decisions, I have a foot rot problem with my flock and the labour and solution costs really do mount up. Keep up the good work