Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wooly Faces of the Flock

The other day, someone asked me how I get such good photos of the lambs' faces. I thought this was kind of an odd question but then I started thinking about it. What do I really do to get these photos of the sweet little faces? I made an effort one day to take photos of only lamb's faces and then think about what I was doing because folks, a lot of this is just natural for me. It was a fun exercise. One thing is, I use a zoom lense - I am not very close to the lambs. The other thing is that lambs are just naturally curious and if I'm quick and attentive, I can usually get a good shot. These images are one brief millasecond in time which is kind of cool to think about. I'm also pretty good at making funny noises so the lambs will look up.

When I finally loaded the images onto my computer, I started looking at all the different lamb portraits and I realized how different many of the lambs look from each other. It was like looking through a yearbook of a school and seeing all the different faces. Most people think a sheep is a sheep and that's it. That is just not true.

Our flock began with Romney sheep - a good dual purpose breed (meat and wool) that originally came from the Romney Marsh in England. They do well here on our hill farm which can be quite damp and wet in winter and spring. Foot rot (isn't that a terrible thought?) can be a big problem with sheep and the Romney's don't get it very often. We started with Romneys because they are rather popular with handspinners and at that point I was quite into handspinning my own fiber into yarn.

As the years have progressed we have moved away from purebred Romneys. When we were first getting started in sheep, we picked up a ewe lamb from the local livestock auction. We named her Clover (that was when we named our sheep). Clover grew into a big sheep and lived a good long life here on our farm. She was the most productive ewe we have ever had. She almost always had twins and sometimes would have two sets a year. Her lambs hit the ground, got up and thrived. After our Clover experience, we decided to keep up the cross-breeding program because the purebred Romney lambs needed more help starting out than the cross-breds did. At that point we were living in easern Massachusetts and the sheep were out here in western Massachusetts. The Farmer drove every day during lambing season (1 1/2 hours one way!) Lambs that hit the ground running was what we needed! It has been a decision that was the right one for our farm and has been rather fun besides.

We have been breeding for a healthy type of sheep that will do good here on our farm. It makes sense, doesn't it? If we try a cetain breed of ram and either he nor his babies don't do well, we get rid of the ram and most of his progeny will not stay on the farm either. We've got to make this thing as simple as possible not that any of it is simple. Over the years we have had Dorpers, Texels, Dorsets, Finn-crosses, Rambouillet crosses and Romneys, always Romneys.

This year we used a Romney ram, a Border Leicester ram and a Romney-Shetland cross. Here are some of the babies they produced:

This big guy is a Border Leicester x Romney cross. See his long ears and his open face. He is tall and quite good looking.

This lamb looks like a classic Romney although none of our sheep are purebred Romneys.

Here's another Border Leicester cross. His ears aren't quite as long as the other lambs.

A few years ago, our sheep were grazing a neighbor's field. She had a small flock of Shetland sheep. One of her rams kept jumping her fence and ending up in our flock. The next winter we had a bunch of Shetland/Romney crossed lambs. They are super hardy animals and do well right away. They are a bit small. The Farmer likes these crosses because he thinks it is bringing a hardy, rugged gene into our flock. You can tell they are Shetland crosses by the cute little beard they have.

Here's the lamb I call the Teddy Bear. He has brown ears and a brown nose and a very fluffy face. He is darn cute now but probably won't be the best looking older ram. I love to watch him grow.

This lamb is another Border Leicester/Romney cross. His ears, nose and eyes are pinker than the rest of the lambs. He's got those nice long ears. Makes for a smart looking sheep.

Lastly, here's a classic Romney looking lamb. I just love the look of Romneys. I must say I am partial.

If you want to learn more about breeds of sheep, I highly recommend The Knitter's Book of Wool by Clara Parkes. I don't purchase a lot of knitting books. My shelves are pretty full and I honestly don't have a lot of room for more books. Most of the books I do purchase are technique books that will last years in my book collection. That said, the other day, I purchased Clara Parkes' The Knitter's Book of Wool because I was curious. I already know more than the average knitter about wool and probably didn't need it but I enjoy Clara's Knitter's Review and I've got to support people I admire and who believe so strongly in what they do. Don't you agree? I finally got a chance to look at it the other night and I can see why it is a hit. Not only is there a real lot of great wool information in the book but it is jam packed with good patterns - mostly basics that will stand the test of time. The wool information is written in an easy to understand way for the novice to understand. Clara talks a lot of about breeds of sheep, length of fiber, and characteristics of each breed. This information is great for spinners or people who are interested in breed specific wool. So check it out if you want to know more about why wool is. I'm pretty sure this book will stay on my shelves a good long time.

If you are interested in designing with CABLES, I would suggest Janet Szabo's comprehensive Cables 1: The Basics. All of the cable patterns are split up by stitch count which if you are interested in designing your very own Aran sweaters, a great resource to have in your library. Many, many years ago, Phildar put out a title similar to this which I found incredibly useful when designing the many Aran cable sweaters I used to do. Janet also has a fabulous book on how to design your own Aran sweater called simply Aran Sweater Design. It's a great title for anyone interested in making up their own designs and not following a pattern.

I have designed many a cabled sweater in the past but at the present, they just don't interest me that much. I guess I've moved on to colorwork and can't get out of it because I find color just so darn fascinating. That is the great thing about knitting - it can keep you interested and busy for your entire life.

What's your favorite technique of the moment?


Anonymous said...

Thanks, as always, for the lamb pix-- and thanks for the discussion of breed types. By the last two pix, I could quite see the differences. (Btw, I notice that some, like the "teddy bear", have curly locks on their ears but the BL/R cross have smooth-haired ears. More breed characteristics?)

And thanks for suggesting the books. I'll be checking these out at my library.

You know, if you really want to go crazy for color AND texture, you could design a cabled project using different colors for each strand of each cable, and yet another color for the background. Just a thought. . .

kingshearte said...

OMG, those lambs are so cute, especially the first one. He (she?)'s adorable. The bearded one is also very cute.

As thankful as I am for farmers, I really don't know how you do it. I know where my meat comes from and everything, but those faces!

In any case, this post was really interesting and informative, so thanks for that.

Val said...

Lovely photo's
Long ago I had a Suffolk cross with a shiny neat black head and a Kerry Hill who was less flashy.
I've worked with Beulah Speckled face who are pretty small but lively...they were bought off the hills for their later careers in a less harsh environment so to speak.
The book looks fascinating..I used to find a table of wool info in Eliza Leadbeater's Handspinning really useful

Jennifer said...

You know, what amazed me when I "met" a flock of sheep up close and personal for the very first time was how different all their sheepy voices are from one another! I don't know why I was surprised about that, because people have different voices, dogs have different voices, etc.... But I found that fascinating!!

Lynn said...

I just finished weaving three wool throws with handspun Romney as the weft (and commercial Bartlett yarn as the warp). That Romney yarn is so lustrous! It's been really wonderful learning about different breeds by spinning them.

Natalie said...

Off topic question - When do the lamb runs start? :) Those cracked me up last year!

Elizabeth said...

I love sheep, and yours as cute as buttons. Once upon a time ('70s)we were going to raise sheep out in Western Mass. Corriedale or Romney, and Suffolk crosses. But we had to choose between sheep and children.

My favorite project now is color work, especially Scandinavian. I have a lot of mittens on my to-do list. My fallback is lace. My mindless knitting is scarves.

Virginia said...

At first I was reading this post and wasall "yeah right, sheep are sheep." and "maybe she's one of those crazy people who insists that she can tell all 50 of her black cats apart.

But then I started looking at your sheep pix, and yeah, they really DO look different. They're great photos, and it's interesting to read about the different characteristics of each breed.

Anyway, I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE Knitter's Book of Wool. I recently ran out and got a copy of Knitters Book of Yarn because I loved "Wool" so much. I know I'll be reading both books multiple times.

Turtle said...

the knitters book of wool is a good one, it is on my wishlist but i did check it out to peek from the lib. even knit one of the hats.

i always luv your fluffy faced pics!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sheep taxonomy tutorial! When I go to Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival and wander the barns, I look at everything (all the shapes and sizes) but get overwhelmed. Now I will be noticing ear length more!

marit said...

So fun to see all the different faces! I especially love that little Shetland blend...

My favourite technique? Lace, cables, colourwork- I should have knit some more Selbumittens...-there are too many fun patterns out there, so Iusually end up with a pair of lace socks-LOL!

Diana Troldahl said...

Colorwork combined with texture, combined with resurrecting antique stitch patterns into modern knitting.
Yep. Obsessed with it since last year.

GodfreyKate said...

This is a timely post, Kristin!

I'm participating in a Fuzzy Mitten Forum Lamb KAL over on Ravelry and these little faces are absolutely inspiring. Thank you for the breed notes, too. I look forward to reading these entries on everything from family to embroidery to farming. I always come away having learned something new.

Maria Filomena said...


Maria Filomena

Sara in WI said...

Adorable lamby faces always make me smile. Thank you!

emeselle said...

The lambs are darling, and my current favorite technique is cabling without a cable needle. It's just so much quicker for me, and I find it fascinating that it works like it does.

Bev said...

the lambs are so adorable -- and yes, each one does look very different (so much for that whole "a sheep is a sheep" thing too!)

I'm loving your blog, so glad the Mason Dixon folks were plugging your book -- I came for the book, I stayed for the lambs!!