Back to Derby at the Farm...... Our sheep farming operation's main purpose is to raise lambs to grow into meat for our farmer's market lamb business. There are other reasons we grow sheep but I will not go into them here now. Every farm needs a crop and here, our lambs are our crop. Over the years The Farmer has developed his own cross-bred homegrown breed of sheep. He is always trying to better the farm and the flock and hope it turns a profit. This is not a hobby farm so animals have to pay their way or they go away. I know most of you don't want to hear that - as I never could understand when I was fresh from the NJ suburbs. That is the way it is here and on most working farms. We do not have deep pockets - in fact, at this point they are incredibly shallow.
The Farmer is constantly researching sheep and methods to raising them. He is what I call a Sheep Geek (I just coined that - I think I like it!). The easiest way to change the breeding direction and body type of a flock of sheep is to introduce new genetics to the flock. Change the boys and you can have a new body and wool type in a year with resulting babies. It then takes another year or more to see how the babies do on our particular land and how they re-produce. It is all science and biology. Most people like to think about the bucolic parts of raising sheep - fluffy white grazing animals, heads down to the ground - but in the end it is science.
|Sheep grazing last year - our grass is not this long yet|
We've had other ram breeds - Rambouillet, Border Leicesters.....
(This one came from New Hampshire via Rhode Island) [Border Leicesters have beautiful open heads and long wool. They are used in the UK a lot to produce cross-bred ewes for breeding flocks]
|Our Border Leicester Ram|
(This handsome ram came from Launie York's farm in Shelburne) [Cheviots are rather jumpy and are very tough sheep - the lambs thrive when they hit the ground. They are very quick too so if we don't catch a lamb on the first day, we might as well forget tailing them because they are un-catchable. Love the perky upright ears. Their carcass is rather small and they put on fat quicker than other breeds.]
|The Cheviot Ram this winter|
A couple years ago, we bought a Polypay ram - he came from the University of Wisconsin. We met him on the side of Rt. 91 as he had hitched a ride from an Ohio Sheep Sale with another farmer from New England. Here he is heading out on his first day with the girls in 2011. He has sired some very nice ewes who are in their first year of breeding now. He isn't the most handsome fellow - he is getting on in years. His genetics have increased lambing % and the size of our sheep. He is docile and easy to be around and his wool is quite fine. Rams can get nasty and be dangerous. If they do - they do not stay around here - we get rid of them very quickly.
|The Polypay Ram the day he arrived in August 2011|
I love meating (oops) sheep people - they are always interesting and smart and really into their animals and farming. Rachael has been raising sheep since she was young and even her mom, who we met, raised sheep as a child. Long time farm farmily.
Here is what we found - a pen full of beautiful two to four month old ram lambs. Can you see those muscles? Wow - what gorgeous lambs.
The Farmer had to choose one - he chose #5 who was named Derby. How did he choose? Besides the breed which he had already chosen, he looked at the head size. Derby had a slim head (some of the Texels have very large wide heads) and he thinks that will make for easier birthing for our mamas.
|"Hurry up - put that camera down."|
Derby is 2 months old. The lambs that are around him are less than a month and different breeds.
So far, so good for Derby. It is always dicey when you pay money for an animal like this - things can happen - they can get beat up and then not be able to breed. Ram lambs are unproven - they might not be fertile (yes, that happened to us a few times). They can get sick and die before even breeding. But we know this going in and just hope for the best. Derby is a looker for sure.
The Kentucky Derby is coming this weekend - will you be celebrating? We are going to a party and I am bringing deviled eggs - recipe here. Tis the time of year. I guess this Derby weekend we have another reason to celebrate - the arrival of our Derby. I'll keep you posted on Derby's growth as he matures. It's always interesting around here.