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Friday, September 05 2014

Several years ago I began to cut down on my sheep flock. We had combined our ranching operations in order to sell one farm so we could buy the ranch in North Texas and this didn't leave us with a lot of space for sheep. I needed to cut down my numbers, but didn't want to lose those genetics. Nevertheless, I still ended up selling some of my best girls and my favorite ram. I kept a few old ewes that I was fond of, and some lambs that had genes I wanted to keep, but for the most part I was no longer breeding sheep.

No popcorn. No little white babies bouncing around the pasture. I won't lie. I missed it.

And I started getting worried. My old ewes are getting older and I really don't want to lose those genes.  It's funny how selective breeding works. On paper, you still breed the best to the best and hope for the best, but over the years, my idea of what "the best" is, has changed.

I have Dorper sheep. These sheep naturally shed their hairy wool so they don't need to be sheared. They are grazers, and yet they are also selective browsers, like goats, thus they thrive on weeds and scrub. They're hardy in the heat, and pretty parasite resistent, thus I haven't had to worm in years. I don't worm by the calendar. I worm if I see a problem. If I find that I regularly have parasite problems in an animal when the rest of the flock is doing fine, it's time to cut that animal from the breeding program. This has resulted in a relatively parasite-resistent flock.

I like a certain phenotype in a sheep, and began selecting for that years ago, but this creature was the exception. This is Ma.

She was in that first group of sheep I ever bought. In the beginning I favored the other ewes with a more traditional Dorper look, but over time, this calm and steady old girl outshined them all. Her first lamb for me was such a fireplug that I named him "Hulk."  After I saw Hulk, Ma had my attention. Over the years this old girl has consistently produced really nice lambs. She is also good leader. Not given to silly hysterics, this ewe makes handling the others so much easier. Over time, younger, prettier ewes were sold, but Ma has stayed.

And then there's this creature:

She wasn't the type I wanted to breed either but through a turn of events, she ended up with me, and I'm forever glad of it.  Shortly after I bought Roanie, Husband's patrol dog got into the isolation pen with the new arrivals. A malinois can do a lot of damage to livestock, and she did. Ultimately one ewe died and Roanie was so seriously injured that for weeks we considered putting her down. But she hung on.

This little ewe has the heart of a fighter. She now has a permanent limp, but not only did she live, she thrived. Roanie has produced some really nice babies for us. And although her phenotype wasn't really what I wanted to reproduce, her will to survive was exactly what I wanted in my flock. Her last baby was a single ewe lamb that really didn't impress me much at birth, but I kept her simply because she was a ewe lamb from Roanie. And wow, I'm glad I did.

 That's Chuck's fat a@@ beside Roanie.

Chuck grew up to become a really nice ewe. (As a very fat lamb, she once got stuck between the tire and wheel well of a truck. She was "stuck like chuck." This forced us to use a high lift jack to raise the truck and free her. Since then, her name has been "Chuck." If I'd known at the time that I was keeping her, perhaps I'd have put more thought into her name, but since sheep don't tend to come when they're called anyway, I give them names that help me remember them.

(Such was the case with Flower Pot, the lamb who got a plastic hanging basket pot stuck on her head and ran around the yard hysterical while the rest of the flock ran from her in terror.)

A few months ago, I started noticing how absolutely fat my sheep were getting. I'm talking 'hippo hiney fat." Since the only grain they get is a tiny smidgeon to reward/bribe them for coming into the back yard, their bulging waistlines just reminded me how little it takes to allow a Dorper sheep to thrive. And this got me to thinking about genes. And about what kind of sheep I wanted when we moved the entire flock to north Texas. And about losing genes. Roanie is getting old. She doesn't have a lot of teeth. She has a growth on her chest. But typical Roanie, she's plugging on along, happy for every day on this side of the grass. So I got to thinking about breeding sheep again.

Since moving some of the cattle to North Texas, we have more room here now to get the base flock I want again. So I called a friend just to see if she had any ram lambs left. It was late in the season, and she normally bands everyone, but what the heck, what's meant to be is meant to be. So I gave her a call.

Wonder of wonders there was one little guy that she hadn't banded because she was considering him as a ram prospect for herself.

She also gave me the option to lease his father. Other Half wanted to do that so we didn't have to deal with a ram later. I initially agreed to lease, but the more I worried about the responsibility of someone else's livestock, the more I leaned toward just buying the ram lamb outright. I looked him over. I liked his structure. I liked his parents. And since I didn't have to have babies right away, his age wasn't a big drawback. There was something about the way this little guy stood which hinted that he was going to grow up to be a nice ram.

So into the truck he went. He's adjusting pretty well. The girls are still mean to him. He's taken a few hard knocks, but they're grudgingly allowing him to graze with them now.

At the moment I'm still coming up with a name. His sire is named Dodge.

I started calling him Dodgie but he needs his own name soon before that one sticks. If he isn't careful, I just may call him Orville because when I watch him in the pasture, he reminds me of the lambs that will someday be popping up in my pasture again like popcorn.

Orville Redenbacher

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 09:56 am   |  Permalink   |  6 Comments  |  Email
I think Orville is perfect! Love your blog. Reminds me of our farm when I was growing up.
Posted by Beth on 09/05/2014 - 08:45 PM
Hurrah! I've missed the sheep and lamb stories and pictures.
Posted by Sharon on 09/05/2014 - 10:48 PM
Orville, the ram that Dodge built.
Posted by Eric on 09/05/2014 - 11:10 PM
Orville, the ram that Dodge built.
Posted by Eric on 09/05/2014 - 11:10 PM
How bout Hemi? Glad to see your getting back into sheep. I have to say seeing your hair sheep led me to my own little flock. I started with a free 3 legged Katahdin ewe we called "Tripod" Tripod was preggers and gave me a nice ewe lamb "Pippi" as she reminded me of Pippi Longstocking and its just snowballed from there :-)
Posted by Kim on 09/06/2014 - 12:57 PM
All VERY good suggestions! I'm still tossing around names to see what sticks to him. A lot will be determined by his personality. We'll see if he turns out to be a Hemi or Dually (Dooley) or an Orville.
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 09/08/2014 - 12:24 AM

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