Our rams are both yearlings now and it’s interesting to see how different they look. Shaft is a giant brown puffball who will produce a long, soft, really nice fleece for the fall shearing. Bucky is a big hunk of ivory colored muscle and density, who will provide an excellent dressing percentage when his breeding days are over.
Even though both rams were “bred for good fleeces and solid meat conformation”, they each clearly favor one trait over the other. Wool and meatiness as traits are sadly not all that complementary. A lot of breeders spend years on end and multiple breeding groups trying to thread the needle and get a Bucky-level of meatiness with a Shaft-like soft, high-value fleece. Sometimes they get there, but just seeing the starkness of the difference was valuable.
The two traits work against each other to some extent because growing lots of wool takes away from building up muscle, as both require protein. Milkiness or milkability (not the same, the latter is a group of traits really) are more complementary, as we have some serious milkiness in our ewes despite fleece quality ranging from felt to possibly fall-level ok in a spring fleece. And temperament is much the same– Bucky is a very gentle ram and we will totally work to keep that going in the flock, as a jerkish ram is a lot more trouble than a jerkish ewe.
So while we have breeding goals, we aren’t expecting to get exactly what we want with a specific trait just because we picked stock with “good genetics”. It’s also been instructive to see Bucky’s offspring and the range there between his genetics and those of the mothers.
We put the rams in with the ewes for a little while since everyone is out of season and this is a strongly seasonal breed, so winter birth is low risk. They are going back to their own pen this weekend though. It gave the grass in the ram pen a chance to recover.
The ewes did start weaning, but the lambs still have a pull now and again. It’s very gentle compared with how the local deer wean (chasing the fawns until they stop coming up). The ewes mainly just walk away at shorter and shorter intervals.
It’s colder than we thought it would be a lot of days this summer, but this is the easy time of year with sheep. They don’t have anything to do except grow their fleece out and get bigger in the case of the lambs. And in the case of our sheep, take out massive amounts of bramble. They are covered in blackberry switches, but it’s totally worth it, they are demolishing the Himalayan and native brambles that we opened up for them. I had heard Icelandics were great with bramble, but I didn’t think they would make so much progress in such a short time. So that’s a nice bonus.
This past weekend we did maintenance for all the sheep, with some much-needed assistance from a local acquaintance. It was the first time for the lambs. They all got their very first vaccines and hoof trims and dose of wormer. From the look of things, we will need to do some soil testing, as the lambs grazed in a pretty different area to the ewes and the FAMACHA checks were quite different in both groups. We also found out Bucky has better parasite resistance than Shaft, though Shaft has clearly better fleece. Something to keep in mind for the future.
We had a couple cases of lamb hoof scald from the lambs grazing in the running seasonal stream. Scald is a precursor to hoof rot, but is not necessarily a sign that there is rot in the field. We foot bathed and are doing very clean straw, even out in the muddy entrance. We weren’t skipping straw before, we’re just doing the recommended extremely dry bedding level for scald/rot in the flock.
Anyway, since there was no limping (the scald was mild enough that it could have been missed in a larger hoof trim group), we didn’t bust out the antibiotics. We’re really trying to keep use down to a minimum where that makes sense.
There was a plan to do more fencing, but hitting a water line derailed that and the time was instead spent fixing that problem.
The lambs had some odd growths from walking and skipping on uneven terrain, nothing bad, very likely just the normal course of things when there aren’t enough scraping rocks around. We are working on putting some out in the field to help reduce having to trim by hand.
Nobody looked nutrient deficient, so that was nice.
So far it looks ok. Our biggest (ram) lamb looks to be pushing 50lbs or so, and the rest are 35-40lbs, which is about right for this breed. Optimally they’d all be up another five or so pounds, but that is with excellent pasture and our pasture is definitely not there yet, although there’s no signs of deficiency or inadequate forage in the sheep. It’s just not at peak condition since we didn’t take care of it properly last year.
So if we want to slaughter as early as possible, the two oldest ram lambs should be 90lbs+ by July and the other two should be there by August. We’re still going back and forth on it, we might just wait until September, but we’ll see how they look through the summer.
The biggest lamb is comically huge because he was greedy and with only one teat, he got a majority of the milk. His brother started focusing on grass at about 3 weeks of age or so, which is definitely not something we want to repeat in the future, since that little guy is about 30% smaller despite being 25% larger at birth. We’ll have to look into how to manage our one-teat ewe to equalize the milk, if that’s possible. Thankfully she is plenty milky and has had no udder issues.
Our bottle lamb should be 18-20lbs by now, but I haven’t weighed him in almost 2 weeks, so I’ll have to take care of that by this weekend. We’ve dropped him down to a morning and a night bottle this week and he complains mightily around this time of day (such as right now while I write this).
All the lambs are good foragers and doing well and getting quite big. There are some nice fleeces coming in as well. So right now things look ok.
We’re going through some rainy times and not really enough hours of dryness to leave wool outside to dry. So I am going to start the process of washing up the spring wool and drying it all indoors, which I was hoping wouldn’t be my only option starting this early, but them’s the breaks of living in the Maritime Northwest.
Hopefully by next week I can start the combing out and see what I get. I might get some usable roving, which would be some beginner’s luck, but it’s possible since what I’m starting with is actually in great shape for spring wool.
We don’t have a hay problem, we have a “never let your rams roam if you want to spare yourself a lot of VM picking” problem. Which we solved with the power of cattle panels. Ugly but so great at containing rambly rams.
I was hoping to try out advertising raw fleeces, but the shearer sheared in strips and that’s not what people looking for raw fleeces specifically expect. It’s not a big deal, but it’s something to keep in mind as we have more fleece and more animals. Spring fleeces are chancy to sell as it is. The ones we have look ok, but they do have the wool break’s new growth in them, so that will have to be separated out. If the fleeces are all they appear to be, this will happen after a little soaking in plain water. Otherwise I have a lot of felting fleece to experiment with.
So the ewes are sheared, the shearer did very well with them, they are nick and cut free and their fleeces are delightfully free of VM. I was expecting much worse for the spring clips, but they look about ready to go straight to washing and combing out after they air a little.
And little Zuko is going to be a wether soon. He took the procedure quite well, considering.
We’ve been working through colds the last week, and this current one is a bit of a doozy, so that’s all I’ve got right now.