As I have discussed in previous blogs (April 4th and 8th and August 17th, 2016), white Romney Hannah’s single ram lamb, Peter, has been a bit of an anomaly for our flock this year. He didn’t look or act like a typical Romney lamb at birth, and although he has grown to be a very correct-looking Romney ram lamb, he has always been quite small in comparison to his contemporaries. Yet because he has intrigued me, he’s still here in our flock. It is my hope that he will someday be a big, beautiful Romney ram who I can use for breeding — and if not, I’ll have extended his life by years, which in itself makes me happy.
Sheep don’t like to be alone — they are flocking mammals, most comfortable when surrounded by other sheep — and so we group our sheep by sex, size and nutrition. At this time of year, we usually have an adult ram group in one paddock and a small-ram group in the neighboring paddock, allowing the little boys to get to the hay without having to fight the big guys to get their ration. In theory, this works great, but even in the small group, tiny Peter has to fight to get his ration. The last time we checked, he was only half of what his contemporaries weighed: a mere 60 lbs compared to 110-130 lbs. for each of the rest of that group.
For most of the fall, I provided grain for that group, hoping that it would help all of them fight the parasites that have been so present during their short lives. For most of the young boys, this worked great: they gained well and became good-sized ram lambs going into the end of their first year. Yet Peter remained small — if he didn’t squirm so much, I could easily heft the little pip-squeak under one arm and carry him anywhere.
Yet Peter is a beautiful pip-squeak. His fleece is beautiful. And his conformation cannot be criticized; he’s very nicely put together. His size is a common side-effect of his heavy inbreeding, so I’m willing to give him time to catch up — even though I’m not sure that he can. Peter is beautiful, but so very small. When I snapped the attached photo of Peter in the midst of the feeding ram lambs, he looks like a baby among giants.
I’ve left Peter in among the ram lambs — they are his closest contemporaries with the most similar nutritional needs. Yet because we have so many open ewes this year, I’ve had to make a a really tough decision that likely impacts Peter most of all. I’ve had to make an “open ewe” nutritional group so that this group of ewes doesn’t get overly fat over the coming year. (If they gain too much weight, they are less likely to breed next fall, creating a vicious cycle that is very hard to break.) With nowhere to put such a group, I had to combine both of the ram groups into one, adult rams with ram lambs, eating from the same bales and thereby open up the adjoining paddock for the ewes. It had to be done.
Yet this decision likely impacts poor Peter the most. While pushing and shoving with rams weighing 130+ pounds to get to his hay was difficult, he now must push in among rams who weigh up to 230 pounds or more. I walk among our rams each day as I haul their hay, and I watch their interactions. It’s obvious that Peter is at a great disadvantage, but what can I do?
I’ve been mulling this over for a while, and few good ideas have surfaced. I can’t really feed Peter separately or additionally (like from a bucket) because that would risk the relative calm of our ram flock. Jealousy can be a monster, and I honestly don’t relish the idea of walking out among a dozen angry/jealous rams who want access to the bucket of feed I carry. In spite of how much I care about Peter, my continued safety when among the ram flock is critical.
I could separate Peter from his group, but put him where? Among the ewes? Bad idea: he may be small, but I have no evidence that he is infertile. If any of our girls miscarry, I don’t want him trying to rebreed them. Among the high-nutrition group? There are six ewes there, but only four are bred — the other two are Sweet Pea and Pegeen, who are also both very small. I don’t want to risk the chance that he might breed them either. I could separate him with the next smallest ram lamb and pen them somewhere, but this would be an emergency measure. As flocking animals, those smaller boys would likely stress over the fact that there are only two of them. Besides that, they would get little exercise in a small pen — and where would I put it? Could they escape into the ewes? This plan is fraught with issues.
So Peter is still in among the rest of the rams, all of them, and I keep trying to generate solutions. Poor Peter. He is like a man without a country, and until he grows into the ram that I see deep within, he has no contemporaries. He is a lamb alone, even when among his own flock.