I find the amount of fuzz on our sheep faces interesting. I know that sounds a little crazy, but the Romney and Romeldale breeds are supposed to have “clean faces” — which basically means that they should not have wool on their cheeks or over the bridge of their noses – their faces should be clean of wool. Yet, when it comes right down to it, how much is okay is very dependent on who you ask – there is a bit of a shifting scale here. Ideally, there should be little wool at all on their faces — but when has there ever been a living creature that is the image of perfection? The reality is that some have a bit more and some a bit less — and most of our sheep here at Peeper Hollow Farm have relatively clean faces. You will notice that I say “relatively.”
I’ve found that particularly in the Romneys, wool on the face is usually an indicator of a heavy-shearing sheep. The ewes in my flock who have very clean faces shear an average of about eleven pounds. Meanwhile, the ewes with quite a bit of facial fuzz — not so much that I have to shear it midyear, but enough that you would never be tempted to call their faces “clean of wool” — shear between sixteen and twenty pounds. I list their range because it does vary quite a bit — and it does seem to correlate with the amount of facial wool. Since wool is money for a fiber-producing farm, I’ve come to somewhat prefer a bit of fuzz on our sheep’s faces.
It does make me wonder, however, whether this trait is caused by the same genetics — one particular gene that causes both more wool on the face and more wool in the fleece areas — or whether it comes from a genetic linkage. I know this seems like a fine point, but think of it this way: you cannot have a heavy-shearing ewe with a clean face if the two traits are caused by the same gene, but if it is only a linkage… well, to me, linkages are made to be broken!
So far in our Romney flock, face cover is fairly good at predicting fleece weight. For the past several years, I’ve been trying to reduce face cover by using rams with clean faces. These rams shear pretty heavily in comparison to others of their size and weight, and that’s why they have been chosen. Yet the only really heavy-shearing lambs I get come from the wooly-faced ewes who shear heavily, and those lambs end up with some face cover themselves. For those who are wondering how much work those wooly faces might be, I trim lamb faces only once during the year for those ewe lambs we plan to keep. If the lamb needs more than that, she is gone. I don’t have time to trim faces! Yet I find that if I trim lamb faces once in the fall, most lambs never need another face trim as they age. They somehow lose the dramatic wooliness of the face and simply have a bit of tuftiness once they reach about 16 months or so. This is really good. It means that I can keep Romney ewes in my flock who have wool on their faces as lambs, and they won’t require extra work as adults — yet they provide us with 50-90% more wool!
The Romeldales don’t have such a clear correlation, although I’ve noticed that those who have a bit more wool at the cheek seem to shear a bit more in general. Yet in this breed, the amount that is sheared varies quite a bit by year. When I look at Ivy, for example, I see that we’ve sheared her seven times. If I throw out the first shearing because it was a partial year, the other six range from 10.4 lbs to 13.8 lbs — quite a variation! And this is not uncommon. I’ve found, though, that the variation in the Romeldales tends to align with the number of lambs they carry during that year. The more lambs they produce, the less wool they shear. This doesn’t seem to hold true in the Romneys; for them, the fuzzy faces seem to be the only clue.
So how do I feel about fuzzy faces? Well, I kinda like them. I know they generally get better with age, and they signal that we’ll have more wool from that ewe or ram. And that means a lot to me!