Every year, we add a number of new lambs to our ewe flock in hopes that they will eventually help to produce future generations. Some of them breed the first fall, but most will wait to breed in future years. I generally expect to feed these young girls well throughout their first year or two and then evaluate what they have to offer the flock once their lambs begin to arrive years down the road. I have said many times that the value of a sheep is not only in what characteristics she brings to the flock, but more so in the characteristics that she passes to her lambs – and these aren’t always the same!
Every fall, I take a quick look through my electronic records where I have a photograph of the face of each sheep. These photographs help our volunteers to find sheep within the flock when we are working, so I really need them to be fairly current. I make a list of the sheep that I know have changed over the year since last August (when I last took face photos), and then grab my camera and head out to the ram flock and the ewe flock to update my records. It usually takes me several trips to get each and every photo that I need, but eventually, the photos in my records well identify the sheep in our fields.
As I’ve done this year after year, I’ve begun to notice some interesting facts. For example, many of our Romney lambs have wool on their faces for their first year, only to lose much or all of that face cover as they mature. If you look at the photos of Oyster (Fern’s daughter from 2015) at the top of this blog, you can easily see that she had a lot of wool on her face in August of 2015 when she was only a few months old. This wasn’t particularly surprising to me since her dam, Fern, had bits of tufty wool on her face even as an adult, and wooly-faced sheep often produce wooly-faced sheep. Wool on faces is a work in progress, since it is genetically tied to so many positive wool traits.
As I looked through my records, however, I noticed that in 2016 Oyster had much less face cover – and now at the age of nearly two-and-a-half, she has a “clean” face with no wool. I think the difference is surprising and a big reason why I don’t let a bit of face cover in our Romney lambs keep them from joining our flock (as many breeders do). I find that it is very often a temporary issue that is a sign of immaturity of that animal.
The Romeldales, too, look much different each year for the first few years. Although they tend to keep most of the markings present at birth, their faces elongate and change enough that annually updated photos are required until they reach about 3-4 years of age. This breed, too, tends to lose some of the longer fiber that is present in the head at birth – particularly on the cheeks, under the chin, and on their ears. In fact, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen an adult Romeldale with heavy cover on their ears, but nearly all of our lambs are born with it (see what I mean in the photos of Odelia).
These are just a couple of examples of how very much our sheep typically change over their first few years. These changes are also very obvious in their weights. Our average lamb weighs just over 11 lbs at birth, but by the time we get to September of their first year, they have reached nearly 100 lbs. By the next summer when I am taking their yearling photographs in August or September, their weight has increased to between 110-150 lbs for ewes, and between 120-190 lbs for rams. The next year at two years old, the ewes weigh in at between 130 and 170 lbs, and when full grown, they span 145-210 lbs. Our rams are typically heavier, weighing 150-210 lbs as two-year-olds, and between 175-230 lbs as adults.