We have now finally evaluated every one of our new lambs at least once this spring, meaning that each one has been caught, weighed, and looked over for a series of sixteen physical traits and four fleece traits. After so many years of monitoring, one would think that we would no longer see mouths where teeth didn’t meet the gum plate or knock-kneed front legs – but one would be wrong. Although each of these faults is now quite rare among our lambs, they still seem to appear occasionally, and believe me, if we failed to check for any of them, that would be the year when we would likely have the problem and reintroduce it to our breeding flock.
Having said that, not all of the traits that we monitor create a yes or no situation when it comes to the lamb’s chance at a breeding future. Their color genetics, for example, are determined by photos we take at birth (like those in this blog), but no one pattern is any better or worse than another – it all depends on what the shepherd is looking for. Luster is another of those traits that we assess as we look the lamb over, but isn’t necessarily good or bad. A low luster fleece doesn’t necessarily mean that the lamb won’t go on to breed – particularly if it is a Romeldale. On the other hand, similar luster in a Romney might very well move them into the “do not breed” group, simply because the breed standard for the Romney calls for high luster for which the breed is known.
One by one, we go through the group of lambs and look them over. At that time, we usually also give them their first vaccinations and change their coats if they are becoming small. Catching lambs can be tricky – they can move so very quickly that once we have our hands on them, we do everything we might need to do to prevent having to catch them again soon.
At the end of the process, we weigh them and then turn them loose. When I am finished with the entire group, I have collected a lot of data – data that I then use to compare lambs when it comes to figuring out which we will keep for breeding here, which we will sell for breeding elsewhere, and which can only be sold for fiber animals or will be sold at auction later in the year. This is where the decisions get hard, because for every lamb I want to keep, an adult ewe or ram must move out of the flock. I’m not only looking among the nicest lambs that we have identified as breeders – I am looking for particular traits that move my flock forward towards specific flock goals. For example, one of this year’s goals was to add (and therefore produce) dark moorit brown lambs to our Romeldales – both rams and ewes. As a result, three of this year’s ewe lambs to join our flock are moorits – two of them dark, and the other is white (but is moorit brown at nose, eyeliner, and hooves). Among the boys, all three of the rams we are adding to our flock are dark moorit.
Last week and this week are all about making these types of choices. It isn’t about keeping “the best lambs” so much as finding “the best lambs for our flock.” No one individual is perfect, and it is all about finding the perfect balance to bring into our flock those traits that are front and center on our list of goals towards which we want to move. This is a particularly difficult decision to make right now because the lambs are still so young – many still only just over 30 days old! Yet, if I don’t somehow set aside the ones we want now, they may very well be sold by the time I make a decision when I have more information on the youngest flock members.
In the end, we will add about a dozen lambs to our flock this year: more ewes than rams, but not by much. Not every lamb that we tap for our flock now will actually remain. These are simply the ones that we think have the most potential to move our flock in the directions we want to move, and they will be reassessed next year when they are older and we can know more. Among the Romeldales this year, we are looking to add (birth photos above) ewe lambs Qorroborree (Qorro), Qloud, Qastanet, and Quiana, and ram lambs Quillan, Qallan, and Quan. Among the Romneys this year, we believe we will add (birth photos below) ewe lambs Quaker, Quella, Qlaret, and Qloe, and ram lambs Qayin and Quest (a son of Jada x O’Connor born at another farm). All of this, of course, depends on what happens over the next few months and how they continue to grow. For now, however, these difficult decisions are in the past once again.