A couple of years ago, I made a trip to Montana to meet my friends, Maggie and Carol, from Tawanda Farms in California, and to pick up a load of Romney sheep. Among the girls that we brought back was a sweet ewe lamb we later named McKinley. Like all of the ewes from that load, she was rather timid and shy. For a very long time, she wanted little to do with me or my flock. The four Tawanda Farms girls pretty much stayed to themselves, joining in with our larger flock only when they felt under threat. They had been transplanted, and I knew it would take some time for them to once again put down roots. I am nothing if not patient, so I left them to themselves unless absolutely necessary. I figured that they would eventually get used to me, their new environment, and all of these other sheep with whom they now shared their lives.
Over the past couple of years, all four of those ewe lambs have adjusted to their new home and settled in, making new friends, recognizing me as a positive element in their lives, and allowing their individual personalities to shine forth. McKinley is by far the most gregarious of the four; she has not only befriended many of our Romney flock members, but she has also become a close friend of mine. She is a ewe like no other — in many ways!
Physically, McKinley is very nicely put together. I tend to gravitate towards Romneys who are long in the body and a bit closer to the ground, and she certainly fits that description. Besides her very correct structure, she also has a particularly lovely fleece. Its crimp is a bit higher frequency than is typical of a Romney, but it is also quite lustrous and soft to the hand, with a fiber diameter that lies right in the middle of the range of the Romney breed standard. As far as ewes go, she is one I would love to clone — I could have several more in our flock and be perfectly happy.
The best part of McKinley, however, is not her wool or her physical traits. Honestly, what I love most about McKinley is her attitude and friendship. McKinley seems to be one of those perpetually happy sheep. As soon as I appear at the edge of her pasture, she will hop up and begin to prance her way over to me. Now, for those of you who don’t have sheep of your own and are unfamiliar with sheep behavior, gamboling and prancing (lifting the hooves in a high-step as they walk or run) is something that is not particularly common in adults. That behavior is usually reserved for lambs or for very happy times: a new pasture or an impending serving of grain, a really nice cool afternoon, or a game of tag on a manure pile. Very seldom does the appearance of the shepherd warrant such an expression of happiness — yet for McKinley, my appearance obviously measures up. She quite often prances over to greet me as I make my way into the pasture, and then follows me around like a puppy, talking to me as we go.
The other thing I like about McKinley is that she smiles. I have several Romneys that will do this, and I don’t know that it really indicates any particular emotion. For most of them, it seems to simply be the way their mouths are formed — they just have mouths that turn up at the corners. McKinley’s mouth, however, very much matches her usual demeanor. She’s just a particularly happy girl, and her smiling face reflects this.
Each year in the late summer or early fall, I grab my camera and spend a couple of days taking photos of the faces of our sheep. My goal during this time is to try to end up with a good picture of each individual. I use these in a variety of ways, from the tags on their sold fleeces to my computer program that holds data for each flock member. I don’t take a new photo of each sheep every year, but I do look over the photos that I currently use and make a list of sheep whose photos no longer reflect what they look like now. I usually have to take photos annually for those sheep up to two years old, and then I can skip the three-year-olds. Once they reach four years of age, I need to take new pictures only once every three or four years — they just don’t change a lot from year to year after that.
This past week, I have been taking our annual photos whenever I have visited the flock. Included in the group were all of the sheep with names beginning with M, N, and O, and then also a number of older sheep on my list. Once I had all of the photos, I uploaded them to the computer, cropped them down, and filed them for use throughout the year. As I prepared my photos for filing, I noticed that not only did I get a good photo of McKinley, but unlike the usual boring photos of each sheep’s face, I actually got a photo that very much reflects her happy personality. It is the photo you see to the left: my smiling girl, looking up at me and hoping that I once again brought her a few pieces of graham cracker — her favorite!
Next spring will be McKinley’s first year lambing, since she spent last fall in Nash’s breeding group (he was too young to breed until the end of the season, giving us only one lamb), and I’m eager to see her lambs. I hope they inherit their mother’s long and well-proportioned body — and even more so, her lovely, soft, lustrous fleece. But more than anything, I hope her lambs inherit her spirit and smile. I would love to have a couple more smiling, happy Romney ewes, jumping up to prance over and greet me when I enter the field. It would be a lovely new line in our flock, and a true lift to my spirits — as McKinley already is! What a wonderful gal!