More rams?

We generally keep more rams than needed for a flock of our size, but for good reason. First, since we sell breeding stock and starter flocks, we require rams who are unrelated to small groups of ewes. This is accomplished by using two or more breeding rams each fall (and a good bit of record-keeping). Using only one ram per breed just won’t work for this.

Second, I’ve also come to realize that no matter how good a particular breeding ram is, you should keep a back-up just in case. It’s not unheard of for a ram to go down the night before breeding, and when that happens, it’s good to have his understudy waiting in the wings — otherwise you’ll be forced to accept pretty much any ram as a fill-in. Due to these two reasons — and two different breeds in our fields — I now overwinter a minimum of eight rams in our paddocks.

I also tend to keep additional rams from among our one-year ram lambs. Even if a ram works only one year, he will sire a large number of that year’s lambs; and if he works for several years, he can easily sire one hundred or more lambs, even though we typically run multiple smaller groups. When I choose one of our ram lambs for breeding, I want to know that he will genetically improve what we see in our lambs. If I keep only one promising ram lamb and, when I look him over closely at one year of age, find that his conformation or fiber testing is disappointing, what could I do? I’d have already invested an entire year in him and left myself with no other options. To counteract that possibility, I keep more ram lambs than I will use. If they all work out, I can sell them as yearling breeders; if some of them fall short, I have improved my odds of getting a really great ram by keeping the others.

Yet another reason to keep more rams is because people like to buy adult rams for fall breeding. If I’ve kept only those we intend to use ourselves, I’ll have nothing to offer these sheep buyers — and that isn’t good business! As a result, we normally overwinter about a dozen rams in any given year — and this year there are a few more than that! It was a particularly good year for Romeldale ram lambs, and our group in the paddock reflects that.

With so many rams already in our paddocks, I figured there was no room to fit more into the line-up. But whenever I say such a thing, something comes up to change my mind. A good friend on the West Coast had sold a couple of rams to a farm in New York a few years ago. The boys had done good work there, and the current farm decided to keep some of their sons to replace the older guys. After looking over her records, my friend on the West Coast decided that she wanted to incorporate them into her own breeding program — but how to get them there? All of these decisions had been made fairly late in the season, after most of the shows and other events that attract both shepherds and sheep transport companies.

When I heard of the problem, I offered another solution. If they could find transport to a destination within a few hours of our farm, I would pick up the two rams and overwinter them here (halfway to the West Coast) and then schedule transport for the rest of their journey in the spring, when we had better chances of finding a hauler. They left New York early last week, and I got a call yesterday evening that the boys were in Iowa — it was time to go and get them.

I did my chores quickly this morning, put the dogs in their crates, hooked up the trailer, and headed the hour-and-a-half to West Union, Iowa, where they had spent the night. They were on the farm owned by the man who had moved them from Kentucky to Iowa, and last night on the phone, he made a point to mention that they are unusual rams. They had arrived with the rest of his show sheep, who were returning home. The rams were nearest the door of the trailer, so he couldn’t unload his own sheep without letting them out first. They hopped out and stood in the aisle of the barn while his sheep were unloaded. He had intended to keep them in the barn overnight, but as soon as the trailer was empty, they hopped back in and spent the night there.

Cary (in the foreground) and Sangria (eating pumpkins) are settling into the barn this afternoon.

When I arrived this afternoon, the rams were still in the trailer. He haltered one, and I led him out of that trailer and into the back of mine. The second ram took off for a minute, but when he realized that his travel buddy had hopped into my trailer, he came running back and hopped in too. The transfer took about ten seconds!

We got home late this afternoon, and I got the boys settled into our quarantine pen. They know from both sight and scent that the ewes are right next door. The boys have fresh hay, water, and a pan of broken pumpkins in their pen. These Romney rams are gentle and kind, and they’ll hopefully come to enjoy their time with us, until the long last leg of their journey next spring. Their two weeks of quarantine will be over before they know it, and then they’ll find lots of rams to befriend in the ram pen. Welcome, Cary and Sangria!

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