Every spring, our flock swells in number as our ewes deliver dozens of lambs in our barns. Over the next weeks, we pay particular attention to each of these lambs, measuring their weight gains, assessing their interactions with the world around them, looking closely at their fleece characteristics, and generally trying to choose the best of the best for use as breeding stock, either in our own flock or in other flocks across the US. Once the breeding-quality lambs are identified, we comb through the list to identify which of those lambs are needed within our own flock—not necessarily the “best of them,” but those that will add the traits that our flock is “working on”—and that can vary from year to year.
We expect all of our ewes to be very fertile, so we give preference to those ewe lambs who breed the first year (meaning that our March-born lambs deliver their own lambs the following spring, at the age of 11-13 months). Every fall when we put our rams in with our ewes, we have certain goals for each breeding group, some improvement that we seek in the resulting lambs. Last spring, our Romeldale groups were put together to produce dark moorit lambs with a finer fiber diameter. When we chose lambs for our own flock, we chose those moorit girls who looked as though they carried at least one dark gene for pattern and who came from our finer-fleeced ewes—and Natasha is one of those.
Natasha is not a particularly big ewe lamb. Her growth met our flock average of 0.75 pounds per day. Yet her dam is Hattie, one of our most beautiful fleece producers with a very fine fiber diameter; and her sire is Lariat, a striking ram with a lovely, long moorit staple. Although neither Hattie nor Lariat is a particularly large sheep, they each produce well, so when Natasha came along, we decided to add her to our ewe flock. She went into a breeding group with Latham this past fall, even though she was still a bit small in size. I knew that if she was too small to breed, it wouldn’t happen.
Surprisingly, Natasha was marked by Latham to lamb on or around March 9, 2015. When she was scanned by our ultrasound tech in early December, she had a surprise for us all. This little overachiever was carrying not one lamb, but twins – something that just doesn’t happen that often with a ewe lamb! The technician scanned her a second time, just to be sure. Indeed, Natasha is carrying twins—no doubt about it!
So ever since, Natasha has been happily eating alfalfa and a bit of grain each day with her friends in the high nutrition group. Now that she is nearing her last trimester, I’ve increased the grain for her, specifically, so she gets a small bucket of her own at each feeding. This will ensure that she gets the nutrition she needs in her particular situation, since she is carrying two fetuses while she is still a growing lamb herself.
Providing Natasha with her own bucket is good not only because of the added nutrition, but also because I hold that bucket for her each day. This daily routine allows her to know me as a positive being in her life. She is already much more relaxed in my presence than she was just a few days ago when this new routine began. As a result, when the time comes for her to deliver her lambs, we will already have built a relationship of friendship and trust—a great help at a stressful time.
As Natasha eats her grain each day, I wonder at the miracle taking place within her. Her two lambs are nearly fully formed now, having most of the bodily systems necessary for life. They already look like lambs, their teeth have erupted from the gums, they have eyelids that open and close, and their wool follicles are already present—although the wool will not cover the body until shortly before birth. This last trimester is more about growth and gain than it is about formation; from this point forward, they will gain the final 70% of their birth weight. As I watch Natasha dig into her grain each day, I imagine her coming lambs and wonder: Will one of them find a home in our flock? Will they be as beautiful as she is? Only time will tell, and I can hardly wait.