Regular readers may recall that we had a somewhat unusual Romney lamb born last year. Peter was the result of an accidental breeding when I pulled a Romney ram lamb out of a breeding group and then joined his group to Martin’s in the adjoining field. The joining of the groups made a lot of sense since, genetically speaking, the rams were very similar and the ram lamb was not working. Yet as I lay in bed that night, I realized that by joining the two groups, I had accidentally put Martin’s mother, Hannah, into his group! Although I rushed out the next day to pull her out, he had bred her overnight. The resulting lamb was Peter.
Peter had a few challenges as a newborn lamb. He was weak, slow to stand, slow to nurse, and developmentally challenged in general. He had some interesting color genetics that I hoped to investigate, but I was not willing to move my flock backwards to do so. I knew that such a close breeding would likely mean slow growth and/or small size, and I was willing to overlook that, but he would have to meet our high standards in other ways if he was going to get a breeding group in the fall. I decided to keep him to see what would happen as he matured. I knew that if he turned out well, he would carry other advantages besides the interesting color genetics. Because he is the result of such a close breeding, he could carry a lot of really good stuff — or really bad. Only time would tell.
The biggest thing that Peter has going for him is that, because he is so inbred, any traits he exhibits are likely to be passed on to lambs he might sire. Many of his genes will be doubled up, getting the same gene from both sire and dam because they are so closely related. Because of this, any visible trait that we very much liked — or disliked — was more likely to breed true in his offspring.
Yet in order to have this advantage, Peter must be able to sire those offspring — and that possibility was a big question mark last year. I decided to keep him in the flock until this year to better evaluate what he might have to offer. Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out as well as I had hoped, even allowing for some reduced size. Peter weighed 57 pounds almost exactly one year ago, and we found that when we weighed him in early May of this year, he still weighed exactly 57 pounds. I expected him to be small, but 57 pounds is not just small; it’s miniature. And it could be a symptom of something worse than simply stunted size. There are several reasons why a ram lamb would stop growing despite being well fed and cared for, and most (but not all) of those reasons are health related. It could be a circulatory issue (where not enough nutrition or oxygen is reaching his body cells) or it could be pulmonary (such as an issue with his lung capacity or the transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream). It could be a problem in digestion, causing inefficient energy or nutrition conversion. In any case, this isn’t something that I want passed to my flock for future generations, especially since I don’t know exactly what’s causing it. A proper diagnosis would require some pretty heavy veterinary testing, which just doesn’t seem worthwhile since I have other rams available. Unfortunately, Peter will have to go.
It is of some interest, however, that although small in size, Peter is fairly high in the hierarchy of the ram flock at Peeper Hollow Farm. The rams generally find their sleeping spots based on their standing within the flock. In the winter, the best spots are protected from the wind and snow in the back of the run-in shelter, and in the summer, the best spots are in the front of the shelter, out of the rain but still in the shade of the barn where a bit of breeze can cool them. I found it very interesting that both during the cold winter months and also now in the heat, Peter can always be found in the choicest loafing spots. Either he has a LOT of sway with Noa and Nahe (since these lead rams would be the ones to claim the best spots for themselves) or he is so small and immature that they see him as a small lamb rather than one of the rams. In any case, Peter has had the benefit of the best real estate within the flock since sometime last summer!
Sometime this month we will take to auction a group of rams who disappointed us, and he will be among that group. I cannot keep sheep that don’t move our flock forward. It is time to bid Peter farewell.