In 2004, I purchased a couple of purebred Romney ewes from a flock on the East Coast as foundation animals for our purebred Romney flock. Camille was colored and her friend Celeste was white. Of the two, Camille was the bigger of the two, but Celeste was both more prolific and the one with the nicer fleece. In fact, Celeste won multiple awards for her fleeces over the years – it was incredibly long, lustrous, crimpy, and very white – the epitome of what we look for in Romney fiber.
Both girls are now long gone, but their daughters and granddaughters are still here, the backbone of our Romney flock. Celeste has two daughters still in our flock (Heavenly and Harmony, both born in 2008), but only one has her fleece; Heavenly, too, has won multiple awards for her lustrous, beautiful locks. It has long been a dream of mine to incorporate Heavenly’s daughters into our flock but it hasn’t been a simple task – for a couple of reasons. First, any ewe I add to my flock needs to have more than a beautiful fleece – I want the good size and great body conformation to match the excellent wool. Also, I’ve been collecting way too many white Romneys lately, and I just can’t justify bringing in any more unless they are exactly what I want in my flock – and they must carry color. As a result, I’ve only added Nevaeh from Heavenly’s line – and although her fleece is beautiful, I’m beginning to think that she will never achieve the size of her mother. She must prove herself this year – but for now, she is here.
In the ideal world, I would love to have some of those big-bodied, gorgeous fleece genetics in a ram line from Heavenly, too – but that would require even more selection. Our rams go through an incredible number of hurdles to get to breed the flock: they must be fast-growing, big-bodied boys who are very correctly structured and genetically resistant to scrapie (a disease of sheep). In addition to this, we look at four different fleece traits, and if they fall short on any one, they are dropped from the list of possible replacement rams. After all that, I select from among the group for the traits that I am looking to build – and right now, in my Romneys, it is dark coloring and fast growth. A white ram who passes in every other way can only move on to breeding if he carries a gene for dark coloring – and if he happens to be a colored ram, he will get in ahead of a white ram, everything else being equal. Right now, I need color in my flock – and every year, I am on the look-out for that one special guy that has it all.
So, when Heavenly dropped her twins this year, I was definitely interested in what I saw. First, she delivered twins that each weighed over 14 pounds – at that birth weight, they usually gain fairly well through the first months, at least. Secondly, the ram lamb Qayin was colored and really dark; rather than silvery gray, he is dark charcoal. Since Heavenly has milk on only one side of her bag, I decided to give it all to Qayin, making his sister, Quaker, a bottle lamb. This could have back-fired on me, since bottle lambs sometimes do well on the bottle, but at other times, tend to grow more slowly. She was and is a beautiful girl, and I was hoping she would take to the bottle well and her good size would continue – but in those first hours after birth, I didn’t know how it would all turn out. I just hoped she would do well. I wouldn’t mind another Heavenly daughter, either – and in a daughter, I could go white or colored, since Quaker carries color.
Qayin and Quaker are two weeks old today, and I can’t be happier about how things are going! Both are growing well – faster than most of our Romney lambs. Even Quaker, on the bottle, is growing quickly. She polishes off a sixteen ounce bottle four times a day – and reminds me when I am late in bringing the next one! Both twins look to have beautiful fleece, from what I can tell at two weeks of age. It will become more obvious as they get older exactly what their wool will look like as adults, but so far, so good – lots of luster! And both twins are genetically resistant to scrapie. Basically, everything I’m looking for is there. So, you would think that I’d be over-the-moon happy – all of the things I’ve been hoping to get from Heavenly’s line have come to us this year!
Yet, that very fact has me worried. As a long-time shepherdess, having so much good fortune makes me incredibly nervous. I know how little it takes for young lambs to become ill, and once a young lamb begins down that path, it takes very little for illness to turn to death. Somehow, my favorites always seem to die – and this is the reason that I usually don’t identify my favorites this early. I usually wait until near-weaning to make my own picks. Superstition, I guess.
But this year, Qayin and Quaker are already on the list of possible keepers for our flock. I’m watching them like a hawk – no cough is too small to take a temp, no limp too slight to investigate further. I’m taking nothing for granted – anything that seems slightly amiss is quickly checked out. I’m taking no chances!
I know that this hyper-vigilance isn’t the solution. There are literally so very many ways for a young lamb to die that there is really nothing I can do to prevent it. I can follow up on every little thing, and in the end, they could cast themselves sleeping in the barn and never get up again. Yet, with Quaker’s regular bottles, I lay eyes on them every few hours, every day. I know it’s silly, but that very fact makes me a bit less nervous. Not a lot less – just a bit.