Every summer our flocks undergo a metamorphosis. I say flocks because in this instance we run two separate groups: a Romeldale/CVM flock and a Romney flock. At some point between May and September, part of my role as shepherdess is to determine the future direction of these flocks: who stays and who goes; and if they go, where they will end up. It’s a serious business — in some cases life and death — and a responsibility I take very seriously.
Each spring, dozens of lambs are born to our ewes, and they reflect some of the best genetics on our farm. When I put a sire in with a dam, I have a vision in mind, a very specific reason why I put them together. The lambs that are born and reflect this ideal will eventually join our flock. Those who are beautiful but redundant in our flock are set aside to sell to other flocks as breeders. Any lambs who don’t live up to expectations end up at auction or in the meat market. At birth, however, they are all considered breeders, and the monthly evaluations determine their fate. Usually by the middle of May, I’ve made our preliminary decisions as to the lambs we will keep. Then comes the hard part.
For every lamb that joins our flock, an adult must leave. This is not an easy decision to make, but I know that the future of the flock depends on making these hard decisions. I look over my records from the previous year and assess each ewe and ram. Girls can go onto the removal list for many reasons. If she is now redundant because a similar lamb is being added for other reasons, she can be sold to another farm as a breeder. On the other hand, if she has been a disappointment in some way (for example, poor mothering, britchy or coarse wool, difficult handling, low fleece weight, or low lamb numbers) she must go. I typically need to remove six ewes — three of each breed — and this is more easily done in some years than others.
If the ewe is still productive — lambs and a salable fleece each year — then I can try to sell her as a cull. I offer her at a greatly reduced rate to other shepherds who might be willing, either temporarily or permanently, to put up with her shortcomings at that discounted price. Most of our culls are much, much better than the sheep in our original flock fifteen years ago, so the buyer gets a productive ewe at a very reasonable price. It’s a win-win situation when ewes are sold as culls. She becomes a productive member of another flock, and I have peace of mind knowing that she has not ended up in someone’s freezer.
This year, four of our Romney ewes were moved out of our flock in just such a situation. Mercy, McKenzie, Negri, and Naomi all had coarser britch wool than I would have liked. A friend in Wisconsin was looking for naturally colored Romney ewes, and she was happy to take on our four girls. I will admit that I loaded them into our trailer with a heavy heart the night before our departure. I spent all night listening to Mercy loudly berate me from the trailer for having put her into the cull group. In the end, however, it was the best move for her — and she and the other three girls are now settled in at their new home, even eating graham crackers from their new shepherdess.
In addition to these four, Livia was sold to a flock in California. Since we have her daughter, Noble, still here, we have retained the bloodline and felt that we could move Livia out to make more space within our flock.
To take these places in our flock, we have added Oyster, Olivia, and Omega from our own lambs, and O’Chloe (a Zoe granddaughter) and Ora from Oak Creek Farm in Norwalk, IA. Oyster is a white, color-carrying daughter of Fern, sired by McGuyver, with good growth, very correct structure, and lovely fleece that looks very much like her dam’s. Olivia and Omega are also both color-carrying white lambs, but sired by Martin. Olivia is Liberty’s daughter, and Omega is Grace’s. Both were late-born and are still a bit on the small side. We will give them a year to grow into their places in the flock and reevaluate then. For now, they will stay on a probationary basis.
O’Chloe and Ora are both colored lambs coming from my friend, Melissa, and her Oak Creek Farm. Both come from our bloodlines and have come back to our farm to inject a bit of color into this year’s lamb group. They are Edison’s daughters, with very correct structure, good growth and incredible crimp in their fleeces. O’Chloe is Lucinda’s daughter, so she could give us white lambs in future years, and Ora is Hailey’s daughter (now you know where Hailey went when we sold her!). Both have settled in well and will join a breeding group this fall.
This now sets our Romney flock in place for this year. A future blog will detail more about the rams we will keep over the winter, and I’ll tell you more about the changes in the Romeldale flock in the next blog.