The one that got away

Gabby is a Romeldale/CVM ewe we bought when we first got into the breed. She was our first ewe — and most likely our best purchase. A large-bodied girl with plenty of space for big triplets (up to 34 lbs of lambs in any given year), her fleece has won multiple awards at various competitions throughout the country. Yes, Gabby is one of the gems of our flock, and I would love to have plenty more just like her. Even better, I would love to have more of her offspring who carry all of her best traits, like moorit coloring and total genetic resistance to scrapie (a serious disease of sheep; many of our lambs are RR and pass genetic resistance to all of their lambs). Her lambs have been among the best we’ve had, and Olive is the first girl we’ve been able to hang on to.

Gabby has given us a number of ewe lambs over the years, and the fact that they aren’t here in my own flock is a reflection of the way we do business. I don’t always keep our very best genetics. Instead, I listen to the goals of our customers and try to provide them with animals who will best achieve those goals. Until we kept Olive this year, all of Gabby’s daughters had been sold to other farms, even when I swore I’d keep a particular girl. And that’s where Nelly comes in; she is one of Gabby’s daughters who got away.

Gabby gave us a beautiful ewe lamb last year, and Nelly had everything I wanted. I set her aside for our own flock — this one was definitely going to stay. Then customers came to check out our lambs, and she ended up sold. They needed her traits for their starter flock, and although I hated to see her go, I kept telling myself that I still had Gabby and that she would give me a similar girl — and she did. She gave us Olive this year, and she is here to stay!

Yet I still remembered Nelly and mentioned her to several people in the past year as “the ewe lamb who got away.” Gabby is getting old and is nearly ready to retire. She is still producing, but she looks tired. I’m afraid that with only Olive to replace her, I’d be putting all my eggs in one basket. If anything were to happen to Olive, I’d lose that bloodline. I need at least one more girl from Gabby, so I put her into a breeding group this fall. One more year, I told her, just one. Next year she can move into Zoe’s retirement position, but this year, I need one more ewe lamb — please! She has now been marked again and is likely pregnant.

About a month ago, I got an email letting me know that the people who had purchased Nelly were liquidating their flock to spend a year traveling. They were interested in selling her to a kid in 4-H — did I know of anyone? I talked about it with the one 4-H’er I work closely with, and I gave him some time to work it out. With my complicated life at the time, this fell off of my radar — until last Tuesday.

When I checked Facebook that day, I saw that this same breeder had posted on one of the Romeldale/CVM pages. There, in black and white, Nelly was listed for immediate sale. They needed the last few sheep gone by the end of the week. My Thursday was almost entirely open. I could easily make the trip to Wisconsin and back before my evening appointment. I quickly called and was relieved that Nelly was still available. What luck! I arranged to pick her up two days later if they could get a health certificate in time (required for transport across state lines). I couldn’t believe it: Nelly was coming home!

Nelly, newly coated, in the crate in the back of the truck, looks over the field prior to her release.

Nelly, newly coated in the crate in the back of the truck, looks out over the field prior to her release.

I picked her up on Thursday afternoon last week. I took along two ewe lambs so she wouldn’t be stressed at being alone on the trip back. I arrived at the owner’s farm, got out of my truck, and called out to announce my arrival. I immediately knew where Nelly was, as she called for me from within the nearby barn. Not only was she unhappy where she waited, but it was also obvious that she remembered my voice — she had called out in a tone of voice reserved by flock members for the shepherd. She now obviously knew I was coming.

We quickly loaded Nelly up, and we were on our way back home in no time. I was eager to return to the farm so I could get the lambs where they belonged and then get Nelly settled in before dark. The trip was uneventful, and we were thankfully home in plenty of time.

As a yearling, Nelly now weighs 135 lbs, a nice weight for a ewe who still has another couple years of growth. It was obvious that she remembered our farm and our routines. Although when the graham crackers first came out, she was a bit shy and didn’t recognize the treats. Yet a few minutes later, her eyes grew suddenly wide with recollection of graham crackers past, and she came forward slowly to get a better look at what I held. After that first sniff, you could see the wheels turning, and then there was no stopping her. The memories of her stay here as a lamb — of graham crackers and of the environment in general — obviously came flooding back. Suddenly she knew where the water was, where the flock bedded down, and all the other details that our flock members use to their advantage. Yes, Nelly is back — and I look forward to reestablishing our relationship in full. Our rekindled friendship has only just begun!

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  • Bev says:

    I am inexpressibly happy that you got Nelly back!

  • Abbie says:

    Will you put Nelly into a breeding group this year? I am so excited for you that you got another Gabby daughter back! Gabby has such beautiful lambs!

    • Dee says:

      Yes, there is a possibility that Nelly could yet be bred this fall for lambs next spring. Added to the fact that Olive has already been marked by Muldoon, that means that we have a very good chance that we will have another generation coming down from Gabby as early as Spring 2016!

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