The tale of two ewes

Heavenly as an adult.

Heavenly, pre-shearing

Heavenly and Harmony are white Romney twin ewes born to our girl, Celeste, in 2008, making them a couple of the elders of the flock. Celeste lost half of her bag that year due to mastitis, so we ended up bottle feeding Harmony, who happily made the switch. Heavenly was strongly attached to her mother’s side, choosing starvation over our bottles, so we left her to feed from her mom, who had just enough milk for one lamb.

Harmony as an adult in our flock.

Harmony, looking nearly identical to Heavenly – but with a much different fleece

Although Celeste had a lovely fleece and was very correct in conformation to the breed standard, she was not a large ewe, and it seemed that her daughters would grow to be about the same: lovely and correct in their structure, but not particularly large. In fact, they were rather small, but we wrote that off to the mastitis and assumed that they would eventually grow to a normal adult size.

My relationship with Celeste and her lambs evolved that year. She rather quickly understood that I was keeping at least one of her lambs alive with my bottles. We developed a routine as spring progressed: I would come out with a bottle of milk replacer and stand, looking out to the field where the ewes and lambs grazed. She would walk partway towards me with her daughters, and then Harmony would see me and come running and gamboling in joy to get her meal. I would feed the babe and then begin to walk towards her mother still in the field. As soon as I would begin to do so, Celeste would call for her lamb, and Harmony would again find her way back to her mother’s side. In this way, we traded off mothering this sweet little lamb.

When we made our decisions for replacement ewes that year, we added a large number of lambs to our flock, and Heavenly and Harmony were among that group. As shearing approached, I hoped for fleece like their mother’s: a high-luster fleece that won awards every time it showed. But when we sheared the twins, their fleeces were nice but a bit of a disappointment in comparison. Where their mother’s fleece separated out into locks, theirs looked blocky; Celeste’s was almost blinding with luster and shine, and theirs was lustrous but not exceptionally so. I felt a little let down.

Yet the girls came from that line, and I knew Celeste had to go because of her bag issues, so the two ewe lambs stayed in the flock and another shearing came round. Once again, I was curious to see what we would get, but the fleeces hadn’t changed. As I perused the ewes for our cull list, I started to think that there was no reason to keep both girls when neither was turning into the ewe of my dreams. Heavenly and I had a talk. Harmony had lambed in her first year and Heavenly had not. Both fleeces were nice, but I didn’t need two fleeces that looked essentially the same. Heavenly was perilously close to the cull list, and I told her so. She might not spend the rest of the year with us—this was her warning.

Harmony's fleece is always quite beautiful.

Harmony’s fleece is always quite beautiful.

That fall, however, other things happened and my cull list was full before I got to Heavenly’s name, giving her a one-year reprieve. In December, Heavenly scanned with twins, and Harmony had only a single. I decided to wait until later to decide the fate of each of the twins. I scheduled shearing for January, and as shearing began, off came Harmony’s fleece, looking just like the fleece she had given us the previous two years (as in the photo on the left). Yet, when Heavenly’s fleece came off, it had totally changed from previous years; it now looked very much like the fleece of her mother, Celeste. You could literally hear the intake of breath in the barn as everyone turned to watch this fleece come off. It was exactly the fleece I had been hoping for!

Heavenly's awe-inspiring fleece is show quality every year.

Heavenly’s awe-inspiring fleece is show quality every year.

Why had her fleece changed so much and Harmony’s not? I don’t know. But it has remained this way ever since. As a result, Heavenly is still here—and so is Harmony. What is more interesting is that each of them will throw lambs of either fleece type; about half of Heavenly’s lambs have fleece like their mother’s and the other half have fleece more like their aunt’s, and the same goes for Harmony’s lambs. There is no way to predict, so we just keep the lambs in our flock and wait to see what they produce—and that is exactly what we did this past year. You see, Heavenly gave us twins last spring, and we kept her daughter, Nevaeh, for our flock. Nevaeh is not a large lamb, nor is her fleece particularly stunning. Yet I know she comes from this very interesting line, and both her mother and her aunt have grown from being rather smallish lambs to among the largest ewes in our flock. (Heavenly weighs about 215 pounds when not bred, and Harmony weighs about 190 pounds.) Together they have produced up to forty-six pounds of fleece annually—more than any other ewes in our flock.

So, Nevaeh has large hoofprints to fill to live up to the legacy of that family line. They tend to grow to be large ewes, delivering twins nearly every year. They also produce huge amounts of fleece—and that fleece ranges from lovely to sometimes stunning. Will we see this from Nevaeh? This year? Next year? Or will we have to wait until the next, like with her mother? There is no way to know except to have patience and give her time. I know from experience with her mother that the wait can be long. Few shepherds want to invest so much time for a possibility—yet in this case, the results can be positively awe-inspiring. To me, this wait could very well be worth it.

Skirting progress: I’ve finished skirting all of the white fleeces (both Romney and Romeldale/CVM) and am about 3/4 of the way through the colored fleeces (Romeldale/CVM are finished and the Romney are over half way). My goal is to finish so that we can release fleeces to our customers at the end of next week—but again, we’ll see how it goes.

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