Monday, May 23, 2011
Evaluating the Ewe Lambs
I think I have looked at a thousand lambs since we became shepherds. Well, that’s probably an exaggeration. I KNOW I’ve looked at the same lambs THOUSANDS of times!
When A was into the lamb showing circuit, I ended up taking a LOT of pictures of lambs. This helped her develop a “presence” for the show ring and learn to show a lamb to its best potential, and in turn, helped me develop an eye as to what to look for in a lamb. One thing about A, she’s a persistent person. She wanted to figure out the secret of the lamb show…and she did! She did very well!
An aside about lamb shows. A lamb show is NOT a beauty pageant, nor, as I overheard a “city dad” tell his kid at the fair, is it a showcase for behavior. No, when looking at a show lamb, the judge is trying to visualize and evaluate the carcass. That is one of the reasons for a close clip. While there are trends in the show world, most judges look for a lamb with a good deal of length, as the majority of the value comes from the rack and loin. Okay, now that I have THAT off my chest…
The other day we had all the lambs in the barn and I thought I would take advantage of that fact to get some pictures of the ewe lambs I want to consider keeping for the 2012 breeding season. (yep, NEXT year….farming is all about the FUTURE!) Since there are only SIX ewe lambs out of the 28 live lambs this year, I don’t have a whole lot to choose from.
Two of them were out of the running from the beginning. One is from a first-time mother. The unspoken rule is you NEVER keep a first lamb. Not quite sure of the reason, but I have never been real impressed with the growth on those type of lambs. This particular ewe lamb’s brother has some “reproductive issues” which cause me concern for her as well. The other lamb is from a ewe with a “spider gene”. While this sounds ominous, it just means that if this ewe is bred to a ram with a similar gene, the babies stand a good chance of deformity. We went through this whole deal once, and it is NOT fun. So, off to the processor’s it is for those two lambs.
That leaves four little girls in the running. We bought #89 Jessie from our “sheep friends”. So, we have five to consider. There is a little more to think about when choosing breeding stock than when judging show lambs.
When considering breeding stock, the family genetics must be reviewed. If a ewe has problems breeding or birthing, more than likely her offspring will also have a problem. Shepherds must keep good records on this type of subject. I did learn that one the hard way, too.
One of the ewe lambs is a triplet. This indicates that her mother is very fertile. The fact that her mother is the largest ewe we have, has consistently bred easily, AND raised those triplets with NO human assistance, immediately puts this “lil miss” in the definitely consider category.
The other ewe lamb that I am almost certain of keeping is of our “Sally” line. All of our breeder ewes have names. A picked out “Sally” years ago. “Sally” has consistently bred and we have two of her daughters. They have also consistently bred and produced nice lambs. This ewe lamb would be the third generation from this line, and I have high hopes for her. She is BIG, she has great confirmation…she is a keeper! And, by the way…her name will be Ginny.
There are other factors when looking at stock. Is she an “easy keeper”? That means does she gain well and then maintain on the ration and pasture before her? Some sheep are not “thrifty” and require a great deal of upkeep and maintenance to thrive. Those are NOT sheep that one would wish to keep.
A ewe needs to have wide hips to aid in easy birthing, as well as an attentive nature. The attentiveness is an indication of her mothering ability. The ewe lamb that seems aware when anything unusual is in the paddock will generally make a good mother. Cuteness and personality do NOT figure into the decision.
I tried taking pictures of all of them. Several did not cooperate, and as of today, I have not had the patience (personally) or the cooperation (from Tom and the lambs) to get adequate photos. That will have to be a project for another day.
At present, I am leaning toward keeping all five. We know that we will have to cull a couple of the ewes next year. We have already sold a few “problem ewes” and one yearling died. Personally, I’d like to have a ewe flock of 20, although Tom is concerned about grass/hay issues. This number would get us close to my goal. We will never be a BIG breeder, but we do have good sheep.
Once the older ewes are bred, we will turn the young ones in the barn with them. At that point, we will be able to make our final decision.
I find that I am already looking forward to this year’s breeding season. …and, quite honestly, I am REALLY looking forward to 2012!