Friday, December 6, 2013
11:54 am | link
This is a magical season - trees are transformed into beacons of giving, one day's worth of oil keeps
the lamps burning for eight days, and families come together to celebrate their heritage and culture. It is the time of year
when hope takes on a special sparkle. Here at Peeper Hollow Farm, we, too, are finding ourselves hoping for a bit of magic
- magic for our coming lambs!
Every year, I look over our paddock of adult rams and the long list of ram lambs
new to our farm, and I try to find the very best to use in our several breeding groups that fall. It is not an easy task;
there are typically so many worthy choices and only a limited number of groups in which to put them. The decision is usually
part science (a result of reviewing pages and pages of data: current weight, weight gains, fiber diameters, fiber length at
shearing, total fiber weight, and much more), and part art (assessing temperament and bearing, and also the simple fact that
some guys appeal to me more than others!). In the end, I choose four to eight different rams and put the groups together,
hoping for the best we can produce.
This year, the decision for the Romeldales was even harder than usual. We have
been raising rams specifically for our flock for quite a while now - but it was time to bring in new blood. I have made a
lot of progress with my flock in recent years, and didn't want to lose ground by bringing in the wrong ram. I looked literally
nation-wide for the right boy. I wanted a recessively patterned moorit ram, since I've been working in that direction since
2008. I also wanted a fine fiber diameter with a long staple - again, because I have made such gains in this area. I looked
everywhere and then found one ram - only one, and he was in Pennsylvania - so I bought him. On the day I actually bought him,
he was only a few days old; I didn't want to lose the purchase to someone else. All I knew about him were the identity of
his dam and sire and that he was recessive. I essentially purchased the possibilities of what this boy, Latham, could be -
of what I wanted for my flock. I bought the dream of "could be."
I brought him home this past summer as a near-yearling, and I will be honest and say that I am a bit disappointed
to look at him. He is not the grand ram I had hoped he would become. My own ram lambs, who are much younger, are bigger than
Latham is now at well over a year (see Romeldale/CVM ram lambs, Merlin and Muldoon, in the photo taken this morning on the
right). On the other hand, his fiber diameter tested an absolutely amazing 19.2 microns - a very nice result that I can only
hope and pray he passes on to his lambs! His fiber length at the time of shearing was also quite impressive - so the things
I bought him for, and that I really wanted to bring into next year's lambs, are there in Latham.
In fact, the most
important factor in this purchase was that he carries "new blood" - bloodlines that are unrelated to my flock for
at least five generations (and possibly more, if only we had more pedigree information!). All of these things together pushed
Latham to the top of our Romeldale breeding ram list, and he got a group - a big group. And that's where the hope for a little
magic comes in.
You see, every time I see Latham (in the photo on the left), I am a bit deflated. Yes, he has all of these very positive points:
great fiber diameter and length, new blood, and recessive color and pattern. Yet he is a bit small and narrow, especially
at the shoulders, and he reminds me more of a "Poindexter" than a "Gunner" or "Jett". He always
stands a bit hunched up like he is afraid to own his space - very unlike our own young rams. In the sheep world, people would
rather buy a ram who is macho - who owns his space and knows he is special. They want a macho ram - and Latham is just not
very macho. He is honestly quite nerdy. Even his walk is a bit off: head low and tilted, like his eyes aren't quite focused
yet. I keep hoping he will grow into my expectations, but so far, he falls short.
Yet, I know both from experience
and from stories of others that there have been many rams throughout the years who are terribly ugly themselves but throw
absolutely beautiful lambs - always better than themselves. These rams are typically small and funny-looking (as is my boy,
Latham). They usually come from great lines (as does Latham). And they are usually unrelated and very distant in bloodlines
from the ewes they breed (also true of Latham). They usually go on to father a multitude of amazing offspring that win awards
and garner prestige. In this way, these ugly-duckling rams end up being sold to farm after farm where they work their magic
- but to look at them, they're a disappointment. Miraculous and surprising disappointments - and I hope and pray that Latham
is one of them!
Honestly, I really only need one good lamb from him - one ram to replace him in our flock, or a
ewe to then produce a ram lamb who could replace him. I would settle for one good lamb of either sex. Yet in the recesses
of my mind, I wonder and hope: perhaps I might get more. Perhaps - just perhaps - Latham is one of these very special ugly
rams who will produce magic for us next spring. Perhaps we will get more than one - maybe we'll get a bunch; a bunch of really
beautiful, strong and fast-growing lambs with great fleece. It's possible.
So, I feed my sheep each day and look
at Latham and at the bred ewes, and I dream. I think about all the possibilities that this funny-looking yearling ram may
provide in genetics to those lambs already forming in the wombs of our ewes. I wonder and I dream and I hope. Next week, we
will ultrasound, and I am sure that this one event will bring even more excitement as I wait and hope; because the lambs will
be more real - I will actually see them, on a screen, for the first time.
But we won't know a thing about the quality
of those lambs - whether they will inherit the best or worst of the flock's genetics - until spring. I know that, and I can
wait. It won't be long now. Honestly, the first lambs begin coming for Valentine's Day, and I know from experience that it'll
be here before we know it. Until then, I will keep hoping.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Chance is so tired
7:06 am | link
Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with family and friends, and it was no different here at our farm
this year. Last week, our small household swelled to nine people as family came from out of state to spend some time and eat
some turkey. We had a wonderful time catching up and simply enjoying each others' company.
While we had this house
full of people, we decided to kennel two of our three dogs. The boys, Coda and Chance, aren't so good with crowds, so they
went to celebrate the holiday at their favorite doggy daycare, and Lisa stayed home with us to welcome our guests. Lisa loves
people and attention, so it was a perfect fit for each of our canine friends. Even better, we knew that the boys would be
exhausted by the time we'd pick them up after so many days of play - always an advantage to us! It all seemed like the perfect
Once our company left over the weekend, we had much to do to put our household back together. We spent a
couple of days putting things away, washing bedding, and generally returning our home to normal. Lisa spent much of the time
napping after the excitement of the visit, and we left the boys at the kennel to keep them from ending up underfoot.
Finally, we picked up our boys on Monday afternoon of this week. We knew they would be tired - and that was good, because
so were we! We had planned a simple dinner and then a night of TV as we unwound and took a break from a very busy week. After
feeding the dogs and ourselves, we reclined in the parlor to the TV shows we had previously taped, and began to doze. It honestly
seemed like heaven!
Rick and I claimed the sofa and love seat, respectively, and the dogs each found a place of
comfort: Lisa under the dining room table, Coda on the floor at my side, and Chance on the ottoman at one end of the love
seat (and at my feet). Before long, we were all lulled into a light snooze as the TV droned on and the week caught up with
And then suddenly,"CRASH!" We were all startled awake by a loud banging crash in the room with us
- such a loud noise that Lisa and Coda jumped up barking, and Rick and I were suddenly awake, trying to find out what had
happened. It was obvious that it was in the room with us, but everything seemed undisturbed - until we looked over at the
corner of the room by the TV. There - now on the floor - lay Chance, still fast asleep! He had fallen from the ottoman to
the floor and was now wedged between the love seat and ottoman - still totally oblivious, since he continued his deep sleep
in his new place and position.
Neither Rick nor I could hold in our laughter as the other dogs again settled and I quickly handed Rick the camera to snap
a picture (left). Chance continued to sleep soundly, caring not one bit that he had dropped nearly a foot and a half to the
floor - nor that he was now wedged in between furniture on the hardwood rather than on the soft ottoman where he had begun
his nap. He continued his deep sleep totally oblivious to the goings-on around him.
Suddenly realizing that we
were missing a good opportunity to join him, the rest of us once again settled down to enjoy the quiet of the evening - but
somehow, it wasn't quite the same. Chance's change of scenery stayed with us and kept Rick and me chuckling on and off for
hours. I guess you just never know what will happen when you live and work with a bunch of animals - even when they're all
Monday, December 2, 2013
A deeply held peace
10:49 am | link
There is a peace among sheep, a quiet sense of being in the moment that human existence seems to have
lost. Perhaps that is one of the major reasons I so enjoy spending time with my flock. No matter what I am doing, whether
feeding or just watching, as I become part of the flock, I begin to enjoy this sense of calm - this deeply held peace.
Now, I will admit that there are times in the flock's life when that peace is hard to find. A flock being chased by
neighborhood dogs or fleeing from a crop-dusting airplane is far from peaceful. As prey animals, sheep are easily frightened,
and when the flock takes flight, there is panic among the ranks and the natural peace is shattered as each member tries to
Yet, those times are thankfully few for most flocks. Sheep usually while away most of their days grazing
or cudding (chewing their cud as they digest what they have grazed) and that is when this deep peace settles in. Each flock
member finds a comfortable place to recline - usually on a high point near a friend or two, and in the winter often in the
sunshine - and that's all it takes. They lie there and cud, watching the world from their vantage point and taking it all
in. Everything in that area becomes imbued with this deep peace.
Last week, as my ovine friends spend their day
relaxing and watching the world go by, my human friends were struggling to find the very best Black Friday deals, running
from one store to the next and celebrating their good fortune as they looked into the bags they carried. I can't help but
see the stark contrast between our human world of constant doing and having, and the ovine world of my friends who are usually
content to simply exist. At some point in our past, it seems that we humans made life more about doing than about being, texting
through dinner and running off to this or that activity. In our hustle and bustle, we have somehow lost sight of the peace
that was once so easily within our grasp.
As a human being in this very busy world of ours, I too have been caught
up in the river of life. Yet, I realize what we have lost because I see the contrast with my sheep every day - otherwise,
I'm not sure I would take the time to pause and reflect. The world of my sheep has become a haven for me. When my own world
begins to move too fast, when the pressures need release, when the chaos finds a way in - at those times, the peace of the
flock beckons, calling me to a visit with my good ovine friends. I walk among the flock and stop to soak in the calm, realizing
there is more to life than it may seem - that my sheep may better know the key to true happiness than I. Eventually I leave
them, rejuvenated, and I'm once again ready to enter the fray.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
What are they thinking?
1:47 pm | link
Our three border collies are working dogs and, as a result, need plenty of exercise if we are to keep
them from running around in (and perhaps ruining) our home. It is our habit to run them outdoors with a good game of frisbee
or a walk around our acreage while shooting tennis balls for them to catch. Keeping them tired is the only way to keep bedlam
at bay; so twice each day, we go out for some sort of vigorous exercise.
Now that the pastures are exhausted, I've
closed several of the pasture gates so that the dogs and I can walk the acreage without scaring grazing sheep. For the past
few afternoons, I've taken the dogs on the quarter-mile walk to the Timber Pasture and back, all the while shooting tennis
balls for them to catch. They love the challenge and I love the peace in the house as exhausted dogs flop down for naps afterwards.
It seems to be a perfect exercise session for us all.
It also seems that the dogs and I are not the only ones enjoying
our daily afternoon outings. I've noticed for the past couple of days that as soon as we cross the bridge on the way to the
Timber, the sheep line up where they have a good vantage point and watch us on our trek. The first day, I noticed the ewe
lambs lined up in front of their entrance to the barn, fascinated by what we were doing and angling for a good view.
The next day, it was not only the ewe lambs who were interested, but also the adult ewes. They have seen this many times
before (see the blog dated Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, for a similar story), but obviously it is still a fascinating thing for
them to watch. It seems that no matter how often they see dogs running after tennis balls, it never gets old! The adult ewes
all lined up at the crest of the ridge opposite us and watched as we made our way to and from the Timber. They tracked every
move, heads turning as the ball left my slingshot. They certainly didn't want to miss the ball being caught!
honestly don't know what the sheep find so fascinating about my walking the dogs each afternoon. At first I thought they might
be afraid that the dogs were going to come into their area. But it is obvious from their body language that the sheep are
not at all nervous - they're simply curious and interested. They seem to find it fascinating: canines who usually focus their
attention on the sheep suddenly focus on this small neon-yellow ball instead. Obviously, the sheep simply enjoy watching the
game of catch as we walk!
I don't know how long this interest will last, but it seems that there is no end to the
fascination. I've been walking the dogs this way for four or five days now, as well as for many months last winter, and the
interest is still there. This isn't the first time the sheep have been engrossed in the life of the dogs - nor is it likely
the last. I just can't help wondering what they are thinking as they watch us make our way, dogs jumping in the air to make
a particularly difficult catch. It's just one more time when I sure wish sheep could talk!
Monday, November 25, 2013
My friend, Missy
8:50 am | link
Missy is one of 2013's Romeldale lambs. Her birth brought many challenges: her sister was born many hours
before Missy and drank most of her mother's colostrum (so essential for newborn lambs); then her brother died before birth,
contaminating the birth canal with bacteria and infecting Missy as she made her way into the world. Because of the many complications
surrounding her birth, Missy was born hypoxic (oxygen-deprived; see blogs dated Friday, Feb. 22, and Friday, June 28, for
more discussion of some of Missy's issues) and is now a bit slower and less responsive than our other lambs. Overall, she
does quite well, but she is obviously different.
I will also confess that because of her strong determination to
survive and thrive, Missy has wormed her way into my heart. She is slower than the other lambs and more easily confused, and
as a result, I am ever so much more protective. Whenever I work with the lamb flock, I'm always aware of where Missy is and
how she is doing. I want to avoid making matters worse for her, and as a result, Missy recognizes that I am a safe harbor
in a confusing world. Over the past months, we have become fast friends; she is nearly always at my side when I am among the
As regular readers know, I have been feeding pumpkins for the past several weeks. Although we are nearing
the end of the pumpkin bonanza, each group still gets pumpkins every day. Neither of the lamb groups gets a lot of pumpkin,
since this is their first year with the orange treats, but I still break at least one for the ram lambs and one for the ewe
lambs each day - and that's where Missy comes in. Missy LOVES pumpkins!
I have noticed that the Romeldales are
much more thrilled to eat the pumpkins than most of the Romneys. I suspect that they are just more adventurous in their eating,
as a breed, than are their more sedate friends. Yet even with this difference in mind, Missy's love of pumpkins is unusually
strong. As soon as I walk into their pasture carrying the orange orb, Missy comes to meet me. It is the highlight of her day.
Most of the other ewe lambs will eventually come to see what all the fuss is about, but they usually leave the pumpkin
pieces within minutes, after only a few bites. Missy, on the other hand, stands over her pumpkin, carefully chewing each bite
until every morsel is gone. Long after all the other lambs have left for the warmth and hay in the barn, Missy is there with
her pumpkin, digging into the cold, juicy flesh and crunching on the seeds. There seems to be nothing better, as far as she
is concerned, than this wonderful treat that I bring every day.
At first, I worried about Missy out there alone (see her eating pumpkin in the photo). To be so separated from the flock (with
them in the barn and her out in the field) puts her at risk from wandering dogs and other threats. Howie, the llama currently
guarding the ewe lambs, has figured out that Missy goes off alone for her pumpkins and has decided to make it his job to ensure
her safety. He is always patiently waiting just around the corner of the fence, where he can see both Missy in the field and
the lambs eating inside the barn. Howie's vigilance over Missy has relieved my concerns, and I've come to know that Missy
is safe, happily munching her pumpkin alone in the pasture.
No matter when I arrive in the ewe lamb's pasture or
barn, Missy comes to see me. I always find myself smiling at the sight and sound of her: the little white lamb with the orange,
pumpkin-smeared head coming happily to see me, calling as she comes. Her size and gait would lead me to expect a small, high-pitched
voice, but when she opens her mouth, she has a voice deeper and louder than any of our rams. I have learned to expect the
unexpected from Missy. She may be smaller and more different than the others - but she is a fighter and survivor, and I look
forward to many more years of friendship with this funny and exceptional little girl.