Monday, April 4, 2011

Spotlight: the Boys

Any intact male animal should be respected.  Testosterone is powerful stuff!  Rule of thumb:  Never turn your back.  But I get just as much enjoyment out of our rams as I do our ewes.

Ram lambs are typically the friendliest lambs born on our farm.  Mostly because the boys tend to be braver than the girls (that testosterone thing again).  And it doesn't take long before they realize that a good head scratching is fair trade for their bravery.

Let me introduce you...

The youngest pair at the Willow Homestead is Tophat and Tails, twin rams born to a black ewe named Iris.  The brown ram on the left is, naturally, Tophat and the other didn't have a choice in his name selection. We were so excited when these two were born because spots on Shetland sheep are fairly rare, especially distinct, clean-edged spots.

Wallace is the two-year old ram that sired Tophat and Tails.  He has gorgeous markings on both his face and legs, as well as a multi-colored fleece.  Sheep such as he are the reasons I haven't had to do any dying of my wool!  Most Shetland fleeces include more than one color and spin up to a heathered yarn full of depth.  Between my ewes and my rams, I have a range of colors that goes from snow white to grey to black, from soft ivory to chocolate brown.  Blending and plying these colors gives me infinite possiblities!

Derby is probably my favorite.  Also born from Iris a few springs ago, he has the sweetest temperament you could ever want from a ram!  Another of his defining features is that he literally sheds he fleece.  Shetlands have a natural break in the wool fiber that occurs every spring.  This is called the roo.  Rooing is the process of shedding off the fleece.  Centuries ago, when shepherds realized that half their saleable goods were being left on the pastures, they bred this trait out of the breed.  But it can still be found in modern animals to varying degrees.  Tophat and Tails, for example, will roo off the wool around their necks and along the top of their backs, but still need a shearing on their sides and bellies.

When ready, Derby's wool can be pulled off a handful at a time.  That means one less sheep for my husband to shear, and more quality one-on-one time for Derby and me!  I watch him closely as the weather warms, and once he starts to look a bit mangy, I know it's time to give him a good plucking before my wool is left wrapped around the wire fencing!

Our senior ram is Patriot, purchased from a breeder in Minnesota in the fall of 2003.  He's provided a good foundation for our flock, bringing with him excellent genes in horns and fleece quality.  Shetland rams certainly have impressive horns.  Their age can be determined by counting the growth rings visible in their horns, each year starting with a black band of color.  The horns have the largest amount of growth over the first two years and slow down with age.
Of course with the coming of Spring, the attention and anticipation is on the ewes and their lambs.  But across the barnyard in the rams pasture, there is always a friendly sheep waiting for a little affection.  

If you're interested in learning more about Shetland sheep, visit the North American Shetland Sheep Association.

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait until we get to meet all of the sheep! Especially the little ones just coming out.


Thanks for your thoughts! Come back to visit again soon!