I was planning to focus on spotted Babydoll Southdown sheep. I had already made the decision to focus on Babydolls, and when I realized that they come in spotted form, well, that was a done deal.
I did realize that a breed called the Harlequin Sheep existed. It's a new breed, like our Idaho Pasture Pigs, and still in the development stage, like the IPPs. I liked them, but I didn't think they were quite as cute as the Babydolls, and I didn't quite get the point. Thus, although they had definitely made my radar screen, I didn't really pursue them.
Then, I saw a little Harlequin ram lamb posted for sale on a Facebook page -- and he was in New Hampshire! How 'bout that. It seemed worthwhile to go see him, just in case ...
... In case it turned out that he might be the cutest danged sheep imaginable. ... Which he is. He looks, in fact, an awful lot like a spotted Babydoll. Oh, there are differences, sure, but ...
No one can tell me that face is anything but ridiculously adorable. He is a sweetheart, too -- even calmer and friendlier than the Babydolls, which means that he is more like a little puppy than a sheep, because Babydolls are incredibly calm, friendly sheep!
The other thing that struck me about this boy -- and the other thing that sets him, and the harlequins, apart from the Babydolls -- is his fleece. It's nice. It's really nice. It is also soft. Soft, fine, and with a medium to high frequency crimp style ... Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like what we breed for in alpacas! The staple is also substantially longer than that of Babydolls, which makes it a more versatile fleece.
Given that Harlequin Sheep are still in the foundation stage, the offspring of a registered Harlequin and another breed may be registered as an F1 if it conforms to the Harlequin breed standard, which is very close to that of Babydolls. Thus, our Babydoll ewes -- whose wool is also relatively fine, though not nearly as impressive as this guy's -- can be used as foundation dams for a Harlequin program.
Thus, I realized that I had found our perfect sheep flock-sire. His name is Noah, and we brought him home just this evening. Howling Hill Farm is officially one of the foundation breeders of the Miniature Harlequin Sheep!
... Does this mean that we are officially "out" of Babydolls, having devoted our foundation Babydoll ewes to our new Harlequin Sheep program? I'm not sure yet. I still love the Babydoll breed as well, and there is no reason why our girls can't be used to produce registered F1 Harlequins this year and registered Babydolls the next. At this point, we are still up in the air as to our Babydoll program, but what I do know is that Noah is going to be the sire of our 2016 F1 Harlequin lambs!
This blog does not have NEARLY enough adorable baby pig pictures!
This litter belongs to Paris the sow. Remember Paris? When we first brought her home just over a year ago, she looked like this:
Today, she looks like this:
Paris had eight pigs-- not too bad for her first! She has been a fantastic mom so far. We don't have a great creep set up right now, so Pree, our first sow to farrow, had some difficulties with her litter in the form of the other hogs picking on them. The lone survivor of that litter is being fostered by an absolutely wonderful couple in Weare, and is now thriving.
Paris is the Mama Boss Hog, though, so her litter is doing great. They are also super ridiculously cute -- and polka dotted! How cool is that?
Sadly, because of confusions with the registry, these beautiful piggies likely cannot be registered, although they are pure Idaho Pasture Pigs. The boys will all be bacon (and ham, and pork, etc.); the girls' fate is as yet undetermined. In the meantime, though, they are healthy, thriving, and darned cute. Hooray!
Today, our last four Jacob sheep -- the adult ewes -- left for their new home. I have also redoubled my search for a Babydoll Southdown flock sire.
It probably seems a little abrupt, from a 'blog perspective. Not even three short months ago, I 'blogged about the last Jacob lambs for the season having been birthed out that day; now, I report that all have been re-homed.
What didn't get 'blogged down was the thought process that occurred in the meantime. Jacobs were our very first, experimental foray into sheep. I had always wanted sheep, Babydolls specifically, but, having never owned sheep before, I was extremely hesitant to plunk down the $300-600 per lamb that a Babydoll ewe commands. A much less pricey breed, Jacobs were a good way to test the waters of sheep-dom. They helped us discover that we did, in fact, both really enjoy sheep.
Once the Babydolls arrived, though, I had the feeling that we would be switching focus in the future. They were just as cute and friendly as they were rumored to be. Moreover, their short, stocky body build perfectly fit the standard that I typically seek in most animal species. They just looked -- and felt -- "right." The Jacobs still were cool, but ...
The next strike came when the Jacobs were shorn a week or so later. Previously puff-balls, they were suddenly denuded into revealing their true form. True to breed standard, our Jacob ewes were "unimproved," meaning that, while the Babydolls waddled around like little meat-bricks, the Jacobs looked fairly lanky. This is not a fault -- it's what they're supposed to look like. It really just didn't quite fit on our farm. Despite the spots, the Jacobs now looked out of place.
Then came the baaing.
Our sheep paddocks are right behind our bedroom window. This may seem like a glaring stupidity of design to seasoned shepherds, but it never even occurred to us that the sheep might eventually make noise. They really didn't make much noise, either; not until their lambs were weaned. That night -- weaning night -- we did not sleep. This is not surprising. What was surprising was that the weaning seemed to have flipped a switch in our ewes, and suddenly, they went from being relatively quiet girls to being the all-sheep chorus of New Hampshire. This wouldn't have been so bad if the baaing was a cute, gentle sound, but it wasn't. I eventually realized that it reminded me quite powerfully of a really, really loud version of one of those noise makers that you turn upside down that makes that very sickly mooing noise, and when I was a little kid, I used to hate those.
So, we concluded that, between the relative discord of the Jacob standard (fine-boned and lanky) with our farm standard (heavy-boned and stocky), the discovery that Olde English "Babydoll" Southdown sheep fit our farm perfectly, and, of course, the baaing, we made the decision to find our ewes a new home.
With the re-homing of the Jacobs, my plan is now to spend some time seriously focusing on the development of our Babydoll Southdown breeding program. I never even got around to seeking out a Jacob ram, and now, my focus is on finding the highest-quality Olde English Southdown ram I can find. I've learned by now that when I choose to really work with a breed of animal, I don't like to mess around with low-end. Howling Hill Farm takes all of our breeding programs seriously, and our Babydoll Southdowns will be no exception. Now that we have made the decision to focus on the breed, it's time to seriously focus on building a top-quality flock!
... She walked all the way across the paddock with it.
First, we have our third cria born on our farm. She was actually born yesterday, but my camera was temporarily out of commission (leaving it out in a torrential downpour had nothing to do with this). Please welcome Summer Stormborn!
Here is Summer getting a kiss from her auntie Leia. Princess Leia loves babies!
We were also very excited to welcome a new boy from Georgia to our future stud row. This little guy is a son of Aussie .38 Special (who is a pretty big deal if you are a grey alpaca breeder), and out of a daughter of Rincon Cloud (who is also a pretty big deal if you are a grey alpaca breeder). With a pedigree like that, it is pretty hard to imagine how he could have exceeded my expectations, but he did. This guy is seriously hot stuff.
His name is Harmony, and he is still totally secure in his macho-hood. This guy knows he's gonna grow up to be a stud. This guy is seven months old, and he looks like this:
... Oh, yeah, and his fleece is utterly mind-boggling, too. Forgot to mention that little detail.
The tuxedo grey arm of our breeding program just got a lot more interesting.
... And, let us not forget their mama things -- mama things who are great at being mamas! Hooray!
First thing in the morning, Neal discovered our very first litter of Idaho Pasture Pigs! These are out of our registered gilt, Pree, and by Phish, and will be registered breeding stock. So far, they look nice -- very true to breed. She is a very young mother, so she did not have the largest litter ever, but she makes up for it by being a great one.
Later on in the morning, while we were all distracted, another mother gave birth -- our elite white alpaca Millie produced a gorgeous daughter by Hidden Hill Peruvian Dually. Millie has been an absolutely fantastic mother, and I am thrilled with this baby. I *think* she is white, but she has some color to her ears, so I'm holding out hope that she might yet be beige. (A beige cria would have a slightly higher chance of producing grey down the road than a white one.)
Here she is not yet an hour old.
Kissing her maternal half-sister, Bee.
A few hours later, she had dried off, nursed multiple times, and started learning how to really use those legs!
This was my favorite picture of the day ... Mama Millie giving her a kiss, with baby already learning to make a face! ("C'mon, ma! I'm five hours old! You're embarrassing me!")
Last night, I thought for sure that our Royal Fawn daughter, Springtime, was going to go today, but she didn't even look the slightest bit inclined. Maybe tomorrow ...
Sweet Cuppin' Cake says: "Hurry up already! I need some friends!"
Yes, her name is going to be Sweet Cuppin' Cake, and no, we have not had any cria born since her arrival. However, we do have three females that keep faking me out. Oh, the joys of a species with a 335-350 day average gestation length (with 360-400 not unheard of) ...
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.