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!
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!
Woo-hoo! We brought home some new sheep yesterday. These guys fall well into the "always wanted it" category: Babydoll Southdowns. They are pint-sized, adorable, stout little sheep. Let's see: "bulldog" build, ultra-cute, and they come in a color that could be described as "blue" or "silver." YUP, these will fit right in at Howling Hill Farm.
They are freshly shorn (thank you, Pattie!), so they aren't quite as mind-meltingly cute as Babydolls usually are, but still, they are even pretty darned cute naked.
There is one lamb (not out of either of these ewes), and she is at that "so cute it could be weaponized" stage. Unfortunately she is a little camera shy, but I'll keep trying.
The Jacobs, meanwhile, are not to be outdone. They just can't compete in the cute department -- Babydoll Sheep are bred to be cute, after all -- but they make up for it with the fact that they win the title for Most Badass Sheep Breed. This year's lamb crop has at least two lambs who are going to grow up to have FIVE horns. Interestingly, both of the ones that have five so far have the fifth horn on the left. Hmm ... Wonder which side their dad's fifth horn was on?
The ram lamb's fifth horn is getting really obvious. Right now, it looks like he only has three ("only" three), but if you look closely at the two largest horns, you can see the split down the middle.
This ewe lamb's are a little more subtle as they are just starting to grow in, but the split is more obvious: two little horns on one side, three on the other.
Pretty cool, eh?
Congratulations to Sally, the last of our ewes to lamb this season, who gave birth to two fabulous ewe lambs this morning!
Marge also gave birth to twin ewe lambs, and Betty gave us a single ewe. That brings our total lamb tally this season to six ewe lambs and one ram lamb. We'll take that!! (Now, here's hoping I didn't use up all my girls on sheep before the cria start arriving ..!)
The first five are all doing great, by the way. Seven lambs, six girls; all easy births, all good moms and all thriving -- yeah, we'll take that!
Harriet the Sheep won the "lamb race" this morning with a gorgeous set of twins! We have one ram lamb and one ewe lamb.
This is pretty much what I saw when I went out to check on her this morning, only the lamb was quite a bit wetter:
He thinks he is hot stuff.
The ewe lamb is a lot more conservative. She sticks by mom most of the time.
Harriet could not have picked a better day to have her lambs. It got up to 45 degrees today! Unfortunately, tomorrow is not supposed to be so nice, so I decided to make coats for the lambs. (We had some cria coats, but they were WAY too big for them.)
Looking at our other ewes, I believe we will have two more lambings this week -- Betty and Marge appear imminent. Sally looks like she wants to hold out for a little while longer.
So, we have lambs on the ground! Does that make it officially spring yet?
Yes, it's true. We are now Sheep Farmers. Back to the roots, man. (All those stone walls on our property were most likely not erected to contain alpacas ...)
It is an inevitable truth of farming that most alpaca farms will eventually obtain at least one or two sheep. It just kind of makes sense, since many mills can't even process pure alpaca wool, and it just seems crappy, somehow, to have to buy wool to process your alpaca.
So, we got sheep. These are not (of course) just any sheep: These are Jacob Sheep, and they are not just any Jacobs; they are really good Jacobs from a long-term breeding program.
I've always wanted sheep -- our family very nearly got into sheep when I was a kid, but that never quite materialized -- but, having owned dozens of different breeds and species in my life, I know by now that researching, meeting and wanting something does not guarantee that it is going to "click" with me once we have brought it home. We brought a goat onto our farm very briefly (before this 'blog even existed!), and, although I adore goats on other farms, it did not work out well. As cute as her bouncy personality was, it meant that she totally got in the way at chore time -- sometimes dangerously, in the case of the horses -- and that, coupled with her complete disregard for fencing, meant that we had to quickly find her a new home. On the other hand, I was concerned that sheep might be too flighty for us. They're cute, and wool is good, but I wasn't sure how their personalities were going to mesh with ours.
As it turns out, we both feel that the sheep are a terrific fit! We brought the girls home on Saturday, and we are already totally taken with them. Contrary to my concerns, these sheep are not particularly flighty; they are outgoing, curious, friendly, and about as confident as I can imagine sheep ever get. I don't think these sheep were particularly babied by their breeder, so I think this is just their natural disposition. They greet me in the morning and clamor over each other to eat out of our hands. They also seem a lot more -- dare I say it? -- intelligent than other sheep I have met. My previous sheep experience had suggested that sheep have truly earned their reputation as Dumbest Livestock Species, but these girls really seem to give thought to things.
Enough blather, though -- expect to see more sheep updates from Howling Hill Farm in the future -- for now, here are the sheep!
This is Sally. (We named our sheep ... Anything bigger than a duck gets a name, here, and some of the ducks and chickens even have names as well.) Sally is the Alpha Sheep. I had no idea that sheep herds have an Alpha Sheep, but there is no question that these girls do, and Sally is it.
This is their usual configuration: Sally in front.
This is Marge. Marge and Sally have horns that stick up straight, and you can't see it in the photos, but they also have tiny buds of horns directly behind their ears. So, these girls will eventually have four horns!
Betty and Harriet have rear-facing horns, and I haven't looked closely, but I suspect that they only have two each. However, the ram that they are bred to has five horns ..!
We gave them all names that sounded like 1950's housewives.
They are all due to lamb in March-April ... Expect mega cuteness this spring! (As if cria weren't cute enough ..!)
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.