Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Boyz in the Hood, er...Pasture

I was out in the pasture this past Friday looking for noxious weeds that might not be too good for the sheep to eat. After my walk, I let the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Plus One out to have some time grazing and stretching their legs. I had my camera with me and decided just to take a few photos...then I realized something...
We sheep people are always discussing our ewes and rams, whom to sell, whom to breed and so on. But it struck me that we often overlook some very important members of our flocks. The wethers.
For those of you not up on the "sheep lingo" a wether is a castrated male sheep. Male sheep are wethered for various reasons - horns not correct, conformation isn't up to show or breeding quality, a bad disposition, for meat production - are just a few reasons to wether a ram or ram lamb. In other countries, most males are wethered during their first week of life. We here (at our farm) tend to wait a bit for a number of reasons. I like to see how a lamb starts to grow. More than once I have seen a lamb look like it would be a good ram only to have something come up like a bad temperment or bad horns become a deciding factor a couple of months down the road. But I digress...
Wethers have no agenda. They have no raging hormones that interfere with their dispositions. They live only to serve (or to be served, I guess). And I have to admit that some of my favorites in my flock are wethers. Let me introduce them to you...
Above is Shaun the Sheep. Shaun was the very first lamb to hit the ground here at Sheep Thrills. He would have made a beautiful ram except that sometime during the recovery from my back surgery, his horns went from nice to turning inward and downward, the points of which were rubbing the middle of the back of his neck. The horns were trimmed the same time Shaun got, ahem, "trimmed" by our vet Dr. Rob. His color is remarkable to me - a red iset, meaning he's a mahogany red with white wool mixed in giving him that frosted look. It's just beautiful. And is beautiful to spin!
Next we have Colin. Colin's real name is Mountain Niche Colin P., but we just call him Colin. He was wethered for two reasons. The first was that he followed Ralph everywhere and wanted to be his pet. The main reason was that his horns were turning and very close to his cheeks. There would have been very little room had the horn girth expanded.
Colin is a gem! He is the one who inspects the newborn lambs and is very belligerent if you don't let him in the barn to view the newbies in the lambing pens with their mamas. All the girls trust Colin and let him even sniff the youngsters. And it's Colin we turn the weanlings out with. He takes charge of them and teaches them all things sheep. He's actually one of the hardest workers on this farm, being both lamb-mentor and buddy to Skittles, the Ram. It's amazing to think of all he really does around here. And I think I'm the Boss. :)
Then we have the two Do-Da Brothers, Sven (above) and Ole (below). Both of these guys were wethered due to pushy behavior. In Ole's case it was very pushy, dangerous behavior. If left intact, Ole would have become a dangerous ram. Sven is really a very mellow guy who just is "there" and fits in anywhere. He's not assertive, nor is he shy. He's kind-of "vanilla" but a really good vanilla.
As for Ole...Ole is my joker. He would love to come in the house and be a dog. I suspect some of his earlier behavior is due to this personality trait. He wants to be in your hip pocket. When I go to feed in the mornings, it's Ole who greets me at the gate, not pushing for food necessarily but just wanting to be pet and have someone say "Good morning, Ole". He's the pest...the one who follows me into the feed room to see if there's anything interesting in there he should have.
Now I mention horns alot. There's a sad fact in any kind of animal farming. The fact is that few of the males have what it takes to be a good sire. You have to be picky about that 50% of the genetics of your next lamb crop, so you look for the best: good horn growth that is open and clears the face, good conformation, good temperment (yes, a bad temper gets passed along) even survivability and resistance to disease and parasites. The sad fact is that most male sheep do not make the cut. Then what do you do with them? Well, mostly they go to market. Shetlands are valued for their quality wool, so if there is any chance of an animal "making a living" as a wool producer, we try to give it to them. But you can't keep them all. Most people I know who have had an overabundance of ram lambs say this year they will probably go to market, wool or not. Feed costs are prohibitive. And we just don't have the space for any more wethers.In fact, we may not breed any sheep this fall due to the economy, but we won't go there here in this discussion.

As for me, I'll just appreciate the guys I do have now. I love them all and each one for his own attributes...besides....they have the softest fleece of anybody!

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Pamela said...

I was completely unfamiliar with Shetland Sheep before visiting your blog. I have 4 lambs that I keep as pets. One of them, Merlin, is a Welsh Black Mountain sheep. I was amazed at the resemblance of the Shetlands to him. He is black (well...duh...BLACK Mountain..) and, like I noticed in the photo of your Sean, he has a black mouth and tongue. The only white in his mouth are his teeth.

Also, his horns and face are very similiar to yours. I wonder if the Shetlands and the Welsh Black share a common ancestor somewhere in the past?

Again, thank you for such an interesting blog.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I sat in the stall and loved on my little wethers tonight after giving Holly her bit of grain. They are all so sweet -- and soft!

Leigh said...

I love how different animals can be, even the same type. It does seem that there have been a lot of ram lambs this year. Maybe next year will be the reverse(?)

P.S. Rascal says that if you'll send us photos of Li'l Rascal, he'll put them on his blog. :)

Tammy said...

Great post, Kathy! I try to keep the number of wethers down around here, but I do know their value. They can hang out with an isolated sheep, go in with the weaners, keep a tempermental old ram company and on and on. Plus they grow nice fleeces and are usually awfully sweet little fellas. I have three adult wethers right now--one Shetland who was wethered as an adult and keeps his twin brother the ram company. One Merino cross who keeps his crotchy old dad company and then Rocky (Merino cross)who stays with the flock. I also have four little boys from this year, that I'm praying will find good homes. If not, they will hang out here til something comes along. Two of them will be going with me to the Celtic Festival, so maybe they will 'sell themselves'. ;-) Thanks for posting about the unsung members of the flock.

~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

I have decided not to wether any more of the tunis; like you said it gives you a chance to see what they are going to look like but my main reason, even though I know they are going to go in the freezer, wethering seems to make them fat. A fat tunis is not a good tunis, especially in the freezer. The lean meat is one of the reasons I keep them, if the lamb gets fat, it ends up tasting like suffolk - yuk!