Adventures in sheeping

Posted on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 at 10:11 am

“Get a goat.”

That’s something I’ve heard on more than one occasion. In fact, it seems like every hobby farmers sing the praises of goats and every one I know has them. Usually, the small pygmy or nigerian variety, but sometimes fainting goats. They climb and scale and get into everything, but they have “lots of personality” I’m told. I think it must be true though, because people sure love their goats.

But I love my sheep.

Bringing home Dasher as a tiny two week lamb was the best decision ever! It seems like goats get all the publicity as THE farm pet to have around and sheep are often looked at as nothing more than a producing animal. They’re only good to have around for their wool or to be herded by collies as a hobby. Well, I beg to differ! My sheep are great. So entertaining, low maintenance and intelligent. And unlike goats, they don’t try and eat your shoes and break your fences.

My first sheep, Dasher, was ‘just a mutt’. A mixed breed that I adopted from a farm near my home. It was partly a spontaneous and partly not. I had been wondering for a long time what people were missing with sheep and why goats were the kings and queens of the hobby farm. After spending a day meeting Dasher’s hundred or so relatives, I was hooked and I couldn’t wait to get her home. Sheep are herd animals though, so I knew I’d be back the next week to get Dasher a friend.

Or better yet, my friend and housemate did. That’s how Edie came into the picture. Edie is a purebred Shetland Sheep and must be the sweetest thing on this planet. I guess that’s pretty typical of their personalities. It can get a little annoying at time, because she always wants to be with you. Edie and Dasher grew up in the house because I was too concerned about predators outside. It was also very convenient because they both were being bottle fed small meals multiple times a day. Once they grew up, a pasture was built near the house for them and they began their happy little lives outside.

All the while I was deciding what type of Ram would head my mini herd and Octavian was purchased from California. I went to great lengths to get him based on my strong beliefs that our typical farming breeds (like Shetlands) are overbred and have lost some of their health and vigor (and probably intelligence) in man’s quest to make them the perfect little product.

But Mouflon Sheep like Octavian are a wild breed of sheep and although Octavian (for now) is very sweet, he still isn’t quite as ‘nice’ or ‘tame’ as Edie and Dasher. It’s not his fault, it’s just genetics. Personally, I don’t mind it at all. Octavian is beautiful and graceful, almost like a deer. For me, my pets don’t have to be love bugs or constantly seeking affection and attention, they just have to be themselves. However, it’s hard not to realize what a perfect combination a farm bred sheep like Edie and Dasher and a wild sheep like Octavian would be. The term is usually called heterosis, which basically means a breeding that will enhance the evolutionary fitness of an already set standard of traits. In this case, the babies of Edie and Dasher could have their set traits, their love bug nature, and tameness (through many many years of domesticated breeding) paired with Octavian’s health and wildly different genetic diversity.

As Octavian reaches mature breeding age, I’ve been searching for acceptable ewes to mate him with. Edie and Dasher were never intended for this purpose and not to offend them, but I’ve been much more picky this time! I was given a registered Blackbelly ewe, which is the most commonly crossed sheep bred to Mouflon. The result is a big impressive animal called a Corsican. However, she is skittish beyond belief and I have no hope that she’s going to tame down. Since my sheep are my pets and I visit with them in their pasture daily, it’s just too upsetting for her to constantly have a human around. I’m not talking about shying away either, I’m talking about I-Am-Scared-Out-Of-My-Mind-And-I-Want-To-Crash-Through-This-Fence. Not exactly the attitude I’d want passed on either and a very poor candidate for breeding. I’m currently looking for a new home for her with someone with bigger land and bigger breeding goals.

In the mean time, I purchased two more Mouflon. This time from Texas. And this time two girls! I am very excited that next year I may be able to offer purebred Mouflon sheep for sale in Arizona. I say may, because it depends on whether or not Octavian wants to go into rut this winter and it also depends on whether the lambs are girls or boys. I’m more likely to sell the boys and keep the girls. Once I can get a small herd together though, I hope that I can offer them to other sheep breeders in the state and genetic diversity can be created.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, sheep are great! Mouflon are beautiful! And goats are just okay… :)

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