Saturday, September 17, 2011


Last March, as lamb after lamb died practically in our arms, Dave and I struggled to find a cause. Not the hay, not the corn, not lead based paint in our unpainted barn, not a metabolic problem or an infection. Finally, after veterinary examinations and an autopsy, we were left with only two possible reasons for the loss of 20 lambs – either bad luck or bad genes.

Luck we could do nothing about; but bad genes compounded by inbreeding, we could rectify. We’d been using the same rams for four years. Most of our ewes were young – daughters, grand-daughters or even great grand-daughters of those rams. Several years of faulty ear tags that either fell out or broke meant that we no longer knew the exact parentage and thus genetic background of each ewe. We could easily have been breeding them to their fathers, grand-fathers, even great grand-fathers. Most small farmers don’t worry about inbreeding. It can yield an equal number of outstanding animals or defective animals and most of the young show no effects.

However, I wasn’t willing to take the chance again. I couldn’t sell what I wouldn’t use myself, so in August we trucked our rams to the butcher. Our butcher created four varieties of “Bad Dad” sausage from those animals, enough to fill our freezers and keep all our friends and relations in sausage for the next year.

Then I searched the internet for a new ram – one that was a twin, who had a fine crimpy fleece, and who was mature enough to impregnate fifty ewes in three weeks. We found him at the Thiesen Farm, a two year old Columbia ram with a proven track record. With Winthrop's new blood in our flock, if we’re lucky, lambing next spring will be easier, more joyous, and all good.

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