Answers from Around the Globe

By 1 month old Kyle began growing some “peach fuzz”.

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His face remained patchy with hair and his ears stayed hairless, but his body was soon covered with tiny curls.

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By 3 months old he was being weaned from his mama and his “wool” was about .5″ long.

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This wool wasn’t like any of our other lambs though. It spiraled instead of having a crimp pattern and it felt dry.

I began wondering if he might have some other kind of disorder or even a mutation affecting his hair and fiber growth instead of hypotrichosis.

In May 2017, I read an article titled “Scientists Look to Unravel Mutant Sheep Wool Mystery“, about a research project by AgResearch in New Zealand looking into a specific wool mutation in sheep.  The sheep carrying this mutation grow wool that is straighter and more lustrous than normal wool.

I contacted and sent photos to the New Zealand researchers, asking their opinions. They didn’t seem to think it was the luster mutation that they studied because Kyle’s wool wasn’t shiny like the sheep in their study.

The researchers eventually obtained permission for me to send them raw fiber samples. I snipped a small area of wool from Kyle’s side, as well as 2 half siblings for comparison. These other 2 lambs were twins from Bertha and Hurley. Hurley was Kyle’s sire and Bertha was Kyle’s dam’s full sister.

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You can see that #0088 still has a lot of the red hair that makes Tunis lambs cinnamon-colored intermixed with his wool fiber. Both samples from #0088 and #0087 have crimp that makes the samples look airy and bulky. Kyle’s wool sample, in contrast, lays flat.

The researchers were intrigued by Kyle’s wool sample and it’s helical appearance. It definitely wasn’t a luster mutation, but it also wasn’t normal wool.

During the summer months I discovered that Kyle’s wool was also quite fragile. When the flies landed on his body he would bite at them or rub against something. His wool began breaking off in those places he was trying to scratch.

We became diligent in spraying him with fly repellent when necessary because the more he swatted at flies and scratched the more his wool broke off, thus making it easier for the flies to bite him.

In June, after the wool samples arrived in New Zealand, the researchers began to determine the best method to collect DNA samples for testing and to check what permits were needed import DNA samples from Kyle and a few other related sheep in our flock.

We received an AllFlex Tissue Sampler in early September. The sampling gun was similar to our ear tagging guns in application. This sampler, however, didn’t leave anything on the ear – it punched a small hole in the ear. The vial is placed into the applicator, you then place the ear in the space between the vial and applicator. When you squeeze the blue and black handles together, the applicator punches a small sample of tissue right into the vial and seals it in one motion.

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You can see the small sample between the red and green parts of the vial below.

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After collecting samples from Kyle, his dam and sire, and his dam’s sister, I packed up the samples and equipment to send back to New Zealand. The vials contained a preservative so the samples didn’t need and special shipping requirements for the return trip.

Although there were no projects involving wool mutations going on at the time I sent the DNA samples back to New Zealand, the plan was to have those samples ready in the event another wool study began or in case the samples could be tested along with another study.

Happy Spring!

The first day of Spring brought us a 4th Nor’easter in 3 weeks. We avoided much of the heavy snow for the first 3 storms, but this last storm delivered a foot of snow.  The big, fluffy flakes were beautiful falling from the sky.

And the trees remind you of Narnia, with their branches covered in snow.

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But where was this all winter? I love snowstorms and have waiting for this kind of snow every time the forecast hinted at snow. It is quiet during a snowstorm and everything is blanketed in white, clean and sparkling.

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It is nearly April, though, and this snow will not be here long.  Soon we will be tucking seeds into the gradually warming soil of our gardens and waiting for tiny plants to emerge from the ground. Birds will hunt for insects and bees will search for nectar and pollen.

Raulie’s Story

In 2011, we found ourselves going through financial instability. It’s difficult to fund a farm on your own and to start a family. We had been debating if we should keep our flock of Tunis sheep and keep breeding them or if we should let some go. We unwillingly listed some for sale, but there was no interest. In the spring of 2012 we figured that there must be a reason none of our sheep sold and so we decided we would purchase a ram and keep breeding.

We found Raulie for sale at another farm, but he was actually being used by the SVF Foundation in their heritage breed germplasm preservation program. The Foundation gathers genetic material (semen and embryos) of heritage breed animals to freeze for preservation and possible future use. Raulie had been donated to the Foundation and the farm we had contacted suggested we deal directly with the Foundation.

After talking with someone from the Foundation we agreed Raulie would come to our farm and settled on a date to transport him to Pennsylvania from Rhode Island. We would meet the person transporting him from the Foundation halfway. Lastly we talked about price, which I had been not looking forward to. The Foundation wanted to donate him to us since he was donated to them.

I think I cried. Probably because I cry at anything remotely emotional. But… God has, over and over, been Jehovah-Jireh for me. The LORD Who Provides. My LORD Who Provides. He doesn’t give me what I want, but what I need in the midst of hard times.

Raulie arrived at our farm in April 2012. He was so gentle, even during breeding season he respected our space.

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He sired 28 lambs for us over the years he was with us. We have kept two of his daughters, Harriet (2014) and Kathleen (2017).

In the winter of 2016-2017, we realized Raulie was slowing down and having some joint issues – perhaps arthritis. We decided to retire him from breeding, but I didn’t want him to leave our farm. He was special to me. He reminded me that God provides.

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In December 2017, Raulie started spitting out his cud. Large wads of cud. Our vet found a marble-sized lump on his trachea, but we didn’t do any invasive tests to look internally. We treated him with 2 weeks of steroids and changed his diet. He was to now get soaked hay pellets instead of hay (because the pieces were much smaller) and he was to be fed 3 times per day (so he didn’t have to digest large amounts at a time). He bloated with the steroids, but we treated him with baking soda and he got better. He went crazy for the soft hay pellets that didn’t even really require chewing! Ever morning, afternoon and evening he greeted us with bright eyes for those pellets, moving as fast as his arthritis would let him move.

When he started having digestive issues we decided we did not want to do “whatever it took” to make him better. He was a couple weeks from turning 12 years old, which is old for a sheep. We wanted him to have a good quality of life and we wanted him to not suffer. Each day we looked him over to be sure he was eating and moving well. I checked in our vet on occasion to ask questions about different things that came up.

When we sheared the sheep at the end of February, I made Raulie a sweatshirt so he wouldn’t be too cold afterwards.

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He was not thrilled about getting dressed in it, but he was a sport. I had been afraid he would not be in good body condition because of his eating issues, but he actually looked good when he was shorn.

Yesterday morning Raulie greeted my with bright eyes, as always, eager to get his breakfast. My father-in-law fed him his afternoon feeding and he finished it all. Last night when Dave went to the barn to feed him, he found Raulie dead. It appeared he had laid down, fell asleep and didn’t wake up. There was no evidence that he struggled at all.

I felt peace, like a confirmation that we gave him a good quality of life for the life he had left.