By 1 month old Kyle began growing some “peach fuzz”.
His face remained patchy with hair and his ears stayed hairless, but his body was soon covered with tiny curls.
By 3 months old he was being weaned from his mama and his “wool” was about .5″ long.
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.
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.
You can see the small sample between the red and green parts of the vial below.
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.
This is FASCINATING. Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to following along.
I remember… the saga continues! Extraordinary!!
Thank you! I have to catch up on writing about it!