“Mom, are you crying?”

Bertha seemed to be in the beginning stages of labor early this afternoon. She progressed slowly and by dinnertime she had started pushing. I ate dinner quickly and went to check on her because nothing was happening during her pushes.

I got out to the barn with the supplies I needed to check the lamb’s position. I soon realized Bertha’s lamb was full breech, meaning its tail was coming out first and all 4 legs were pointed the other way. I tried to find the legs, but it was already at the cervix so there wasn’t much room for my hand. I called our vet to come out and assist because I didn’t think I would be able to turn the lamb. Dave came out and put up a gate to keep the other ewes out of the way and Hannah came out to watch.

Bertha kept pushing so I tried again to maneuver the lamb, but every time attempted she would lay down – making it harder for me to work. I eventually was able to push the lamb back from the cervix enough to feel the lamb’s hind legs. I needed Bertha to stay standing so I could straighten the back legs and get them out.

Hannah was watching from the other side of the gate and was a bit grossed out by birth process. She knew I was having trouble, though, and asked if she could come over the gate to help… yes! I explained that I needed her to hold Bertha’s head and let Bertha lean against her while I worked to get the legs turned around. I was able to get my hand on the leg and found the hoof, then I cupped my hand around it and tried to bring the leg backwards without damaging Bertha’s uterus. It was so hard and scary but I got it turned around. I was on an adrenaline rush and both surprised and relieved at what I just did! I laid my head on Bertha’s back and heard Hannah ask, “Mom, are you crying?”

After a few tears and deep breaths, I got the other hind leg turned around the same way as the first leg, then let Bertha rest until she had to push again.

The problem that arises when lambs are born with back legs coming out first is that the umbilical cord is pinched before the lamb’s head is delivered, causing the lamb to begin breathing while it is still surrounded by amniotic fluid.

When Bertha began pushing I pulled the legs to fully extend them and pulled the lamb out quickly so it didn’t inhale any fluid. Once out, I wiped the birth fluids from its face and rubbed its side to get it breathing. Bertha’s ram lamb starting shaking his head and calling to her right away.

I was so overwhelmed with relief that I found myself crying again! I called our vet to tell him the lamb was born but asked him to come check on Bertha since he was on his way.

Bertha was perfect and neither of us felt another lamb so this little guy has his mama all to himself. Well, except for me milking her so I can make some sheep’s milk soap.

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.

Raulie

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.

 

 

Searching for Answers

Searching for Answers

The day after Kyle was born I began searching for information and answers to my questions about raising Kyle.  You’ve probably read the previous post about him, but here is a photo from right after birth.

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I asked on one my Facebook groups if anyone could tell me the name of this condition.  I remembered what it was from a post in another Facebook group in 2016 but couldn’t remember the name of it right then.  A woman who was also a member of both groups reminded me that the condition is called hypotrichosis.  When I first posted about Kyle on Facebook people were amazed by him.  Lots of people wanted him and others thought I should try to breed more hairless sheep because he was so cute.

Even after a couple days with Kyle I realized I didn’t want him producing more sheep like himself.  Sheep have wool and hair for insulation and to protect their bodies from the sun and from insects.  Kyle needed a fleece sweater to keep from shivering and on day 2 his ear had started to swell – a sign of frostbite.  If I hadn’t adjusted his heatlamp he may have eventually lost that ear.  Even at this point when our plan was to raise him for meat I didn’t want any “Oops” pregnancies so on day 3 Kyle became the first lamb I castrated.

I also emailed our state veterinarian during those first couple days and asked him if he’d ever come across hypotrichosis in sheep.  He replied that over the years he had seen the condition in a few calves and told me that it could occur in other species but is relatively rare.  He also suggested that I contact the Veterinary Departments of  a couple universities, where I might find someone more knowledgeable in ovine (sheep) conditions.

I contacted a veterinarian at Penn State a few days later and asked his opinion on whether or not Kyle had hypotrichosis.  I had done some research online but I only found a couple articles about it occurring in Polled Dorset and Australian White Suffolk sheep.

This same day I had also asked my local vet to come out for an issue with another sheep and she examined Kyle as well.  He appeared healthy in her opinion, but a little warm so we removed his sweater.  From then on we gave him a sweater at night but took it off during the day if the weather was somewhat mild.  We also talked about other day-to-day issues like what sunscreen would be safe for him (our vet said Waterbabies® would be the best).  At this point we planned to raise him for meat and wanted to be sure nothing we used on him would leave any residues in his body.

From my description of Kyle, plus the photos I sent, the vet at Penn State agreed that congenital hypotrichosis was a very likely diagnosis.  He did say that if Kyle’s dam had a high fever during the phase of follicle development (she didn’t though) it could result in a loss of hair in the fetus (see fetal timeline below).  timeline of fetal developement

He suggested several tests, including skin biopsies to determine what the follicles look like and genetic tests of Kyle, his dam and sire (if a lab could be found to run the tests).  He also suggested that we could donate Kyle for these tests to be performed during a necropsy.  I was not opposed to testing, though I wasn’t interested in euthanizing him for research.  The vet tried to find a lab that would be able to do blood tests and also looked for anyone more experienced in genetic diseases in sheep.

Several days later the veterinarian at Penn State sent me an email with contact information for a researcher at Texas A & M University.  I emailed her a description of Kyle, along with photos, just as I had with the other veterinarians.  She got back to me within a couple days and was able to give me lots of information on hypotrichosis – the condition of which everyone seemed to agree he showed symptoms.

In order for hypotrichosis to occur in an animal, the individual must be homozygous recessive at 3 parts of the hr (hairless) gene. (For a more detailed and scientific explanation, you can read the abstract here.)  I looked over the pedigrees of Kyle’s dam and sire to see if there might be any of the same animals that have have introduced the recessive gene into his line.  I found 2 sheep, 5 generations back from Kyle that were from the same farm and had similar registration numbers.  After talking with our registry I learned that the ram and ewe were both born in 1970.  My theory is that they both carried the heterozygous hr gene, which remained heterozygous in each sheep in the pedigree until Kyle.

At this point (last Spring) Kyle was growing well and keeping up with the other lambs.  We kept the mamas and lambs in the barn more than we usually do because Kyle got colder more easily and we didn’t want to keep him and Annie separated from the flock.

{coming soon…. more about Kyle over the summer}

 

Some Egg Oddities

I wanted to put together a post of odd eggs that we have gotten over the years.  To understand why mishaps occur in the egg laying process, though, you should first know how normal eggs are laid.

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If you have a rooster in your flock, chances are most or all of your hens will lay fertilized eggs (eggs that will produce chicks if properly incubated).  Each egg takes 24-36 hours to form.  After the yolk is released from the ovary it travels through the oviduct.  It is fertilized in the Infundibulum, the albumen (or the egg white) is added in the Magnum, the shell membrane is added in the Isthmus, the shell is added in the Uterus or Shell Gland, and the bloom is added in the Vagina.  Most of this is self-explanatory, but many people have never heard of the egg’s bloom.  This is a clear coating the egg is covered with to seal the pores so bacteria cannot enter the shell.  Air, however, can still go through the pores.  (This is why you can wipe off eggs to be incubated but you should never wash them.)

No Shell

Here’s an egg with only the inner membrane and no shell (also called a rubber egg).  Hens can lay eggs like these at the beginning or end of their laying cycle or if they get scared (usually at night as a result of predators or stormy weather).  You may see these eggs occasionally in your flock.  If your hen lays eggs like this regularly, it may indicate a lack of calcium, phosphorus or salt in the hen’s diet; or an abnormality in the shell gland.

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These eggs are normal in every other aspect and can be eated, but are usually torn open by the chicken (or the farmer).  If left out too long they will start to dry out.

No Yolk 

Sometimes a hen will lay a tiny egg (here are 3 that I’ve emptied and saved).

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These eggs usually have no yolks are often called wind (or fart) eggs, dwarf eggs or rooster eggs.  Many times an egg without a yolk is one of the hen’s first eggs, laid before her system is working properly.  These eggs also occur when a piece of tissue breaks away from the hen’s reproductive tract and is treated like a yolk as it travels through the oviduct.  When this is the case, a small piece of greyish tissue can usually be seen in the albumen.

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Egg with a “Tail”

This egg was such a surprise.  The shell was hard like a normal shell everywhere, except “tail” and where the “tail” met the egg.  That part of the shell wasn’t hard but it wasn’t quite as soft as the membrane of the shell-less egg above, though.  It is thought to be caused by the egg not being hardened enough before being laid.  The soft part of the shell is then elongated as the egg is being passed.

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Double Yolk Eggs

Double-yolk eggs occur when 2 yolks are released at the same time, or when they are released close enough together that they become encased in the same membrane and shell.  These eggs can occur at the beginning of a hen’s laying cycle, but some hens are genetically predisposed to lay double yolk eggs on a regular basis.  (It’s similar to fraternal twins running in families.)  In hens that lay these eggs only occasionally, the egg laying cycle is usually interrupted.   Hens generally lay an egg every 24-36 hours but if they skip a day, the next egg that they lay can be a double-yolk egg.  These eggs rarely hatch 2 chicks if incubated.  Multiple factors are at play: each yolk may not be fertilised and if they both are, both chicks may not survive pipping without careful assistance.  Below is a double-yolk duck egg:

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Leaping Lambs!

I am sitting here going through sections of our website, and I come to my blog drafts page.  Imagine my surprise to find this post that I thought I had published in 2014!

Enjoy these lamb pics while we wait patiently until April when this year’s lambs will be born.

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In 2014 we were blessed with 10 healthy lambs!  6 ewe lambs and 4 ram lambs; 3 sets of twins and 4 singles.  Our lambing season began on February 28th and lasted till March 9th (when we had 2 sets of twins born).

Beatrice's Lamb

Coco's Lamb

Esme's Lambs

Fiona's Lamb

Annie's Lamb  Bertha's Lamb  Erin's Lamb

Because of the extreme cold weather that winter and the icy conditions we kept the ewes and lambs in the barn until the ice melted and the youngest lambs were a couple weeks old.

It was great to watch them enjoy their new-found freedom when we finally were able to bring them outside.

They had been outside for a couple weeks and were racing a few times every day.  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching them!