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.

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}