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}

 

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!

 

Kyle’s First Time Outside

We usually let the mamas and lambs out of the barn on nice days.  If we are still waiting for mamas to lamb we keep them near the barn instead of sending them out to a pasture.  With Kyle not having any wool we waited till the temperatures were a little more mild, though because we didn’t want to keep Annie and him in the barn while the other mamas and lambs went outside.  March 6th was a warm day and Kyle was 10 days old.  He and the other lambs got to test their speed around my garden while the mamas got a taste of fresh grass.

 

Afterwards, the lambs were tuckered out and Kyle enjoyed some time warming up in his barrel.

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The lambs were able to play outside again on March 8th.

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You can see where the hair starts on Kyle’s legs, and the hair on his face in this photo.

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Trying to win the race

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All 4 feet off the ground!

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More Pictures??

They spent a lot of the time outside racing around the garden!

Kyle

We woke up on Saturday, February 25th, and checked the barncam – there was a newborn lamb in the maternity stall!  Annie labored quietly and had the single lamb already cleaned off and it was standing up.  (Annie’s mother, Star, had delivered her lambs right under the baby monitor without us hearing a peep from her.)

We headed out to the barn and I was first struck by how wrinkled his skin appeared.  Then it hit me … he had no wool.  I had heard about this – in 2016 a woman on the Facebook group Goat Vet Corner posted about one of her goat kids that was born with no hair.  The vets on the page suggested he may have a condition called hypotrichosis, which is defined on wikipedia.com as “a condition of abnormal hair patterns – predominantly loss or reduction.”  Merriam-webster.com defines hypotrichosis as a “congenital deficiency of hair“.

Annie’s ram lamb was a big boy, weighing 11 pounds.  He had normal hair on his legs and tail, but very little hair on his head and no wool or kemp fibers on his torso.  We eventually named him Kyle so we wouldn’t have to call him “the lamb with no wool” or “the bald lamb”.

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As I moved the pair to a jug (a small pen for the mama and lamb/s to stay for a couple days) I noticed that the Kyle’s skin was almost sticky.  I am guessing it was residual amniotic fluid or still damp from 5 months in utero, since his skin felt normal after a couple days.

Once he was mostly dried off, we put a lamb sweater on him to help him stay warm.  We were concerned about him the first day and weren’t sure if he’d make it.  He had a bit of difficultly finding Annie’s teats to nurse and he slept flat out on his side and seemed to have trouble getting up.  We ended up dressing him in a smaller sweater so he wouldn’t step on it, and went to check on him repeatedly to help him nurse.

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By day 2 Kyle was eating and acting like a normal lamb, although he shivered a bit – remember it was February.  We hung a heat lamp on one side of the jug for him, which he slept under.

On day 3, we band our lambs’ tails and apply ear tags.  Now, Annie was almost 10 years old at this point and had had lambs 8 other years.  She’s always been a great mama and cared for her lambs, but as I handled Kyle she became very alert and every time I had my hands off of him she would pull him to her with her nose and nudge him behind her.  I found this surprising because many times when a ewe finds something “off” about her lamb, she will reject it.

After getting banded and tagged, the lambs and their mamas go back into our large maternity stall to join the other ewes.  Annie kept a watchful eye on her lamb as he ran around with the 2 other lambs that were born a couple days before him.

 

Because of the temperatures in PA in February and early March, and because Kyle had no hair to protect his ears from frostbite we bought a metal drum and made a lamb warmer for him.

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The drum has a hole in the top for the heat lamp and the cord to fit through so it is stable and an opening on the side for the lambs to enter.  As you can see, Kyle wasn’t the only lamb to enjoy the warmer!

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Stay tuned for more posts on Kyle!  I will explain more about his condition and describe how he’s been growing the past few months.  Questions?  Please post them below and I will answer them as best I can.  I may also address them in future posts.

1 Weekend … 4 Lambs

I had to work this past Saturday and Sunday so Dave figured that all the lambs would be born while I was gone.  Well, only 4 were born, but right after I went to work Saturday morning Annie had her twins!  I left around 7:30am and Dave called me at 8:30am to tell me there was a lamb in the big stall when he went in to feed.  He got the lambing jug (pen) ready and moved Annie lamb to the smaller space to bond and continued feeding.  He checked back and Annie had 2 lambs in the jug with her.  Dave said she was so quiet that he didn’t even hear her pushing!

Dave’s 1st solo lambing couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  The 13 lb ram lamb was born first, followed by the 10 lb ewe lamb (no wonder she groaned every time she was laying down!).

Annie twins

When I got home from work Sunday afternoon Abigail was the only ewe laying down in the stall, but she got up when Dave brought their hay and grain in.  During our dinner, I noticed on the barn monitor that Abigail was the only one not really eating.  She was standing to the side of the stall by herself and only half-heartedly munching on hay.  Her ears were droopy and she had a look of concentration on her face.

I went out a couple of times to monitor her labor after dinner and was concerned that even though she was pushing I hadn’t seen a water sac or feet.  Warning …. graphic birth description …. may not be for the squeamish.

I “gloved-up” and found the sac was about to emerge.  After a few more minutes and as many pushes I saw a foot.  A single, rear foot.  Okay, I’ve done this before.  This is a breach birth, but at least the lamb wasn’t in the full breach (or butt first) position.  I felt to see if only one leg was presenting and found the other leg next to the 1st, but with the foot bent backwards.  That was easy enough to correct.  Once both feet were out Abigail started pushing again, but with no progress.  I examined again and found that the legs were bent, so I gently straightened them out and she pushed again, but  then got up to find another position.

I was getting nervous here because once the umbilical cord is pinched in the birth canal the lamb will instinctively breathe.  If the lamb is in the breach position when the cord is pinched it could try to breathe while its head is still in the mother and inhale birth fluids.  This is a concern because any aspirated (inhaled) birth fluids can cause pneumonia in the lamb.  Abigail laid down again and with each of her pushes I pulled the lamb’s legs side-to-side and downwards.  I only pulled with her pushes to lessen any tearing or damage to Abigail.  The ewe lamb came out easily and I quickly wiped any fluids from her nose and mouth so that she could breathe.

We waited for a while before moving her to the lambing jug to determine if she was going to have another lamb, but she ended up having just 1 ewe lamb that weighed 10.25 lbs.

abigail lamb

This morning (Monday) was the 1st day of Noah’s Spring Break so I got to sleep in till 7:30!  I heard lots of baa-ing over the barn, but figured it was just because Annie and Abigail were across from the rest of the ewes and they were “talking” to each other.  I got outside around 8 or so and discovered that Erin (one of our 2 first-time moms) was licking a nearly-dry lamb!  She was almost under the video camera and out of view on the screen, which explains why I didn’t see a lamb on the monitor.  I brought Annie and her twins out of the jug and carried Erin’s lamb (with her following) into it.  The ewe lamb weighs 10 lbs and Erin is very interested in her and standing still for her to nurse.

Erin lamb

We now have 3 ewes successfully lamb, with 4 more to go.  Our lambing percentage is 1.33 so far (divide the total lambs by the total mothers).  I hope we have some more multiples to boost the percentage a little.  By comparison, last year’s lambing percentage was 1.8.

Happy lambing!