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.

 

 

Seasonal Ram Changes

Autumn is here and that means we will be breeding our sheep soon.  I really find it amazing how rams change during the late summer and early fall in preparation for breeding.

Above are 2 photos of our newest ram, Raulie.  The photo on the left was taken when we got him in April and the one on the right is from yesterday (September 30th).  You can immediately see differences in his facial features – his face is more wrinkled and swollen now.

As soon as you come close to (most) breeding rams, you will notice a major change in them … their scent.  Most rams smell musky during breeding season (or rut) – and some smell more than others.  Sheep have scent glands between their toes and next to their eyes.  You can see in the above photo how the scent glands next to Raulie’s eyes have increased in size to produce the musky odor that comes with the breeding season.

The ram’s olfactory sense is heightened during rut so that he can more easily detect when a ewe is in estrus (heat).  To accommodate this, the nasal passages swell so that the surface area is increased.  Sheep also have a specialized organ above the roof of their mouth called the vomeronasal organ that aides in their sense of smell.  When the ram smells the ewe, he breathes into his nose and mouth.  Her scent is picked up by his olfactory cells and the vomeronasal organ and he raises his head and curls his upper lip (this is called the Flehmen response).

Isn’t it amazing how these animals were created so that their bodies change with the seasons?!