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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


Trying to win the race


All 4 feet off the ground!


More Pictures??

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


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”.


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.


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.


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!


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.

Color Changing Lambs

I’m often asked about Tunis wool.  Is it soft?  What projects are it good for?  Why do lambs have different colored wool than adults?

Tunis wool is a fine to medium, down-type wool with lots of loft.  If you’re not familiar with wool or fiber terms this means Tunis wool is soft and bouncy and makes light and springy yarn which is great for a variety of projects.

Explaining the lambs’ coloring isn’t as simple.

Tunis lambs are born with a short layer of cream-colored wool over their torsos and necks and light to dark cinnamon colored hair on their legs, heads and tails.  Intermixed in the wool are longer kemp fibers (think guard hairs) that can sometimes completely hide the wool.  The amount of kemp fibers can vary between lambs, just as the cinnamon shade can.  Below are twin lambs.  Notice how one is much darker and also has more kemp fibers covering his wool.


twin Tunis lambs

Over their first few months lambs appear to change from cinnamon to the lighter cream color of their parents.  Their color doesn’t actually fade during this time.  Their wool grows longer, though the kemp, but they also begin to shed much of those longer, darker kemp fibers.


close-up of a kemp fiber

You can see this in the photo below of a 6 week old lamb.  The kemp fibers are longer and becoming more sparse overall.


close up of Tunis lamb

By the time Tunis lambs are 3-4 months old they have the typical coloring associated with the adults.  As Tunis sheep age their wool does lighten slightly.  Their first fleece is usually a beautiful cream color and each year it will become whiter, although Tunis wool doesn’t ever become pure white.


Jack at 1 year old, before first shearing

You can see the differences in color in the photo below.  The two shorn ewes are 5 years old in this photo, the smaller lambs are all up to 8 weeks old and the larger lamb on the far right is 4 months old.

changes in color.jpg

And that is the not so simple explanation of why Tunis lambs seem to change color.  Hope you enjoyed it!


Lessons from Across the Fence…

… or {more accurately} through the fence.

We brought Camille and her 2-week old ram lamb home in May 2009.  After weaning, we sold Camille’s lamb “Cameron” to Christine E. in NJ to be the herdsire for her flock.  He produced beautiful offspring, but in 2012 Christine decided not to breed her sheep.  It turns out Cameron had other ideas…


Here’s Christine’s story:

We had Cameron and 13 ewes.  We decided not to breed, so in May 2012 we separated Cameron from the ewes in a connecting pasture separated by 4×4 mesh sheep fence.  On January 16, 2013, I noticed that one of the two-year old ewes was bagging up.  We were not set-up for lambing (had disassembled lambing pens), so we put her in my horse trailer.  Within 48 hours, she delivered 2 lambs.
After that, I got down on my knees to study all of the ewes as they walked around in the pasture.  The ewes were of course very woolly, so it was difficult to tell for sure as they all looked fat and the only way to really get an idea if they were pregnant was to see if they were bagging up.  As they are on 5 acres, it was impossible to catch each one to get a hands-on check of them.
I noticed another ewe bagged up, brought her to the horse trailer, and she had a lamb.
christine lamb 1
I thought that was it.  2 days later, I went out to the pasture to feed, and I noticed all of the sheep were laying outside of the shelter even though it was windy.  It made me suspicious, so instead of just throwing hay over the fence, I went inside and walked to the shelter.  There was a ewe and a lamb.  All of the sheep stayed outside (I’m guessing) to make sure they didn’t step on the lamb.  My horse trailer was not safe for any more ewes, so we put her in my old chicken coop.
I then noticed that my 11-year-old ewe was bagging up and even though she was fat around her stomach, I could feel her spine and ribs.  I brought her up to the coop so I could grain her.  About two weeks later, she had twins.
Another ewe was bagging up.  I had to put her in the horse trailer because we were running out of room in the coop.  We set up an outside pen so the sheep could go in and out of the trailer.  That ewe had a lamb but it was weak and I was afraid to leave it in with so many sheep (afraid it would get trampled), so we made it a bottle baby.
christine lamb 2
It was snowing one morning, and I went out to the sheep pasture, and found a lamb laying in the snow with mama nowhere to be found.  My second bottle baby.
In total, we had 8 lambs born to 6 ewes.  One of the first set of twins died because the mother rejected him.  I kept him in with the mother, holding her and forcing her to let him nurse and supplementing him with a bottle.  One morning, I found him dead.  It looked like his neck was broken.  Either his mother or the other ewe must have stepped on him or shoved him against the wall when he tried to nurse.  He was almost 2 weeks old, so it was very sad.
The first lambs were born on January 18 and the last on February 11.
christine lamb 3
Besides losing the one lamb, my only regret is that I didn’t get to see Cameron breeding the ewes through the fence!
I’ve heard of rams breeding ewes through a fence… but this is the first time I heard of one breeding 6 ewes through a fence!  Now I know why some breeders have “Abstinence Alleys” (space between fences so sheep cannot have direct contact)!  I am so thankful to Christine for letting me share her story.  I hope she doesn’t mind how long it’s taken me to post it!