Monday, November 17, 2008

Pimp My Ram

So the other day, S calls me at work to tell me that she has a friend who wants to breed to my ram. Hmmm. THIS is interesting. I never really thought about this concept. I have Trinity to make next year's roasts and lamb chops. I'd keep him anyway, because I really like this ram. He's even-tempered, easy to handle, kindly to my ewes, has marvelous wool, and, as an added bonus, is (IMO) very handsome. In a strictly platonic, sheep-type way, you understand. Moreover, he settled 100% of my ewes last year (one third of whom were unproven). S and R have some objections to him - mainly, that he's a Shetland, which means he isn't a giant ram, and his offspring are therefore on the smaller end. OTOH, they've had other rams at their farm, and some of them have been right bastards. One of them escaped his pen and, whilst R was fixing the fence, ran her down repeatedly; she finally had to pepper-spray him to get him off her back. Literally.

Having run the numbers more than once, S has determined that the only way to be profitable in a small sheep operation in Alaska is to keep small-ish, thrifty ewes who are good mothers, breed them to a ram lamb of a larger, meat-producing breed, and then to slaughter and eat the ram lamb once breeding season is over. This means you don't support a non-productive animal over the winter, and that when your ewes are open, they're smaller, thriftier animals who don't require a lot of feed for upkeep. In the spring, the meat-cross lambs are born (typically without difficulty, as the Shetlands ewes usually lamb easily) and rapidly gain size at a rate that outstrips that possible for Shetlands. Because Shetlands are generally good mothers, and produce reasonable quantities of milk, they generally don't have trouble rearing twins, even if the twins ARE bigger than standard Sheltands.

However... despite all these reasoned and sensible arguments, I just can't go for it. Maybe it's sentimental, but I can't bring myself to even consider slaughtering Trinity. For one thing, he's genetically distant from the other Shetlands up here; most everything else in the area (Shetland-wise) is somewhat related, since it's a geographically isolated population. Trinity was imported specifically to address this issue. You kinda hate to lose that. For another thing.... I just really LIKE this ram.

I'm not the only one. My shearer said two things about Trinity: One, "What an easy ram! I never shear one that behaves this well." And, "Man, this is nice fleece; you should enter this in the fair." Even S and R admit that he's a nice ram, and easy to tend and keep.

Oh... and have I mentioned that he's a handsome beast?

However, it hasn't escaped my notice that I am pretty much just eating most of Trinity's offspring, which sort of dead-ends his genetic usefulness. So it was kind of nice to think that someone else might want to take advantage of his genetics - someone, moreover, who is interested in fiber production, which means that his young will be hanging around for a while, and possibly one day producing young of their own, thus perpetuating his genes.

Meanwhile, S suggested to her friend that maybe I'd consider bartering for my stud fee. Hmmm. Interesting concept. As it happens, I have no idea what to ask for a stud fee. Apart from which, I've learned (after 13 years in the Greatland) that there are any number of people up here who have all kinds of interesting skills, talents, and various resources. Hence barter is something that is sort of culturally satisfying, as well as potentially profitable in ways that a cash exchange is not.

The upshot of all this that S and R's friend is bringing over her ewe, two bales of hay, and five range-reared organic chickens, already butchered and wrapped and ready for my freezer. Trinity - and here, put on your "surprised" face - is more than content to do his bit without payment of any sort. We plan to put her ewe in with my flock for two breeding cycles. The hay is for her upkeep and S and R's trouble, and the chickens are for the use of Trinity's testicles (and all associated apparatus).

Meanwhile, I had kept out Trinity's daughter from this year, Gigantor, to hold her open this year. I know plenty of people breed ewe lambs their first season, and probably that would've been the easy thing to do; however, I'm a big fat chicken when it comes to things like that, so I thought I might just let her finish her growth before I bred her for the first time. However, on the tenth, Trinity made himself a hole in the fence and made his way into the goat pen, where Gigantor is vacationing until breeding season is over. That may be of no real import. Or it may be that Gigantor will be lambing with the rest of them come spring. Best laid plans, and all that. So to speak.

So, I've now entered the world of breeding for profit, albeit in a (very) small, barter-oriented way. This seems like a good deal for this year, at least, and possibly for future years. It also opens up the possibility of sending Trinity off to breed wool babies at another farm next year whilst I buy, use and butcher a meat ram for my own ewes next year, a plan that fills S and R with anticipatory glee. This all leaves me with only one burning question.

Does this mean I'm a pimp now?


Ishtar said...

Lol! I found your blog last week and have been coming back to read up on your interesting life story! I fell for this post because I have told myself that if I ever stumble upon any all-black sheep here in Niger, I'm going to buy a pair - however, I know nothing of rams so would have to discover... We got our first goats this season and had a lot of fun, but eventually the buck became violent so we sold him off to market. We now enjoy the company of a very elegant doe and her new-born daughter, and should we want more goats, will bring in a buck for a brief moment.

Don't feel goofy for having a soft spot for Trinity, it sounds to me that he thoroughly deserves it!

Warm greetings from West Africa (of all places),

AKDD said...

Hi Esther!
Wow, Niger? Like the Sahara Desert Niger? Cool! (Or, HOT!) :D Never been to West Africa... been to East Africa twice, though. Loved it. I'll always be of two hearts now... one here, one in Africa.

Luckily S and R's buck isn't violent - yet. (He was born this year, so he's only maybe 7 months old.) But he won't be around long... They'll either sell him or butcher him, partly because he's a bit stinky, and partly because they expect me might become a lot less friendly and easy-going as he matures. Trinity, meanwhile, remains a doll, even though he's six now. Also, he does not urinate on his own head. :o

Do you mainly have hair sheep or wool sheep in Niger? (Just curious). When I was in Kenya, we saw some of the most GORGEOUS goats, and in the regions we travelled we saw mainly hair sheep. Our driver-guide used to ask everyone if those were sheep or goats (since there was no wool to tip people off). I always knew, but when he asked HOW I knew, I couldn't tell him - it was kind of, "Well, they just ARE." So he taught me this handy phrase: "Goat tails up, sheep tails down." I find this has never failed me. :D

Out of curiosity, do you plan to dairy your goats? I have vague hopes of dairying with one of my sheep this spring... we'll see. May depend on how useful my stock dog turns out to be, since that may affect how easy that task is.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and warm greetings back from chilly Alaska!

MaskedMan said...

Technically, the correct term for a lady procurer is "Madam."

I'm quite sure Trinity couldn't care less, one way or another. His little world is no doubt quite complete, and such philosophical questions are unimportant.

Meanwhile, "pimp my ram" had me thinking along the lines of gilt horns and hooves, fancy ear tags, neck chains and 'bling,' and maybe a special hat - something festive-looking and seasonally appropriate.

Bill Fosher said...

Any biosecurity concerns?

I've always refused to stud rams out for this reason (that and the fact that I don't want to be responsible for the keep of someone else's ewes or have them in charge of my ram).

I need orange said...


But in a good way. :-) :-)

I need orange said...

Agreeing with maskedman about pimping, that's what I thought you meant, too.

Surely you could at least paint his horns gold or something?


Dragon43 said...

Interesting story, and well written as usual.
I can get misty eyed with a lot of critters, just have not added goats and sheep to the list ... yet. ;)

I like the suggestion of giving him some 'bling.'l

Laura Carson said...

I feel your pain. Last year we had pulled my little yearling ewe lamb out from my ewes so she wouldn't get bred - and dang if she didn't somehow manage to squeeze herself between the gate and the post to get in with the ram. We named her Hester (you know, Scarlet Letter) being the randy thing she is. ;)

goatgirl said...

Trinity is a very handsome fellow and I say go for it. Sometimes if you are a small time farmer it is hard to find someone that is willing to breed your ewes...or does in my case. As long as the ewe is healthy I am sure it will be fine and the owner will be grateful for you pimping him out. I just sold my buck because I have a good friend that is willing to let me breed my does to her bucks. I got tired of the peeing on the head stuff.
BTW you inherited Esther from me. I love technology...where else can you chat with people all around the world with the common bond of buck goat?

AKDD said...

Wow! Thanks, guys!

MM,INO and Dragon - while I think that Trinity would look madly hot with some gold chasing on his horns (again, let me emphasise the platonic nature of this thought!) I'm fairly certain he would be less than thrilled with a hat. OTOH, maybe I should give that a try.... Just for grins.

Bill, it's a maiden ewe, so no STDs, and the owner has recently wormed and de-loused. I feel reasonably comfortable with her by reputation and personal contact. Most of the bad diseases are low or absent up here, and the ewe originated in a clear flock. So, yes, I suppose there are always some bio-security concerns, but I'm more comfortable with her one ewe (and next year, maybe a second) than I would be with, say, a flock. As for the respnsibility of caring for the ewe, that's really S and R's lookout, and they're comfortable. But I'm with you on loaning him out to another farm.... I would certainly consider it, but I'd want to inspect premises and have a contract. I might not be able to bring myself to do it, anyway. I might just split my flock and breed some to Trinity and some to a meat ram. That way S&R are happy, and so am I.

Laura, thank you for telling me that - I feel better that I'm not the only one! (And SNERK on the name Hester! That's hilarious!) Did she lamb out okay?

GG, thx for the moral support (I didn't think about the difficulties of getting a breeding from the POV of the ewe owner, but it's a good point); and thanks for the readers, too! It IS kind of strange that people worldwide have united on the common ground provided by the humble and hilarious world of goats! (And other livestock, in my case).

manymuddypaws said...

totally :o)

and I think he's handsome too! (in a sheepie sort of way)

Holly said...

You know, I think his temperament alone is enough to keep him as your primary breeding ram. After all, someone has to handle the livestock and you can't afford to be injured unnecessarily.

I find barter to be a wonderful thing. I've bartered stud fees on the dogs, on crafts that I've done etc.

One of the ladies from a dog list I belong to has goats, she makes soap and I believe uses some of the milk too.

AKDD said...

Oooh, Soap! I used to make soap, back in the day. Hmmmm....!

And too right on both the barter and the ram. I love a good trade, AND a nice easy ram.

Ishtar said...

Hi there! Sorry for getting back to you a little late, connections over here in Niger aren't always the best... Anyway, let me see if I can answer the questions without forgetting anything.

1. Yes, Niger as in 4/5 of the country being the Sahara Desert. My parents started a long-term aid project in 1986 and thanks to drought tolerant trees and bushes that give food, even in time of need, we have a population in the driest and least developed area of Niger who are reaching for sustainability. It's fun, (hot!) but worth fighting for... You find the full story here:

2. All sheep here in Niger are hair sheep. I don't know why, but I've never mixed the goats and the sheep either. The tip about the tail was a great one to pass on! In addition, sheep in Niger often have thick, rounded horns whereas goats have thinner and longer horns. Sheep are also, for the most, excessively dirty - I don't know what it is, but the rainy season mud seems to last for a year on their coats! Here's a link to the most beautiful ram I have ever seen:

3. Well, I don't know if I'm a goat milk person myself but our dogs sure love it! And so we've been milking Esmeralda, especially during the first month after Allis' birth, to keep our little Rhodesian Ridgeback pup (from Sweden!) in good health. She loves the goat milk more than anything, and it's done her wonders!

As for bucks, I am so glad Trinity does not urinate on his head! Amadeus (our former buck) was quite disgusting. There is a saying in Hausa here that goes:

A buck came running down a street, and asked the people, "HAVE YOU SEEN THE LADIES???"
The people shook their head."No, only your mother and sister, and they walked that way."
"But that's what I said," the young buck exclaimed happily, "the ladies!" and he sped off in pursuit...

Anyone who's had a buck know what they are capable off...

In any case, we would love to pimp your goat had we only lives in the same area! Uh, the same continent would even do!!

Greetings from West Africa,

AKDD said...

No worries, Ishtar! I forget to check my comments sometimes, so I'll apologize back for being late on it.

What an interesting life you must lead! It's SO cool the work that you and your parents are doing! I admire that sort of thing greatly. I'll have to go have a leisurely browse through your web site after I'm done here. Plus I must see the handsome ram photo!

How cool that you have a new Rhodesian pup - although it cracks me up that she came from Sweden, given the African origin of the breed! (Isn't Rhodesia what they used to call Zimbabwe?) Oh, well - all my dogs are of non-Alaskan origins, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised! At least you've chosen something suitable to your environment.... unlike my rescue lurcher, who is half whippet - and the other half Border collie, but he's entirely built like a whippet, with the matching lack of coat. Poor shivering thing. (Unfortunately, he will NOT wear a coat of any kind, so he just has to shiver - and run back in the house really fast.) Sigh. :p