Never underestimate your Soay runts

Every few years we end up with an unexplained runt in our flock, not the one who is slowed down by a touch of coccidia or the littler twin who has trouble competing for its mother’s milk supply, but an unusually small animal who for some unknown reason simply falls behind. We had one of those in 2012 and I want to share with you how he turned out.

Piebald Whitestone at six weeks

Whitestone was a striking piebald Soay lamb

Young Whitestone was a linecross lamb, which means from day one he was destined to be a breeder for us, but only if he was healthy, robust, no issues. As a six-week old lamb, he was on the smallish side at 14 pounds, but still well within the bell curve, and he looked just like all the other rams: good horn shape, clean nose and eyes, no problems. In fact, it was not his health that caught our attention, but rather his phenotype. He was piebald, with a white head, legs, tail, and splotches on his sides. His appearance was the more startling because both his parents were plain brown sheep.

Fast forward to September, when he was five months old, and all the rest of the eighteen intact ram lambs had matured to the point of having a handful of testicles rapidly growing for their first fall breeding season. None of them actually bred that fall, but they were ready. Whitestone, by contrast, clearly had not matured sexually; a note in his file reads: “Sept, grape-sized balls.” He was so small that we took him out of the ram pen and wintered him over with two unusually small wethers from the spring lamb crop.

Late-bloomer Whitestone with two very small wethers

White-faced Whitestone with two small wethers for companions

As you can see, these three little guys were pretty clearly not ready to join the mature rams during that first rut.

For almost a full year Whitestone remained with the wethers and a couple of old rams who also could not compete with the big guys. We described him as “small, but obviously healthy and simply a smallish ram,” but we were not sure what to do with him. Luckily for him, by January 2014, as he neared the end of his first rut (a year late), he had “great horns and face,” a “definite breeder.” Whitestone had turned out so healthy and handsome that he displaced another linecross ram in our breeding lineup.

Mature at last, Whitestone was ready to breed

When he finally matured, Whitestone was robust enough to earn a place in our breeding lineup

Piebald British Soay ram Whitestone at the end of breeding

Whitestone looking smug just after breeding ended.

Fast forward again, to a few weeks ago, the beginning of lambing season 2015. To our surprise and delight, the first three ewes to lamb had all been bred by Whitestone, and not only that, they produced four ewe lambs. Clearly Whitestone was up to the task. What a great way to start lambing season!

By the time the lambing dust settled on April 14, Whitestone’s ewes had delivered up three sets of twins and four singles, almost 50% twins. Not bad for a runt. Not only that, all four of the single lambs were way above average weight at birth: 5 pounds 8 ounces, 5 pounds 12 ounces, 6 pounds 2 ounces, and a whopping 7-pound ewe lamb from Renwick. I haven’t had time to run the numbers to figure out how much bigger our lambs were this year than last, but we are pretty sure feeding our gestating ewes a grassy alfalfa (not cow alfalfa, much leafier and not stemmy) contributed to the increase.

Soay ewe lamb

Whitestone’s pretty dark red-brown ewe lamb at six weeks

Soay ram lamb

Whitestone’s twin son, Clinton, hiding behind his sister

Soay ram lamb

One of Whitestone’s ram lambs with excellent horn growth (surprise, surprise) at six weeks

Soay ewe lamb

Renwick and her robust ewe lamb (7 pounds at birth!) out in grass at last

The moral of this story? Nothing grandiose. Steve surmises there are rams who simply mature much later than average. So if you have an unusually small ram who falls behind your other ram lambs as they proceed through sexual maturation, be patient. Your runt may someday grow up to be like Whitestone, and how lucky for you.

For now …

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