Monday, January 28, 2013

Sheep Week

I think since we're waiting around on lambs and generally focusing on our sheep at the moment that I'll dedicate this next weeks worth of posts to everything SHEEP. Sound good?

So let's talk about my sheep.

I have Rideau Arcott ewes and they are a Canadian breed of sheep that was developed at Agriculture Canada's Animal Research Centre in Ottawa, Ontario. Because of that they are often called Rideau ARCOTT indicating their origin, A R C Ottawa. The breeding program was started in 1966 and through strict controls of genetics and breeding they developed 3 breeds of sheep, the Rideau, the Canadian, and the Outaouais Sheep. They were originally bred with the goal of producing sheep that would lamb rapidly, every 8 months, so that they could be used for research purposes. After all was said and done the resulting sheep were released to farmers all over the country and are now quite common as commercial breeds. Rideaus in particular are really a meat breed but have some other great characteristics such as their ability to lamb every 8 months, their medium quality fleece and their ability to raise an average of 2.5 lambs every 8 months. We'll keep our cross bred ewe lambs and cross them back to another Rideau ram in the late fall to have 75% Rideau lambs the following Spring. The choice of ram is really important because the ram contributes 50% of the genetics to your resulting lambs. Some rams sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars but for our purposes we'll find a nice looking local boy to trade for or we'll keep an eye out at the livestock sales.

The breed's genetic mix is 40% Finnish Landrace, 20% Suffolk, 14% East Fresian, 9% Shropshire, 8% Horned Dorset and the last 9% is made up of Border Leicester, North Country Cheviot, Romnelet and Corriedale. Each contributes different characteristics such as hardiness, meatiness and non seasonal breeding. This mix makes them good mothers and by breeding them to a terminal breed (meat breed) such as a Texel or a Suffolk you get good lambs for market. Our girls were bred to a Suffolk and a Dorset Horn so we'll see what we get for lambs. Both fathers have distinctive looks and so we'll be able to tell who fathered whom. But both should produce hardy and fast growing meaty lambs.

So there you have it, the provenance of our ewes. We'll keep good records of how many lambs they each have and how they do raising them. Also how the lambs grow and mature. Records are really important and help a shepherd to make good decisions that improve the quality of his flock and keep them healthy and strong. Some record keeping such as tagging their ears is also required by law.

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