Friday, February 12, 2010

Sheep - Wool and Hair, Identification Errors

This is Sophie. She was a bummer lamb, abandoned by her mom. On large range-operations, there are high mortality rates for lambs (pneumonia, hypothermia, predators, abandonment). Sophie and two other lambs were rescued by a neighbor who knew the three would die. 

Sophie will be turning seven this year.
Sophie is pretty

Sophie was about a year old when I started working at the sanctuary. I thought she was gorgeous and was curious about her breed or mix. I asked the other staff.

They said, a Barbados. But I had met Barbados and, well, Sophie is not one. These are Barbados Blackbelly sheep.

Some key differences between Sophie and Barbados sheep:

Sophie has wool. It's perhaps a little known fact that wool, at least the continuously growing kind, is the by-product of artificial selection and domestication - it's a pretty unnatural process (no self-respecting sheep would thrive happily with 100lbs of wool weighing them down). Wild sheep have hair or light, shedding wool. Some breeds of sheep still have hair - the Barbados is one of them. The texture and make-up of hair is very different than that of wool. While some Barbados may have a light wool, it generally sheds.

Sophie had horns. Barbados sheep are naturally polled, that is they don't have horns. Sophie was de-horned by the sanctuary (a practice we thankfully do not inflict upon any incoming goats and sheep anymore). Sophie was lucky to have been dehorned with anesthesia and post-op pain relief; normally, sheep have either their horns or the forming buds gouged/scooped or burned out of their heads. Ouch!

There are probably other differences I'm missing. Sophie is smaller than most Barbados and she doesn't have their sloping topline. She does have a romanesque nose, but a lot of sheep do. She does have the facial markings but doesn't have the same coloration (her belly isn't black, either).

Now, if you want to make a wild guess about Sophie, do it! I have no clue. She does not have ultra-fine wool but it's not coarse, either. The other lambs rescued from the same flock were both white-faced sheep with white wool and their ears are not as parallel to the ground as Sophie's. (Here's a pic of Simon). They don't produce a lot of wool. Maybe they have Barbados or American Blackbelly in their lineage - crosses aren't uncommon but mostly are used in trophy hunting.

Obviously it's not important to the work we do, but it is sorta fun trying to figure out the less obvious breeds of the animals who come here. :)


Princess said...

I don't mean to comment about nothing that has to do with your post (beautiful sheep btw), but feel free to not approved it so it doesn't get posted in a weird place.

I know you love your pit bull discrepancy stories in the media and I came across one. It's not a credible news source and I don't love Rachael Ray but as a pit bull owner, other than her lack of good food, I'd like to think she's pretty savy and that she herself (even if her paid off friends don't) knows the difference between human and dog aggresion.

Further more the article references a dog attack from 3 years ago making it seem her pit bull did the attacking when in original reporting three years ago RR was defending her dog and got bit by another dog.

Here are the articles if you care:

And back on 3/2007

Princess said...

P.S. Since RR has owned two pits in her life I truly hope is a crappy 'friend' that was paid off to say those things and not her true thoughts. I'd hope she knows better.

Pibble said...

OMG. OMG, OMG, OMG! I've always loved sheep. Sheep and goats. I have no idea why, they're just so beautiful to me. Of course, that doesn't help you in your search about Sophie's breed, but hey.

PoochesForPeace said...

Very pretty face.

Retrieverman said...

There are Mouflon/hair sheep crosses that are used for Ted Nugent-style zoo hunts.

There are several different species of wild sheep, two of which are native to North America (the Dall and Bighorn). Bighorn sheep have little immunity to sheep diseases from European sheep, so when the European sheep were introduced, the Bighorns began to dwindle. Their numbers are back up, except for one subspecies

As you said, none of these sheep have wool.

And no wild sheep forms tight flocks.

That behavior is also a result of selective breeding.

Soay sheep don't have the flocking behavior, so they are impossible to herd using dogs. You have to use a catch dog (almost always a border collie that has been trained to hold the sheep).

Everyone talks about how many dog breeds are so "maladaptive" and would never survive in the wild, but I would argue that most breeds of sheep are not well-suited to living as wild animals. The wool issue alone is enough to discount the vast majority of sheep breeds from ever being able to live on their own. Even those hardy hill sheep and Norse sheep have to be shorn.

And then they have very high maintenance issues. Sheep have to kept from eating grasses that are venomous to them. Predators have to be guarded against, and then there are all the sheep diseases.

The old saying is that sheep is born looking for a place to die, because compared to cows, goats, and virtually all other species of livestock, sheep are very fragile.