I traded rams with a friend of mine, both of us needing some fresh blood for our flocks. She had spent a lot of money a few years ago bringing a White Post Farm ram over from the East Coast, an had several of his sons for me to choose from. I brought her a little pinto colored fellow who had the one of the best NSIP metrics of my group of rams, and whose brothers have been popular breeders at other farms. White Post Katahdins are very well known, and the sons of this big boy import all carried the typical White Post look, and substantial size.

I felt a little insecure as I turned him out in the pasture- he looked huge compared to my rams! It made me wonder if I have a long ways to go in my breeding program. But a few days later, I got them on the scale, and was surprised to find out he weighed exactly the same as my mature ram, Liberace. They were both 200 pounds. Above is Lumpy, the new ram, and below is Liberace, or “Lee”:

Lee is not my favorite ram of all time, but he has his good traits. His sire and dam are both KRK stock, which is coveted in this region. Lee throws good growth lambs and nice daughters. But he is not very pretty- he is kind of “stuffy.” Lee looks like he should weigh a lot less than Lumpy, he is several inches shorter at the shoulder, for one. So it goes to show how visual appraisal can be deceiving, and that you can’t judge weight very well by just looking at them.

Lee is two years old, and Lumpy is a yearling, so presumably Lumpy will outweigh him as a mature ram. My other yearling ram, Lefty, weighed 170 lbs at the same time, back in August. Lefty is the love of my life: not only does he have the best metrics of all my sheep, he is gorgeous and gentle too. And, he has the ideal hair coat: all hair, no wooly fibers, and no hideous peeling-like-a-banana shedding period. Here are the two of them next to each other, getting fitted for their marking harnesses:

You can see that Lefty is also a good two or three inches shorter than Lumpy. But when I look Lefty’s muscular buttocks and deep loin, I can’t help but think roast.

And here’s the thing with breeding rams. We want them to carry genetics which produce lambs which grow very fast. Especially in grass-fed systems, we need those lambs to hit butcher weight while the grass is green, and before we head into winter and have to purchase feed.

But naturally these genes tend to come with generic growth genes- the genes which just produce a big animal. In other words, an animal that hits a nice butcher weight at six months, but then keeps growing! We don’t want mature breeding stock that reaches gigantic proportions, because they are expensive to feed and keep over winter. We mostly want animals that do the bulk of their growing early, and then slow down after that.

So which ram is better? Only spreadsheets and metrics will be able to tell me after I have seen what they produce. If Lumpy can generate lambs that hit butcher weight faster on grass, then his extra 30 pounds at yearling weight might trump Lefty. But if their lambs are similar in post-weaning weight, then feeding a slightly smaller ram over the long haul wins out.

And this is only considering butcher lamb output. I’ll be keeping replacement ewe lambs out of these fellows as time goes on, and I also don’t want behemoth ladies to feed. Sometimes its conceivable that one sire might be preferable for producing breeding ewes, and another sire better for “terminal” work, where his lambs all go to the butcher channel.

It’ll take me a couple of years to see how Lumpy performs. Due to his fever incident, I only had him breed six ewes. This will give me about a dozen lambs, and only a half dozen of each sex. This is not a very good data set for comparing against the other rams, so it’ll probably take two years before I have accurate NSIP metrics on him. But he has a good pedigree, so he’ll probably stick around here for a while!

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