Friday, October 9, 2009

"Are You a Dwarf?"

"Are you a dwarf? How tall are you? Do you have to sit on a pillow to drive?"
At least a couple times during the year, my caring, compassionate 8th graders ask me this question. I often reply that my 4'10 ft. body with a size 5 shoe will demonstrate what a dwarf I really am if they don't run fast enough away from me.
My point you may ask? Nothing, no actually I have been thinking about dwarfism.
I know that dwarfism exists in all species (well, I don't really know for sure but I am assuming it does... MA in history, not science) and I am wondering if it does with Shetland Sheep?
This past breeding season I had two really small lambs born. At birth they were fairly comparable in size to all the other lambs but as the lambs started growing and maturing, they remained small. The little guy pictured below is one of them.

He is a single ram lamb. His dam is a single black ewe that got bred by mistake at 8mos. I guess I have a number questions. His dam was a normal size ewe lamb, coming in at around 45-50 lbs. I know that some breeders will breed ewes as yearlings or if they are 50lbs. I personally do not believe in it, though I understand & respect those breeders that do; its just a personal preference. I however, felt like a total yuck when I realized she got bred by mistake. Side question: does breeding under a year in age affect size of lambs?
Anyways, he is really small. He was born mid-April and is just starting to push about 12 lbs. He is just a little stinker. Are there dwarf Shetlands? If so, what constitutes a dwarf Shetland? I am just wondering about bloodlines, genetics? If so, does it skip around? Meaning generation to generation? I am no genetic genius and by posting this I am probably causing a big flag to go up on my Shetland sheep but I am not trying to win breeder of year over here and I would like to know. I AM NOT TRYING TO BREED DWARF SHETLANDS EITHER. I don't believe in just culling either, too soft of a heart and I believe in the underdog. And while I am not ashamed of this little guy being born either and have nothing to hide, I also understand and know he is not breeding quality. This little ram lamb was wethered back in August and is completely content doing his own "little thing" out in the barn and I am completely amused watching him .
I often wonder though, if by wethering them too young, does it prohibit growth that they really need when they are smaller? I always get a variety of responses from the vets I go to so I end up with a variety of self-diagnosis's and end up weeding through it by experience.
This is him on the left pictured with 2 other lambs, all born within days of each other and actually the other 2 are twins (not to each other however). I am wondering too, if by working with polled genetics, is this a more likely situation to arise as opposed to working with non-polled lines? Personal preference is that I do like the Shetland sheep that are finer boned, though not so fined bone that it would compromise their confirmation. I am surprised to see so many larger boned Shetlands at the few sheep shows I went to this year. Is this a new trend in Shetlands?
If so, then if more and more people breed for larger boned Shetlands then the "normal" sized Shetlands will start to all look like dwarfs now won't they? Just a thought.
I contemplated posting this for awhile as I am not the type of person to put this kind of stuff on my blog. I prefer to keep it light hearted and fun and truly I am not all knowing about Shetland genetics but I love my sheep for just being sheep and being there for me so I posted.
If your reading, thanks for listening to my thoughts.
And if I do say so myself, I do have some pretty loveable sheep:)

14 comments:

Michelle said...

I'm not much more experienced than you, but have read and researched some, plus have a large animal vet for a husband. First, I've heard some say that breeding ewe lambs can compromise their growth, but I've never heard anyone say that their lambs tend to be, or stay, smaller. Secondly, I don't think there is any link to size and polled genetics. Third, in other small breeds like miniature horses, dwarfism has other distinct traits, along with a smaller size. A dwarf mini often has fewer but bigger incisors. Have you checked this lamb's bite compared to other, growier lambs?

Sharrie said...

I had twin ram lambs born this spring where one was considerably smaller at birth, and it continued as they grew.
I thought he would catch up, but he was always smaller than his twin. Don't guess that tells you much, but I found your post interesting.

Gizmo said...

I don't know much about Shetland genetics, but have been raising other breeds of sheep for several years. We have found that breeding a ewe (or doe) too young stunts her AND her lambs. Like you, we subscibe to letting her mature before breeding (typically the Fall of her first year), but we've also had our accidents.
And yes, you do have pretty loveable sheep!

Kara said...

Okay here I go I will open up a can of worms: I have bred lambs and have had more trouble with first time moms that are two year olds...my yearlings were great moms and not stunted nor their lambs growth stunted. My two year olds bred as lambs are just as big as the two year olds that were not and had their first lambs this year. I will only breed my biggest few. With that being said I have some BIG lambs...some weigh more than 2 times as much as Quechee. But don't feel bad, mine are bigger than the lambs I saw from other farms at the Finger Lakes Fiber Fest too. Confetti, lamb of a yearling, was bought by someone that bought 17 Shetlands this year and he was the biggest she bought of the same age. Is it that my lambs were better bred? NO! Lambs at the festival were all related to mine. Are they better cared for? NO! So what do I think is the difference? I don't know but I do think you should continue to look into it. Pasture maybe plays a part. You have good stock with good bloodlines. You love your sheep and are a great shepherd. I do think you need to keep asking questions and try to figure it out. I bet it is a something minor with an easy solution. Have you had fecals done on your flock? Have you checked for any mineral deficiency? Robin was taking about her sheep being copper deficient since sheep feed and minerals don't have it. The two I bought from you are beautiful healthy sheep. They have gained a lot since being here. Champ more than Quechee, but she is getting there. I do think you should evaluate your feeding program somewhat. Champ has not once tried to escape...I think because he has no need. I did have to bring the goats off the pastures and feed them a higher protein hay and some grain to get the Nubians weight up. It is trial and error for me and what works for some, doesn't always work for all. It took me years to try to get my mare's weight up and now she is almost too fat. This is the first year I am not feeding the horses ANY grain or hay over the summer. They just get pasture and minerals and are all too heavy for my liking. The first year I have had trouble with that. Maybe I am rotating my pastures too much, if that is possible. Good luck and keep us posted on what you figure out. Hugs!

Christine said...

Being of short stature myself, only 5' 1", I think he's absolutely adorable. I, like you, love them for who they are. I suspect I'll end up turning this place into the farm for wayward animals. LOL

Angela Rountree said...

I have bred larger ewe lambs, and it did not affect the lambs' size. It did take the yearling ewes longer to reach their final adult size, though. I have had lambs with slow growth rates who were more worm-susceptible than others in the flock, and their growth rates improved after worming. This year I had an older ewe give birth to triplets, and did not give much milk. Despite some bottle supplementation for a month, both of her ewe lambs are much, much smaller than the other ewe lambs their age. (The old ewe preferentially nursed her boy lamb and let the girls fend for themselves.) I am giving those 2 little girls a little bit of grain each night, hoping they will catch up eventually. So, in my opinion, you could try worming your little wether if you think his mom gave plenty of milk. Or, you could just wait for him to catch up and make sure he has plenty to eat in the meantime.

kristi said...

Michelle,
his bite is good just like all the other lambs. He is just a really small boned lamb. Thanks for checking in:)

Sharrie,
thank you for stopping..actually just knowing you stopped by to read is good to know:)

Kara,
thanks for listening to me. Hope your hubby got over his shock:)

Gizmo,
Hey! Thanks for stopping by and offering your insight! It is always appreciated:)

Christine,
So you are a shortie too? LOL A little bit of waywardness is just fine isn't?:)

Angela,
good to hear from you. You know he is the one that will hang out, just looking for that last piece of grain while everyone else has moved on to hay. He just takes his good ole time. I am going to hit everyone again with a wormer in the next week. But I think he deserves a chance:)

Kara said...

Kristi,
Glad to!
He is fine, just a little cranky! Now he knows how I felt.

Hey I just had an idea...is there a way you could set some sort of creep feed area for your smaller lambs so that you can eliminate any sort of feed competition? Goats and ponies will take the lions share, or at least mine will if given the chance. :)

Tammy said...

Hi Kristi,
As Michelle mentioned, I think that dwarfism has other characteristics other than just small size. I do not breed my ewe lambs (personal preference)and almost all lambs are born a nice normal size, whether twins or singles. The singles will quickly out distance the other lambs in size, but by the time they are yearlings they are all pretty much the same. This year I had a set of twins born very small and I suspect slightly premature. The ram/wether lamb is smaller, but not abnormally so. I doubt he will be as big as the others, but I think as he matures the size difference will be less noticeable. Now... (This is gonna get long, I think!). My sheep tend to be bigger and well...'well fleshed' than some, even those of the same breeding. My guess for this is that the ewes get grain supplementation ALL year, whether they need it or not. The lambs as well. If your little guy checks out physically okay (Fecal, and perhaps check his heart and lung sounds etc) he may not be getting his share of the goodies. The larger/stronger sheep will not be nice and the smaller or weaker sheep will be forced out before getting all the nutrition they need. I've had to stall a couple of lambs during feeding time in order to let them eat at leisure in order to 'catch up'. Some sheep are just slow eaters and can't get enough to eat before the crowd pushes them aside. Personality plays a part in this too...a smaller, pushy lamb may do okay, but a more timed lamb won't. As someone mentioned, a creep area in the corner of your barn, would go a long way towards giving him somewhere to eat quietly w/out as much competition. You can put out nice hay for him and the other smaller lambs to consume through out the day as well as some grain supplementation. Just thoughts, hope something helps. How does he seem when you do a condition score on him? Is he extremely bony, etc etc.
Tammy

Jen and Rich Johnson said...

Dwarfism is very unlikely, and Michelle's comments are right on the money. Plus, it would not occur on several lambs.

It's possible that young mothers won't produce as much milk as an older ewe, which certainly would impact lamb growth. I've seen that a few times, but only on very immature ewes.

I would recommend fecal testing. I would suspect a parasite issue, but it might not be that. I've seen tapeworms cause this before, and regular worming isn't going to get at them. Valbazen still works well for tapeworms, but little else does. It would be a good idea to find out what, if anything, is there.

Rich

kristi said...

Kara,
I never thought of a creeper feeder....good idea:) I am off to the vet tomorrow for one of my cats so I am going to take random fecal sample. I will keep you posted:)

Tammy,
overall his condition is fine, just very fine boned. One of his favorite spots to eat is right under my miniature horse who never knows he is even standing there. Thank you for stopping by and you should have a box coming your way this week:)

Rich,
thank you for your insight. I did worm with valbazen in July so I am going to talk to the vets tomorrow.

ae1501 said...

Happy Columbus/Discoverers' Day Kristi. Thanks again for the cute clip art. As far as height, just remember, some of my munchkins are gaining on you!

Garrett808 said...

Hi Kristi! Just catching up....

I think pasture has a LOT to do with Shetlands and growth. Even if you feed the very best alfalfa hay and mineral you will have smaller, slower growing lambs. If your ewes as yearling are not at least 60 pounds, there is something amiss. Lambs should grow hugely their first season, until the grass stops growing. Then they tend to not grow much at all during the winter and then jump start again once on spring pastures.

My lambs the first year were all born between 4-7 pounds. 2nd year 5-8 pounds. This spring 4-9 pounds. So not much difference there.

How they grew AFTER they were born was the kicker. first year i had only 1 acre of pasture and dirt lots. They were small, like 35 pounds at 5 months old. 2nd year, most were only 45-50 pounds at weaning, and on only 3 acres of pasture. This year with 8 acres of pasture my lambs at 5 months old (weaning for rams) was 60-75 pounds! And its the same ewes and rams that I used as parents, the only difference was pasture.

I always worm with Valbazen typically in September, before the breeding groups (45 days before you start breeding and 45 days after you take the ram out is a time when you should NOT use it). I also do fecals monthly. Especially if they are not on ratationally grazed pastures. This year I had the rotationally grazed and didn't have an issue with worms..even when it was cold and wet all summer. Adult sheep can fend off quite a bit more parasite load than lambs. If lambs are not growing and are undersized they are having nutritional or parasital issues. Have you checked your hay for nutritional content? It can vary year to year, or cutting to cutting, even if its from the same supplier. Shetlands, in my experience don't need the sweet feed that goats and horses do, and they don't seem to grow a lot with that. I feed alfalfa pellets over the winter to my lambs, and have them seperated from the adult ewes/rams so they don't have to fight for the prime feed.

oh this is getting long....if you want to call to chit chat sometime I'd be happy to spend the time!

Amy said...

Condition score...frequently! Under all that wool, you'd be amazed at what might be missing that is not evident to the eye. (Shetlands score differently than other breeds so take that seriously.) Spend time with him (sitting quietly nearby) to watch his social structure in your flock...you can learn boatloads about what he gets, or doesn't. Rotate, rotate, rotate! Make sure they are not on the same pasture for three weeks, at least. And variety in grazing is key...don't forget "weeds" like clover, and dandelion. They contribute enormously to proper nutrition and good rumens! They like beet greens, too. Halter train him and get him out to graze rich areas, give him attention, take him out with a flock buddy, walk and see new sights. Believe it or not, sheep THRIVE on this, after they've learned you are not a coyote. If you've already dewormed him, make sure he's not in mud lots. That's really bad for sheep, and wool. Also, getting your hay checked is good advice. It can vary sooo much from year to year based on seasonal conditions and the shape of the soil. Bad hay can look good, but be a real waste of time and money, and lead to terrible scores! Watch his ears. Ears are message boards. If something is wrong with how he's feeling, ears will start going down bit by bit. Where does he hang out? Does he mix? Have buddies? Get bashed? Amy at Wheely Wooly Farm