Woodland Creek Soay Rams

Woodland Creek Soay Rams
Soay Sheep Ram Assortment

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lambing for final light-wild Skylonda Soay ewe at Woodland Creek

Saturday the last of the four light-wild Soay ewes from Skylonda finally lambed. As with the others, the sire was the self-light ram Express. Another ewe! That makes four ewes and only one ram. All will be what I call "3/4 SCLP" - that is, all are homozygous for light phase, and heterozygous for self-colored. As such each has a 50:50 chance, mated to a self-light ram, of producing more self-light Soays. This is as good of odds as there have been for a long time!
Skylonda Ginger and Dam Skylonda Geege
Only 3 or 4 more ewes to lamb this year. One for sure, the others may not be pregnant. With 17 live lambs on the ground, I don't need too many more this year!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Two new lambs and a stroke of luck

Two more light-phase Skylonda ewes lambed last week. Each had a single, one a ewe and one a ram. With Blue Mountain Express as sire (self-colored light phase) the lambs HAD to be light phase, and as neither ewe was likely to be carrying self-colored gene, the lambs were both light-wild pattern.
Skylonda Indigo '10 - ewe with dam Skylonda Imagine
Skylonda Escalante '10 - ram with Dam Skylonda Georgianna
My stroke of luck was this. I have the entire ewe and lamb flock accessing the far paddock way up our back hill - which I cannot see from the house and yard. After coming home from work I decided I had better traipse up there and check on one ewe that is close to lambing. After watching them all a while, I spot the lamb Indigo acting funny, then realize that in fact she is stuck. Stuck in the fork of a twin-trunk hawthorne sapling! She had apparently launched herself through the gap, and after getting her shoulders through, wedged just ahead of her hips, with her back feet an inch off the ground. Stuck for who knows how long. And these Skylonda lambs don't cry out much, nor did the dam seem concerned at all. I rescued her and she did not seem stiff or cold, so after a bit of massage she ran to mom and started suckling, so I guess no damage done. Here is the "lamb snare" hawthorne, with a "re-creation" of the stuck lamb using my gloves.
I would have never thought of this (never did, obviously) as a risk. Since I don't count heads every day, and had to work the next couple days, it is likely the lamb would have expired had I not, by chance, decided to go up and visit.
Naturally, the one trunk of the hawthorne was removed to eliminate the hazard. The ewes enjoyed getting their revenge on the "almost killer" hawthorne.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ten to Fourteen...

Wow - Thursday noon to Saturday noon we had 5 more Soay lambs at Woodland Creek. Each one was something different, genetically. First, on Thursday afternoon one of our "half SCLP" ewes, (A+/Aa, BB/Bb), Chinook, had a little ram. As the odds would predict, it was a dark-wild, and as our luck has been going, a ram to boot.
Woodland Creek Trout- ram  Chinook X Sequoyah

Later that same day we had a "double-first". It was the first ewe that we received from the Skylonda flock dispersal, and also the first RBST Soay that has ever lambed at Woodland Creek. Oh yeah, since the sire was Blue Mountain Express, perhaps the only self-light Soay in North America, maybe a triple-first. At any rate, since there are no self-colored RBST in North America (unless more recent AI efforts have introduced it), the lamb had to be wild pattern, and 50:50 odds for light or dark (Since the dam USA0002 Gwen has to have a copy of the recessive light phase from her dam Celcius). Alas, the RAM was/is dark phase. Cute enough, not special in our flock.
Skylonda Muskrat '10 - ram
 Friday morning, another "Black & White" ewe, Cedarbrook Nisqually, lambed. Unfortunately, ANOTHER ram... but nicely marked.
Woodland Creek Lightning '10 ram
Lightning (guess why the name!) has a nice extension of white spotting compared to this dam Nisqually, but less than his sire Yosemite. Too many B&W rams now!
The real excitement, however, was saved for Saturday. Not only did I obtain my first RBST Soay from Jen Bailey at Skylonda when she dispersed her flock, but she also graced me with many light phase Soays. So the only light-phase RBST Soay that we have at Woodland Creek, USA0002 Fiona, rather suddenly swelled up and decided to lamb.
For my viewing pleasure, she did it mid-day on a Saturday, so I got to observe (and videotape!) the entire birth.
The best part is that she gave birth to twins. Not that uncommon with Soay, but pretty rare at Woodland Creek! We have only had one successful twin live birth here in 5 years and about 65 lambings.
Given that Fiona was light phase, and the sire Blue Mountain Express was also homozygous for recessive light phase, the lambs HAD to be light phase. Since there is no evidence of self-colored in the "legacy" RBST Soay in NA, the lambs had to be wild pattern. Sure enough, they were.
Skylonda Zillah '10 - ewe and Skylonda Trillium '10 - ewe
Dam USA0002 Fiona and Sire Blue Mountain Express
Express, the sire of lambs above.
Blue Mountain Express '08 - self-light NA Soay ram

We should have a breather now for a while before the last 8 or 10 ewes lamb.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Number 9, number 9, number 9...

Our ninth lamb of this year was already up and dry by daylight this morning. One of our "black and whites", and a good outcome at that. Here is little Woodland Creek Rascal, a ram lamb out of WC Raven and WC Yosemite, both B&Ws.
Woodland Creek Rascal '10 ram
He has almost the same extent of white spotting as his lamb-mates this year, Bandit and the unborn lamb of Thumper's. Very nice result. (Although we are getting a bit overloaded with B&W rams...)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lambing update - Self-colored Light phase

We had our 6th lamb a few days ago - a "Black and White". Disappointly little white, given the parents (WC Yosemite and WC Anasazi). The ewe lamb (Ash) has only a "twink" of white (as Kate Montgomery called it).
Woodland Creek Ash '10 ewe
But today we had two more lambs-these from our line attempting to produce the very rare self-colored light phase (self-light for short) NA Soay. Given the non-existence of these in North America in previous years, I had been working toward creating some. One route to this is to breed self-dark (i.e., solid black) Soays with light-wild Soays. Given that the self-colored parent MUST contribute the recessive Aa, and the light phase parent MUST contribute a recessive Bb, the offspring MUST have at least one copy of each of these. In 2008 I did a number of these breedings, and produced 4 ewes and 2 rams of this genotype A+/Aa, BB/Bb. Of course they all look just like "regular" Soays - all dark-wild. But breedings of these genotypes have a small, but finite, probability of producing the elusive self-light.
Of course the odds are not that good. Below is a table showing the possibilities for mating two "half-SCLP" Soays.
You can see that when I bred my four "1/2 SCLP" ewes last fall to a "1/2 SCLP" ram, there was only a 1/16th, or 6% chance of a SCLP. Well, today two of those 4 ewes lambed, and for a moment I was convinced I had hit the jackpot with one. Check out Tahkenitch's ram lamb.
Tahkenitch's ram lamb '10

When I saw the uniformity of color on the legs, belly and under the tail i thought we had gotten very lucky. Closer inpection, though, revealed the telltale light spots around eyes, under chin, and inside ears. Alas, he is not self-colored. He does, of course, have white spotting as both his dam and sire (Sequoyah) do as well.
The second lamb was, as the odds would have suggested, also phenotypically a dark-wild pattern.
Molly's ram lamb '10
A nice enough lamb, but not what I was hoping for! Note that the trouble with breeding for SCLP in this manner is that the genotype of the lambs, for the great majority, will be unknown. Mostly one will get dark-wild lambs with unknown genes for the second allele at both agouti and brown locus, so they can't really be used to further the cause for SCLP. This particular breedign goal may be a hopeless endeavor given the flock size I can realisticall maintain. Given that I have (and can keep alive!) some actual SCLPs, I have a "sure" thing for next year, and very good odds with the SCLP ram as sire, so I will probably go that route.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lamb status at Woodland Creek

No new lambs today but with nice weather I sat and watched the 5 new lambs cavort. Here are a few photos from today. First, three separate and distinct color phases of Soay lambs. Left, a dark-self with white spotting, center, a light-wild with white spotting, and last, a "common" dark-wild, also with white spotting. Get the idea that I have lots of white spotting in my flock?
Bandit - r, Santa Fe - r, and Pistol - e
Yesterday's little dark-self ram has now been named - Dakotah. Here he is basking in the sun. You can surely see why I just love the shiny black of fresh new black lambs! Note his mother's light-self (uniform brown) leg in the background. Dakotah has to be Aa/Aa, BB/Bb, SS/S?.
Woodland Creek Dakotah '10 - ram
Our development of light phase in the NA Soays has consisted of selecting those that have less and less pheomelanin (the reddish pigment so prevalent in many PNW NA Soays). Woodland Creek Santa Fe has the least "pheomelanin cast" of any lambs we've had here at Woodland Creek. Bandit in the background. What a contrast.
Woodland Creek Santa Fe '10 -ram
Little Santa Fe has the oddest little face.
Woodland Creek Santa Fe '10 -ram
And finally, since I touted the "4-color" rams shot a few days ago, with some fresh grass as a lure, it was pretty easy to capture a single photo showing all four color phases in ewes. Below, in the foreground from left to right is: dark-self, dark-wild, light-self, and finally light-wild. You can see from my ewe flock that I like a mix of colors and coat patterns!
Lambing count stands at 5 (live) and more on the way within days, I would say.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And now for something completely different

Another breeding group we have, which I briefly described earlier, is the self-colored light phase, aka SCLP or self-light. Before I obtained the two that are still know to be alive in North America, I was working toward producing them on my own.
One way to do this is to assure that each lamb has one copy of both recessive genes, and this is done by mating a self-black with a light-wild (presuming that the black does NOT have a hidden copy of light, and that the wild does NOT have a hidden copy of self). I did this with a number of pairings for the 2008 lambing season, and obtained 4 ewes and 2 rams with the genotype A+/Aa, BB/Bb. (Some were also homozygous for white spotting as well, but let's keep this simple for now).
When I unexpectedly obtained the self-light ewe Blue Mountain Cocoa last summer, my best bet for a sire was to use my "half-way" SCLP ram, Woodland Creek Sequoyah, with a genotype as described above (and Ss/Ss, so a small white poll spot too, just in case you wondered.)
So here is Cocoa, the SCLP.
Blue Mountain Cocoa '08
and the sire,
Woodland Creek Sequoyah
So what were the possibilities and odds? With the dam genotype of Aa/Aa, Bb/Bb, she had to contribute Aa and Bb, both recessive. The sire, however, could have contributed A+, Aa and BB or Bb. So there was an equal 25% chance of any one of the four basic coat patterns - dark-wild, light-wild, dark-self, or light-self (shown in the order of more to less common). Drum roll... the result was...
Blue Mountain Cocoa and her 2010 ram lamb
I had observed the breeding of Cocoa and knew that if successful she should be due today (+/- a day or two), and she was acting funny yesterday evening. When I searched for her at 4 AM, I found her with this little ram lamb. For some reason I find the sight of a solid black lamb with a "chocolate" ewe to be very odd. So this little ram (not yet named) will has a known genotype - he has to be Aa/Aa, BB/Bb, SS/Ss (the last because the sire Seqoyah has a small white poll spot, but the new ram lamb does not). He would have pretty decent odds for use in a breeding program to produce more SCLP Soays.
Not to make too much of it, but I am pretty sure this is the first birth in North America of a self-black lamb to a self-light Soay!

Mystery solved - missing lamb found

Well, you had to know this was not going to have a good outcome, right? The dam, good ole Thumper, was looking pretty chipper and eagerly dove into the grass in the new pasture the day before yesterday. However, by the end of the day yesterday she was looking not-so-good. It finally dawned on me that the afterbirth that she was still carrying was not right. She should have passed the afterbirth within a few hours if she had lambed. She stayed up on the back hill by herself last night and when I checked on her at 4 AM this morning, she was a goner.

(Spoiler alert - if you don't like photos of dead lambs, you should stop reading now and go find something more pleasant).

I began to think that in fact, the lamb had never been born, and the protruding membranes were actually just the amniotic sac... so I had to know, and so performed a crude necropsy. Sure enough, poor old Thumper had a large ram lamb in her uterus, and it was turned completely sideways so that the back and shoulders were facing the cervix. There is no way the poor thing could have been born, nor even turned properly for a normal birth.

So, genetically, the lamb was of course a black-and-white, as the sire was Yosemite (same sire as Athena's lamb yesterday) and Thumper was our original B&W ewe. Since Athena was Thumper's daughter, the dead ram lamb was Athena's lambs "half-brother" as well as "half-uncle". The interesting part is the ram lamb's markings, shown below.

Thumper's 2010 ram lamb
If you look back to yesterday's post at the photo of Bandit, you will see that the markings are nearly identical. Oh, I'll save you the trouble. Here is Bandit, and his dam Athena, today.
WC Athena '08 and Bandit-r '10
Well, rest in peace good old Thumper. You had 10 or 11 lambs over 10 years and produced a lot of Black and Whites!
Thumper and some of her family in Apr-2006
(Thumper, her lambs Bunny, Kaya, and all their lambs Pepper, Obsidian and Kip)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Soay sheep lamb weights and owl lift capabilities

OK, so I'm an an analytical nerd. I did a quick google search on Soay sheep lamb weights and came up with the following article:

Predictors of early survival in Soay sheep: cohort-, maternal- and individual-level variation
Owen R Jones,* Michael J Crawley, Jill G Pilkington, and Josephine M Pemberton, Proc Biol Sci. 2005 December 22; 272(1581): 2619–2625. Copyright © 2005 The Royal Society

Their data set was the 1989 to 2002 surveys of Soay sheep on the island of Hirta in the St. Kildas, so it is "real" Soay sheep.

While not explicitly publishing lamb weights, they reported them in their analysis on survival factors. From their Figure 2a, shown here:

I extracted their data from the figure above and calculated a mean value for weights in pounds.
The weighted average lamb weight in the above set was 3.94 pounds. OK, call it 4.
Although the data reported was categorical rather than continuous, so no proper standard deviation can be calculated, from visual inspection above one can deduce that about 90 percent of the lambs were between 1.7 and 5.7 pounds - quite a large range.
So, if, as reported, the Great Horned Owl can lift 5.5 lbs, there is a fair probability that any given lamb would be small enough to be taken.
Sadly, it was noted in the birding sites about Great Horned Owls that, uniquely, frequently take skunks. Now just think of a white-spotted solid black Soay lamb. Looks a lot like a skunk in the early morning light....

A much better lambing result today

When I put my "black and white" Soay sheep breeding group together I noted that the ewe who lost her lamb yesterday (Thumper) was getting the ram's attention the day before her daughter, Athena. True to form, today Athena lambed. First, a photo of Athena, who is so far the most extensively white-spotted self-black NA Soay ewe I've produced, and seen in North America.
Woodland Creek Athena '08
She was mated with WC Yosemite, who was the second-most white-spotted NA Soay ram I've produced / seen. Here is his photo.
Woodland Creek Yosemite '08
Now based upon my theory of white spotting extension (increases with each generation when both parents express white spotting), I expected a pretty white-spotted lamb. When I went out at daybreak, sure enough Athena was in labor, and darned if she wasn't in the same spot, under a shed overhang, as her mother the previous morning. Given the disappearing lamb yesterday, I decided to move her along to the enclosed shed for lambing. She was in long labor (by my experience) - about 2 1/2 hours, and I started to get concerned. Finally a nose and two front feet showed, but Athena was getting pretty worn out, so (for better or worse) I did the James Herriott routine and helped out. Fortunately the little guy (a ram) was alive and so far seems to be doing fine. Presenting, Woodland Creek Bandit, a little ram.
Woodland Creek Bandit -r '10

Since it didn't seem like Athena (first time lambing) was getting the idea of being a mother, and her mother Thumper was pining for her loss, I put them all together to see if Thumper would adopt. Here is a 3-generation shot of Thumper, her 2008 lamb Athena, and Athena's '10 lamb Bandit.
Bandit-r '10, Athena '08, and Thumper '00
Thumper was over her loss and not interested, and eventually Athena got the idea and took to motherhood, so it seems things are on track for a good lambing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rare Soay sheep photo

In all my internet browsing for Soay sheep images, I have never seen this. In one photo (I swear - not manipulated!) all four Soay sheep coat patterns (overlooking for now white spotting). I realized that in my yearling ram pasture I had all four patterns, and what's more, they lined up nicely for a photograph.
Voila: All four coat color phases in Soay Sheep

(click on photo to enlarge)
From left to right: dark-wild, dark-self, light-wild, and then the very rare light-self. (Yes, there are two more dark-self rams in the back of the row - ruined the perfect photo).
Note that the second and third both also have white spotting - another breeding goal I have is to add extensive white spotting to these more rare genotypes.
And to Soay purists, I will acknowledge that the two with white spotting are not the best conformation ever seen. That's a problem with rare genotypes--one tends to keep them all to retain the genetics even if the conformations are not great. But succeeding generations should be able to recover the conformation.

Where oh where has my little lamb gone?

Here at Woodland Creek Farm we have had about 60 Soay lambs born since we started in 2005. But I have never had anything like this happen.
Yesterday we were pleased to see our first 2010 lamb born to our "light-wild" group. Since this lamb also has white spotting, he is what I call "double homozygous recessive" for two of the three main coat color genes in Soay sheep - light at the brown locus and white spotting. Here is a photo of the little guy.
Woodland Creek Santa Fe (Saratoga X Laramie)
This morning when I checked the ewes just before daybreak, I heard the unmistakable sound of a freshly-lambed ewe bleating mournfully as if it had lost it's new lamb. When I finally found her, it was our good old matriarch of the "black and white" line, Blue Mountain Thumper '00. Yes, after 10 years and many lambs, she was searching frantically for her newest lamb. She had afterbirth hanging out, so I assumed the new lamb(s) were somewhere around and began the search.
First, I could not identify the location where she had likely given birth - usually signified by a "nest" pawed out, and fresh amniotic fluids, etc. None was found in the area she was searching. I began searching all around the hay sheds, in the (now dry) creek bed, and eventually walked every inch of the entire pasture. There was simply no lamb(s) to be found, nor any clear evidence of where she had given birth.
After waiting a bit for more daylight, both Michelle and I went back out and searched all over the pastures --looking in every nook and cranny. There was simply no lamb to be found. Yet Thumper continued to plaintively call for her missing lamb.
I began to worry that a lamb was stuck -- as once before she had a second twin with forelegs turned back -- and I had to intervene to straighten them so she could expel the (by then dead) second lamb.
So after watching her closely for several hours, it was pretty clear she was no longer having contractions nor straining, yet seemed clearly distressed. So I played vet and caught her and did a manual exam and found no lamb present. But her clearly reduced girth suggested that she had clearly expelled significant weight.
So where did the lamb go?
It remains a mystery. I walked the fence line and all the electric on top and ground wire at the bottom was intact. I am (pretty) sure no coyote came inside to snatch the lamb. We have not seen bald eagles around for months, and besides it was before sunrise and pretty dark.
What could have happened? I am stumped. Poor old Thumper.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

First 2010 Soay sheep lamb at Woodland Creek

Finally, our first Soay sheep lamb of 2010 arrived, today. A "regular" dark-wild pattern, but with a white wisp at her poll. I did not know the dam, Rosalina, carried a copy of the recessive gene for white spotting, so a bit of new genetic information.
Rosalina X Juniper ewe lamb 16-Mar-10

More on the way!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lambing Time - Breeding Groups

Ah, my favorite time of year for owning Soay Sheep. Although I enjoy the looks of the flock in the pastures all year long, the anticipation of what lambs will arrive, in what color patterns, is my absolute favorite time.
Ever since obtaining my first Soay sheep I have been far more interested in the coat color genetics and the rare (because they are recessive genes) patterns. Consider the occurrance of frequencies of the discreet observable (phenotypic) coat patterns expressed in Soay sheep due to the 3 disinct coat color genes: Agouti (Wild or self pattern), Brown (dark or light phase), and Spotting (white spots or none).

(If you really want to read more about this, you can in this article I have posted: http://woodlandcreekfarm.com/coat_patterns.pdf )

With 3 independent coat color gene loci, and with only 2 mutually exclusive types at each of these, there are (2*2*2)= 8 possible phenotypes one can observe. To give the reader some idea of the relative numbers of these that likely exist in a Soay Sheep population unaltered by human selection, I have extracted various numbers from published studies of Soay on the island of Hirta and combined them to show typical likely relative frequencies. I intend to report these more fully in a technical article, but for now I will post the data here. (Click on image to enlarge it enough to read it).

Note that by total count, for the most rare genotype (triple homozygous recessive - Aa/Aa, Bb/Bb, Ss/Ss, aka white-spotted light-self), there was only one such Soay found out of 1,835 total Soay counted on all of Hirta in 1966. Pretty darn rare. Even the pattern with only two of the recessive genes - self and white spotting, (that is, self-colored blacks with white spotting) showed only 4 individuals present in that same survey of 1,835 animals. The remainder of this blog will discuss our progress on that "line" of breeding.

So my first "relatively rare" genotype was to get some self-colored black Soays. When I realized that some also showed white spotting on their heads, I began to seek increasing the extent of white spotting on the self-colored blacks, as this gave a very pleasing appearance. So this has been one of my longer-running breeding groups - the "black and whites" (B&W).

These will give you some idea of the progress I've made in 5 years. The first B&W ram I had only had a small white wisp on the top of his head.

Sound Soays Kvasir '04

He sired a ram lamb (Woodland Creek Pepper) when mated with a similarly marked ewe, with a nice white spot on his head, and a second (Woodland Creek Obsidian) with both a white head spot and forehead spot.

Woodland Creek Pepper '06

Woodland Creek Obsidian '06

Pepper, when mated with a B&W ewe, produced a ram lamb Woodland Creek Chilcoot, with a white spot on top of his head merged with a white forehead spot.

Woodland Creek Chilcoot '07

Chilcoot, mated with a B&W ewe, produced a ram lamb Woodland Creek Yosemite, that had a white head spot connected with a full white facial blaze. The white additionally extended to some white spots on the side of his neck.

Woodland Creek Yosemite '08

Chilcoot also sired that year a B&W ewe lamb with additional white spotting extent, Woodland Creek Athena.

Woodland Creek Athena '09

In the next year, with a different B&W ewe, Chilcoot produced a B&W ram lamb (Woodland Creek Lakotah) with even more extensive white.

Woodland Creek Lakotah '09

You can see how the extent of white spotting has been increased in each succeeding generation, going from a small white head spot, to a larger head spot, to a head and forehead spot, to a "shield" connecting the head and forehead spot, to a blaze, to a blaze with neck spots, to (with Lakotah above) now a full blaze nearly encircling the horns, including his nose, a full "necklace" and a white bib, and even some white on his ears.

So back to the B&W breeding group and this year's hopes for lambs. Lakotah was too immature to use for breeding last fall, so Yosemite was the sire for our B&W ewe group. We have seven B&W ewes in that group (although a couple are yearling ewes that may not have been mature enough to be bred).

You may be able to imagine the anticipation I have at what unexpected outcome we may get this year for our B&W lambs! Judging by swelling udders this could occur within days.

More about our other breeding groups in later blogs.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Separation of church and state

OK - it's not that big of deal, but I finally realized that not many folks out there combine my eclectic and diverse interests, so combining them in one blog didn't make a lot of sense (not that a blog is about logic anyway...)
So as of today, Woodland Creek Farm Soay sheep blog will only (mostly) deal with Soay sheep, and we will start a separate Raven's Call Vineyard and Winery blog.
So back to the main topic here - Soay Sheep.
We've had some major changes in our breeding program here - mostly prompted by un-planned acquisition of the majority of the self-colored light phase NA Soay sheep  in North America....(OK - so there are 2 for sure, and maybe one more - status unknown).
And sure, you have to be a real sheep coat color genetics geek to have any interest at all in this... but here they are:
First, Blue Mountain Cocoa '08 - a self-colored light phase NA Soay Ewe

And then her half-brother, Blue Mountain Express:

Those familiar with sheep coat color genetics will recognize that this is the rare double-recessive homozygous pattern of both self-colored and light phase agouti. There have only been 4 of these (SCLP NA Soay) known to be ever born in North America.