It’s one of the newest additions to our flock! Earlier this week, our ewe Emily gave birth to a rare, spotted or “piebald” lamb. According to Assistant Farm Manager Hilary Crowell, sheep with this type of color distribution are uncommon. In their combined years of working with animals, neither Hilary or our other farmers have ever seen one before.
Piebald sheep are rare because they must possess at least two sets of recessive genes – the first for black coloring (white wool is dominant in sheep – similar to brown eyes over blue eyes in humans), as well as two recessive genes that control color pattern, (solid, also known as “self-colored” is dominant over piebald). There may be additional hereditary factors at play, as well as a little luck. This genetic interplay between color and pattern can be seen in numerous other animals, including mice, dogs, and horses. It is not known how often the recessive piebald genes occur in sheep, but there are several breeds that display this recessive trait, including Jacob sheep.
According to Hilary, the ram used to breed this year’s lambs is a new addition to Salt Marsh Farm. Named Ira Grass (after the host of This American Life), he came to Chewonki from a hearty, island flock that sees much less human intervention in the lambing and rearing process. Island lambs must learn to latch on to their mothers or risk starvation, and their first interaction with humans is during spring shearing. Although the flock’s owner regularly introduces new rams to maintain genetic diversity of the group, the largely unsupervised breeding may have resulted in the recessive piebald gene getting passed along to Ira.
Here’s a few more photos of our piebald lamb:
If you haven’t yet, check out this lambing update from out Head Farmer, Megan Phillips, to learn more about how lambing season fits into the Maine Coast Semester experience: