We lost our beloved ram, Mitt the Romney, today and everyone on the ranch took it pretty hard. Mitt was everyone’s favorite ram.
He came to our ranch as a 4-year-old in 2018, one of the Romneys I purchased from Tawanda Farms for my starter Romney flock. Carol and Maggie had called him McDaniel, because his mother was a ewe named Hattie, after Hattie McDaniel. But as he was our first Romney ram, we felt we had to call him Mitt.
Mitt was a small guy but big on personality. In his early years with us, he distinguished himself as a jumper, and several times jumped right out of pens where we put him. He was a sweet boy, who didn’t care much for fighting with other rams and was never aggressive with humans.
Mitt lost a molar not long after we got him, and after that we noticed that he was dropping cud when he ruminated, and was losing body condition. Dr Dotti examined him and said his dentition issues were not of the heritable kind, and advised us to feed him alfalfa pellets which provide one-pass nutrition and would help him keep fit even if he was dropping cud. We built a little pen for Mitt in the ram pasture, and every feeding time, Mitt was served his bucket of alfalfa pellets in his pen, where the other rams couldn’t get them. Mitt learned the routine and would come running and wait eagerly outside his pen at feeding time for his pellets. The trick was to remember to go back and let Mitt out of his pen when he was done, and a frequent question heard at feeding time was “did you let Mitt out?” In the early years, if we forgot, he just jumped out, but as he aged we once or twice found him waiting patiently in his pen hours after breakfast. This extra routine really endeared Mitt to us, and over all the years we fed him alfalfa pellets, we only forgot him a handful of times, and never for too long.
Mitt was truly worth the extra effort, for the incredible genetic qualities he brought to our flock. Carol and Maggie chose Mitt for me because his color phenotype appeared to be Aa Aa, the darkest and most recessive of the recessive Romney colors, which would help us to identify the color genes carried by any ewe we bred him to, as the ewe’s color allele would be dominant to Mitt’s Aa allele. But over the years, Mitt’s value proved to be even greater than we had expected. As more recessive color alleles were characterized, it became clear that Mitt carried one of the very dark alleles known as active alleles, because they darken the pattern in any sheep that carry them. Recessive-colored Romneys like Mitt are born mostly black, and their adult fleeces range in color from charcoal to pearly light grey. All the colors are beautiful, but the dark charcoal-grey fleeces are particularly prized, and Mitt’s active dark allele has produced a number of lambs with very dark fleeces.
While many sheep start their lives with dark grey fleeces, some fade in just a year or so to very light grey. As Mitt aged, his fleeces showed no sign of fading, but remained beautiful dark charcoal all through his life. His fleeces were truly stunning. They produced gorgeous yarn, and his most recent fleece won 3rd place in the Romney Ram class at the California National Wool Show last September. Mitt clearly lacked the “fading” gene, and several of his daughters and grand-daughters in our flock so far seem to be maintaining very dark fleeces as they age.
Mitt was nearly 9 years old, which is getting old for a ram, but it still seemed way to early to lose him. He went downhill fast in the past week, was having trouble eating his alfalfa pellets, and perhaps had aspirated some cud because he seemed to have developed pneumonia. He was weak and unable to follow the other rams and we realized this was not going to turn around, and took him to Dr Dotti for euthanasia to keep him from any further suffering. We are grateful for the genetics he has contributed to our flock, but we will remember him most for his sweet, quirky personality. Mitt, they broke the mold when you were born. You were one of a kind and we will miss you.