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D. P. Sponenberg

Great progress is being made by Romeldale breeders, and I was encouraged to see the devotion of the breeders to the breed. A few important issues came up.

A very important issue is the proposal to allow outside sheep in. This really takes two forms.

One is the inclusion of sheep that are likely purely Romeldale. There are enough rumors out there of Romeldale sheep that it is likely that there are unregistered herds. Joan Bowen, a vet in Colorado near Fort Collins knows of some, and I have heard rumblings of others. In any event, if the entire flock looks like typical Romeldales, then there is little reason not to include these. Ifthey have been separated from the main breed for a while then I suspect that crossing these with existing lines will give quite a boost to both.

Another issue is the "known to have outside breeding" sheep. The protocol that was outlined to me during the summer meeting is a very conservative upgrading program. This should never be confused with the "introduction of crosses" into the breed, as it is entirely different. As explained to me, the plan is to include (and identify) in the registry those sheep that are 3/4 Romeldale and look typey. These are then "tracked" through the registry until the non Romeldale ancestor "falls off' the written pedigree. My understanding is that this is four more generations. The math on that (I think) works out to 63/64 Romeldale at that point.

This is indeed a very conservative. It can work, especially if breeders are selective and deliberately include the more robust, productive upgraded sheep. A somewhat lower level of grade (15/16 or 31/32) could be recommended in the future if it is discovered that the 63/64 animals don't have enough genetic boost to regain some of the strengths of the original breed. Anything over 15/16 or so includes under 10% outside breeding, with the result that the real important core of the breed is not damaged at all. The value of the breed is its predictability, and sheep that are overwhelmingly the genetic component of the breed do indeed qualify.

In any event, this plan will not change the breed, and should be encouraged from a genetic viewpoint. It salvages sheep that otherwise might be lost, and the breed needs them all.
While this upgrading effort could be restricted to certain only certain breeds (such as Romney or Rambouillet), it might not actually matter much. If breeders have existing sheep with some outside influence from other breeds, then a more open system (any breed goes) lets them "salvage" those sheep for the upgrading project. This is important, as the breed needs these sheep, and especially if the breed association goes with 63/64 then there is no risk of losing the breed's genetics or identity.

I was also encouraged to see these sheep repeatedly referred to as "Romeldales." I like the "CVM" idea, but find that it is very confusing to most folks. In that regard, it is nice to emphasize "Romeldale" as the breed name. They come in different colors, which is wonderful too!

In one conversation someone indicated that an Eidman (Mark, I believe) had stated that Columbia rams had been used occasionally by the Sextons. This is likely not all that important. The rate of use was one Columbia ram every four years, out of a total of 30 or so rams. The result becomes negligible in terms of changing the breed, because that ram's influence is so quickly brought to very low levels.

It is important, though, for breeders to understand that the Romeldale is very different from the other "finewool-longwool" composites. This is because the Romeldale comes from a one-time deliberate cross of specific Romneys and Rambouillets. The others (Corriedale, Columbia, Como, Targhee) are much broader in their foundation. As a result they are of less conservation interest - we could "remake" them if we needed to. The Romeldale stands out as a more pressing conservation priority. This is the reason that ALBC lists them as a rare breed, while not listing other composites.

This is a wonderful breed, and it is encouraging to see a group of dedicated breeders that is interested in the genetic integrity of the breed as well as interested in restoring the historic levels of production to the breed.

Photos courtesy of Windy Wool Windings




American Romeldale / CVM Association, Inc.