Friday, April 22, 2011

Phaeomelanin Ewe

This Spring, we have a ewe lamb with a lot of tan splotches of color throughout her wool, really lovely, and yet another variation on the many possiblities to expect when breeding Icelandic sheep. In the years I have been raising these sheep, I have become fascinated with the seemingly endless variations on potential colors and patterns.

Here, you can see the phaeomelanin on this mature ewe's head

There are basically three factors that determine the appearance of a sheep, Pattern Factor, Color or Pigment Factor, and the Spotting Factor. The color in the wool is caused by pigment called eumelanin (the black and moorit (brown)). There is also pigment called phaeomelanin which can be shades of tan yellows, or rusty reds.

Lambs born with phaeomelanin look rusty color at birth, however the pigment fades with age in the fleece. The head and leg continue to exhibit the color. You will notice this on many mature white sheep on their heads, tails and legs. In Iceland, it was believed that sheep with this tan had better meat conformation, so it is quite common.

The pigment gives the fleece a rich linen color—just another beautiful shade for the handspinner who prefers to work with the natural colors of sheep.



Kelly said...

What sweet lambs. I think one of Fin's ram lambs has this.

Chai Chai said...

She is a beauty. I love how the Icelandics have such great color variety.

Angie said...

Thanks so much for explaining this. I have a ewe and lamb with this coloring (and good meat conformation) and I've been wanting to know more about it. What lovely sheep you have.

Happy Spring to you-

Angie in WA

Terri said...

Thanks everyone! I do try to add some usefull information once in a while, besides the photos.