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Rambo goes to the zoo A story about sheep, not a Stallone film
By: SARA MILLER Review Staff, Staff Writer
It’s an adjustment moving miles away from the only home you’ve ever known.
Rambo, a Jacob ram, can relate. He has been adapting to his new environment, since leaving his familiar farmette in Clay Township a few weeks ago for the Philadelphia Zoo, which he now calls home.
"I felt sorry for him at first," said breeder Susan Martin, who lives on the 10-acre Stonecroft Manor near Brickerville with her husband Richard. Together, they have been breeding Jacob sheep for 17 years.
Drawn to the breed’s striking physical appearance and hardiness, the Martins had purchased their first Jacob ewe from the Rockefeller farm in New York.
Susan described the ideal land conditions that Rambo, his friends, family and predecessors — along with a few chickens — freely roamed and grazed on since birth.
But, of Rambo’s departure, she said the zoo staff has been a pleasure to work with, and, "(Rambo)’s never lived in a cleaner area."
So, quarantined in his clean pen, Rambo enjoys the undivided attention and care the staff in Philadelphia provides as they introduce him to his choice of four ewes the zoo has carefully selected for reproduction, according to Marina Haynes, curator of the children’s zoo.
"Each (of those four ewes) embodies the variation in appearance you have with the Jacob breed," she said.
Martin added that zoo employees keep her informed of Rambo’s progress, including his attraction to the ladies — a good sign he’s starting to feel at home.
Rambo’s lambs, assuming Rambo gets acclimated as planned, will be welcomed into the world by spring of 2013, just in time for the new children’s zoo within the Philadelphia Zoo, to be called "KidZooU: Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo and Faris Family Education Center."
Plans for animals in this new part of the zoo spawned the need for Rambo and his harem.
"When I was developing the collection plan for KidZooU, I had to select breeds of domestic animals that fit a bunch of needs — a breed that was endangered that would benefit by our contribution to breeding programs, unusual appearance that our visitors might not be familiar with, and an interesting story about the breed," said Haynes. "I contacted the Jacob Sheep Breeders Association to look for local breeders that might have animals that would be a good fit for us.
"Jacob sheep have a very unusual appearance, particularly those with more than four horns. I knew that would be very intriguing to our visitors since most people think all sheep are white and hornless. I asked a number of the breeders if they had any four-horned males, and Sue told me about Rambo. Once I saw him, I knew he would be a star at the zoo," she said.
The children’s zoo will house exotic breeds of animals, birds, fish and insects. The outdoor area features a goat climbing tower, a primate trail in treetops, and a barnyard and stables, according to Haynes. Indoors, children will learn about energy and animal preservation through the education center. The goal is to introduce the next generation to domestic wildlife preservation.
"Many people know that tigers and pandas are endangered, but very few people know that there are also endangered domestic animals, so we thought it would be a perfect fit for us," said Haynes. "These breeds are threatened because agriculture has changed. Modern food production now favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in a controlled environment." Haynes used Holstein cows, accounting for 93 percent of dairy products, as an example of one of these popular breeds.
"Judges (in fairs) don’t know what to do with Jacob sheep," Martin added. She explained that ideal show sheep have straight backs, whereas the Jacob sheep’s back slopes downward toward the rear end. While this might appear less physically appealing, she said, it’s more practical for lamb breeding.
Martin also pointed out that more common sheep breeds were propagated for their fleece and meat demand. The Jacob breed, though, has not been synthesized like that, which keeps these sheep tenacious, but also from flourishing.
"Because of this shift (in the agricultural community and practices), many traditional livestock breeds have lost popularity and are threatened with extinction," Haynes said.
That’s unfortunate for these sustainable, rare breeds like the Jacob sheep. Other than the usual maintenance — routine parasite management and shearing, annual hoof trimming and feeding — Jacobs require little care, next to its demanded breed counterparts, Martin said. She mentioned a thriving feral herd of Jacob sheep in Maine.
Regarding Rambo’s care, Haynes said, "We are fortunate that Rambo is a nice animal, since his horns can be formidable! Of course, you always must remember that you should never turn your back on a ram, especially during the breeding season. He is sweet, but when sheep go into breeding season, they become competitive, and if they are with other rams, they will ram each other — and if you are in the way and not looking, you could get rammed too!"
That seems like a compelling reason for the Martins to be thinning out their herd, as they intend to sell four of their 10 ewes. But, actually, Martin said, downsizing their herd is a natural progression for them to devote effort into different hobbies.
As the Martins move on to the next phase in their lives, Rambo and the ewes, who moved to the Philadelphia Zoo the day Rambo arrived, prepare to propagate. Their lambs will call the zoo home too, until they approach breeding age, when they will move on. Their new home, then, will be their mothers’ original farm, where they will then pass on Rambo’s genes to the next generation of Jacob sheep. More RAMBO, page A17