A picture is worth 1000 words. A name is worth almost as many.
By regulation in the United States and in many countries livestock are required to have a registration number and ear tag. This number is usually assigned by a breed or livestock association with support from the federal government and identifies the individual animal and which flock it belongs to. More and more, owners are being encouraged or required to have microchip tags which provide access to additional information or documents on the specific animal.
For larger operations, this number is the only identifier for the animals. However, many smaller flocks do name their animals. A common practice, as I learned from Joanna of Wildflower Acres, is to name animals based on the letters of the alphabet.
The first lambing season for a particular flock, all of the lambs’ names will begin with the first letter, A. For those of you who have followed my exploration of fleeces, you may have heard me talk about Holiday the sheep. Holiday was born in 2016, the 8th lambing season after Joanna adopted this method of naming her sheep.
Another shepherd, George Berci, owner of a Canadian Soay flock used this naming convention with a twist. Instead of letter, he chose a theme each year. His first year was herbs: Chamomile, Rosemary, Rue, Basil, etc. The second year he chose gems: Diamond, Emerald, etc.
Naming sheep by year has some major benefits, including a quick reference to any genetic or generational changes the shepherd has made within the flock. If you know the name of the sheep from which you’ve gotten a fleece, you may wish to ask the shepherd if they are using a naming convention. It could tell you some important tidbits about the flock, including how long the shepherd has been breeding. Like wines, sheep have good and bad years depending on the weather, health, diet, and pregnancy. If you like one fleece, you may be interested in seeing others from the same flock in the same year. Naming conventions can help you determine which sheep to look at.
Reference: Soay Sheep Breeders Report