Rambouillets: Built to last

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Nick Levy's Rambouillet
Nick Levy of Pendleton with his two Rambouillet sheep, Charlie, left, and Louis, at the Umatilla County Fair.

[quote style=”2″]Imposing-Looking Sheep Catch Fairgoers’ Attention[/quote]

Take a stroll through the sheep barn on the Umatilla County Fairgrounds and you’ll see dozens of them eating, sleeping or just biding their time. Most of them are Suffolks or Hampshires and it’s difficult for the untrained eye to tell them apart. But among all the sheep in the barn, two stand out from the crowd – a pair of male Rambouillets owned by the Levy family of Pendleton.

Nick Levy 4-H
Nicholas Levy, center, won reserve champion Friday in Senior Division of the 4-H Sheep Showmanship.
The Rambouillets, Louis and Charlie, are just two of the 3,000 or so of the breed that are part of the Cunningham Sheep Company owned by the Levys. Nicholas Levy, 17, brought the Rambouillets to the fair this week to help him “go out with a bang.” Levy’s been showing sheep at the fair since he was in the fourth grade and this will be his final Umatilla County Fair appearance. After he graduates from Pendleton High School, he’ll head off to college to study computer science and agriculture.

But college is still more than a year away. Plans for his immediate future include participating in the Oregon State Fair and Louis and Charlie will be going with him. This week’s appearance at the county fair is a warm up for the big show, Levy said.

“I want to de-sensitize them and get them used to people,” he said.

Rambouillet wool
Wool from one of Levy’s Rambouillet sheep.
The Rambouillet breed dates back to 18th century Spain. They are known for their versatility, sought after for both their meat and their fine wool. But what gets people’s attention is their size. A mature male can reach 300 pounds and Louis looks like he could easily weight that much. Levy said they also carry about 10 pounds of wool on them. The sheep are strong and rugged with long curling horns.

“When they see them for the first time, most people are scared of them,” Levy said.

It’s been a good week for Levy at the Umatilla County Fair. His Rambouillets helped him win the All Other Breeds Wool category and with his Suffolks, he won several champion ribbons, including reserve champion on Friday in the Senior 4-H division.

The Cunningham Sheep Company dates back to the 1800s and have been selling the wool from their sheep to the Pendleton Woolen Mills for more than 75 years. Levy says all of their Rambouillets are 100-percent purebreds.

Levy says the Rambouillets are capable of handling any weather – hot or cold – which is good considering the heat they’ve had to withstand during fair week. It’s not just hot weather than can be tough on the animals. The constant coming and going of people wanting to pet them or take their photos can also be a strain.

“Fair week is stressful for the animals,” Levy said. But, he added, his Rambouillets can handle it.

“They’re built to last,” he said.