May 24, 2012 -- America knows his father, has met his five sons and has learned the story of his wife Ann – a proud stay-at-home-mom -- but there is one breed of Romney that's been out to pasture during the sizzling scrutiny of the Republicans' likely presidential nominee: the Romney sheep.
From Oregon to Iowa, hundreds of Romney-breed sheep are roaming America's plains. And while the candidate himself may not own any Romneys, he coincidentally has more than a few things in common with his wooly name twin.
Both the Romney the man and Romney the mutton can trace their ancestors to England. The Romney breed of sheep takes its name from the Romney marshes just south of London, where it was first found in the 19th century. Mitt Romney's great-great grandfather lived near Manchester, about a six-hour drive north of the Romney marshes, before emigrating to the U.S. in 1841.
While Romneys (the sheep) were widely popular at the beginning of the 20th century -- when six out of seven U.S. presidents were, like Mitt Romney, Republicans -- only one or two ranches still breed them in large flocks, said Christiane Payton, the secretary of the American Romney Breeder Association.
Much like the candidate Romney, who has been criticized as out of touch because of his immense wealth, the Romney sheep breed has become increasingly popular among Americans with higher incomes as small "hobby flocks," Payton said.
Rather than being commercially raised in flocks of 500 or more in the Great Plains and Northwestern states, Romneys are now the breed of choice for "specialty" flocks, primarily in the Northeast.
"Personally I think it's because there is more money in the Northeast right now," Payton said. "Oregon's economy has been very depressed, unemployment is over 9 percent and people don't have extra money to raise sheep."
And while Romney the candidate has been criticized for being on both sides of some issues, Romney sheep are praised for being dual-purpose. It is one of only a few American breeds raised for both its wool, which is soft and sturdy, and its meat, which is lean and mild.
Emily Sorenson, the owner of Sorenson Farms in Merced, California, raises a flock of about 25 Romney sheep and says they are the perfect breed "for anybody."
"Romneys are a good overall candidate for a good hearty sheep to have, which is, in my best opinion as a sheep person, what you look for in sheep," Sorenson said, stopping short of veering into politics. "If you find a hearty breed who is gentle and great quality you stick with it."