Saturday, February 5, 2011

Breeding Groups

It’s been a long time coming, but here are the breeding groups we put together last fall. The choices were largely a matter of personal preference, since I think we could have randomly assembled groups and done fine. I feel like this was the first year where I was completely satisfied with each of the rams we used. I’ve seen a lot of rams at different farms over the past few years, and although there are several good ones out there, I don’t think any are better than these guys for our farm’s needs. I’m not saying that they are the very best rams, just the correct ones for our goals.

The final groups arose out of the potential for each ewe to give us exactly the type of lamb that we want. It was largely a matter of probabilities. We don’t dabble in all types of Shetlands here at Whispering Pines. We are serious about re-establishing the breed’s roots in this country, and I firmly believe that the only way you can do that is to study what Colonel Dailley imported and what the UK folks are currently maintaining. The 1927 Flock Book standard was written to preserve the purebred Shetland, and that’s what the Colonel imported.

Over the past 25 years, that original vision has been distorted by breeders to the point where we have an entirely different animal in a lot of cases in this country than what they have in the Shetland Flock Book and Shetland Sheep Society. My philosophy is that Shetland sheep came from the UK and should look like those sheep, not what breeders in the US prefer. We breed with that thought in mind on our farm.

Here are some examples of what I am talking about. These are UK style fleeces:

I completely support breeders who like more diversity in their flocks. Some like the long, flowing fleeces that you see in some of the old pictures. There’s nothing wrong with breeding for that. But we’ve worked hard at researching the original importation, and we feel that it contained diversity in type, and still adhered to the Flock Book standard. We know it did because the sheep were inspected prior to being imported. I feel that we have drifted far off course in this country over the past 25 years, and although there remain solid examples of the UK type, it’s clear that the fine fleeced Shetland is currently endangered, and we aim to do our part in re-establishing that presence in America.

I just wanted to give readers some background for the rationale we used to arrive at these groups. It’s very easy to just throw sheep together to get spots and cool colors. It’s much more difficult to breed toward specific goals around quality. Quality in this case, means correct structure, and fine, consistent fleeces. It doesn’t mean we have the best sheep or anything crazy like that; it just means that we have researched this heavily, and no longer breed for everything that can be pulled out of the Shetland gene pool. That’s the wrong way to breed any livestock, but for some reason, breeders in the US don’t see it that way. That’s okay, but we’re going to take the road less travelled and work hard at aligning ourselves with our sister organizations in the UK (where Shetland Sheep came from back in 1980).

Here the breeding groups:

Pompey Magnus

S’more Sparkles
Sheltering Pines Queen Anne’s Lace
Whispering Pines Peridot
Whispering Pines Shiobhan
Sheltering Pines Cor de Nuit

Pompey is an exceptional ram, and we felt he added several qualities to our program this year. These are some of our top ewes, so I fully expect big things with this group. I’d also like to pull some moorits out of this lineup. Peridot was a late entry here, so she might not be bred. She carries mioget, so we would certainly welcome a lamb out of her, but it’s not imperative.

Wintertime Bond

Sheltering Pines Persia
Sheltering Pines Constantinople
Sheltering Pines Onyx Velour

Bond remains one of our best and finest rams, so the objective of this group is to reinforce conformation and fleece quality, while adding fineness and some interesting spotting. We did not breed Bond to any of these ewes last year and I am excited by the possibilities. I don’t think we can expect moorit-based lambs here, but it’s possible. All three ewes had great lambs last year and we kept all of them.

Whispering Pines Little Buckaroo

Wintertime Itasca
Whispering Pines Primrose
Whispering Pines Irish Lace

This is a much smaller group than it should be, but most of our ewes went with the proven flock sires. Still, we can hope for some exquisite spotted lambs here, with correct structure, and fleece type. I put Itasca in here at the last minute on a hunch, but also because I like how her line has crossed with Jericho in the past. Wintertime Blues and Jazz are Jericho sons out of Itasca’s mother, and those rams are excellent examples of the breed. This is also the only group with the potential of giving us horned rams as these ewes all carry at least one horned ram gene as does Buckaroo.

Whispering Pines Egyptian King

Whispering Pines Blue Sapphire
Whispering Pines Blue Diamond
Sheltering Pines Christmas Holly

This is my favorite group because it’s our future. Egyptian King is a tremendous ram with a dense, fine black fleece. It’s exactly what we like here. These ewes share some of the same qualities. I don’t know if King carries spots or moorit, but I’m hoping to find that out this year. If not, we should have some nice black spot carrying lambs. In this group, we have two Blue’s Clues daughters and a Pompey Magnus great granddaughter. Egyptian King is Bond’s son. This group represents our efforts to bring in and retain specific things that we felt our flock needed. Now we are reinforcing and crossing some of those lines in a strategic way.

Our flock is small but we hope to be closer to our goals next fall and breed fewer sheep. This may be the last year we breed 14 ewes. Out of these groups, we’ll probably only end up with about 12 ewe lambs, and we’ll probably retain eight of those (ish). Our plan is to only keep 15 ewes next winter, which means some really nice lambs, yearling, and adults will move on in the spring. Our plan all along was to increase the presence of this type of Shetland out east, and that means moving sheep into other flocks and helping new breeders get started the right way.

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