Armed with what I learned from the certified UK inspectors at Jefferson, I have fine tuned my evaluation approach to our flock and am in the process of revising our breeding plans. I don’t think it will change much, but I want to make sure my initial assessments are as accurate as they can be. Then I will know which ram to put with which ewe. I’ve never been one to just throw all my ewes to one ram just because I may like him for his color, spotting, or whatever.
I think next year, we will have a number of promising yearlings, and need to supplement that with a handful of ewe lambs next year who are even better. As it stands right now, we won’t be breeding many ewes this fall, which means we won’t have as many lambs as we did this past spring. So, it’s important that we maximize the likelihood of all of them being top notch. I’m basically looking for three or four keeper ewe lambs next year. We had more than that this year, but we had a strong ewe year, which isn’t going to happen every time.
Actually, if we have more ewes than that that we want to keep, we’ll have a problem because I don’t have a strong desire to sell any of the adults and lambs that we have right now. None whatsoever. And I realize that we will have to sell one ewe for every lamb that we keep. That's the only way we can keep our flock size to 18 ewes.
How many lambs do we want to have? As I said, just enough to give us the quantity of keepers that we want. I have said this many times, and I’ll say it again, we breed to our own goals, not to sell sheep. And since we have a pretty good flock of Shetlands right now, I don’t see the point of adding another 20 lambs into the mix next spring. So, I think the magic number may be 12 lambs next spring. That feels about right. That way we won’t have to be pressured to sell sheep. We’ll still have to sell some, but we can be more choosey about how we do it. The practice of breeding too many Shetlands and then dumping them on the market for less than proper value, is not good for the breed, and I won’t be a party to it. It’s what separates us from puppy mills. In my opinion, this is one of the top three or four concerns facing our breed over the next few years. But that's just my opinion. At any rate, we have to do what we feel comfortable with.
Once we made the decision not to breed many ewe lambs, everything else fell into place in terms of what we want to do (and we may not breed any ewe lambs at all). We’re going to return to the small-time operation we used to be and focus more on fleece development rather than on livestock sales. Now that I’ve actually said all of this out loud, I feel a nice sense of peace. It feels like the right decision.