Friday, April 5, 2013

Breeding Strategies and Bloodlines (No lambs and I'm bored)

Every year I go through the same process here at Whispering Pines. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out which breeding groups will move us forward in our quest for the perfect Shetland sheep. Then I forget about everything sheep related until late March.

This down time gives us time to think through what we are after with this year’s lamb crop. It also gives me more time to second guess breeding decisions. If second guessing myself was a profession, I’d be doing quite well. What I’ve discovered in life is that there are good plans, and then there’s good old fashioned luck (good and bad) that comes in play with all things. That’s especially true with Shetlands.

Case in point, could anyone have predicted that out of the hundreds of breedings involving Roban Dillon and his offspring, Black Forrest would emerge? I don’t know that I would call that a fluke, but it wasn’t planned either. But it’s the kind of thing that happens when you use good bloodlines.
Note: for those of you who are new to the Shetland field, Black Forrest is probably one of the finest adult Shetlands we’ve ever had in this country.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of bad offspring from the Roban Dillon line, and I’ve seen some decent ones. If you have a gulmoget in this country, it came from his line (there were no Dailley gulmogets).

So, what does Roban Dillon have to do with my flock and our grand total of zero gulmogets? Pompey Magnus was an F2 Dillon and one of the few lines out of that imported UK ram that has produced super fine Shetlands that doesn’t trace back to Forrest. If you trace back lines from different Shetlands, Forrest certainly has made big contributions. But so has Pompey, except there are far fewer offspring out of him. As a point of reference, Sheltering Pines Salicional is Pompey’s half-sister (they both had the same father) and both are super fine.

My goal several years ago was to build our breeding program from Pompey, and I have gotten to work on that in earnest this year. Two of our best ewes (Siena and Genoa) are out of him, and Barenfang is a Pompey grandson. Barenfang is also a Black Forrest grandson. See where I am going with this? Barenfang combines two super fine bloodlines, and he is super fine as well. I don’t anticipate getting any lambs from him this year, but my intention is to use him heavily in the fall to see what impact he might have on our flock.

This spring, I expect to have somewhere around 10 lambs out of Pompey. I should have used him more than I have, but when you have a ram like Winter Sky Khan, it’s hard not to use him heavily. As I said last year in a post, you never know how long you will have a ram, so it’s difficult to project what their impact might be on our flock. Pompey is a perfect example of that, and he was the subject of the post when I said that. Call it a vision or bad luck, but we lost Pompey last winter. It happens with rams.

So, my grand plan of juxtaposing two separate Dillon lines hasn’t really come together like I wanted. My plan was to breed Pompey to some of the Khan offspring, to see what would happen. I was impressed with the one time we tried it last year with Siena, and this year we bred Genoa to Khan, so we’ll get another look at it this year (plus we bred Siena to Khan again). I also line bred a Bond daughter to Pompey two years ago, and we got a super fine ewe lamb that we liked a lot (Victoria below).

I don't know about you all, but I have never purchased a ewe lamb as nice as Victoria. It's cool when it works out like that. Genoa is another good example.

Siena as a lamb below.

Again, no disrepect to anyone else out there who is producing fine or super fine Shetlands, I've never even seen ewe lambs this nice (not in person anyway). I may never produce lambs this nice again.

So, the strategy has been successful where we’ve tried it. I had just hoped we would’ve had more Pompey daughters to try it on. Pompey just produced incredibly well. It’s rare to find that kind of prepotency in a ram. We will probably never have another one like him in that regard. I still remember the trip I made to pick him up a few years ago. I was having truck problems almost the entire way, but didn't realize until I got home that my vehicle was leaking transmission fluid out of a rotted hose. I wondered then whether the repair costs had been worth it. They were.

But that’s my goal for this spring. I want to get one Pompey son that we will keep for future use, and I’d like to get six keeper daughters. We retained six Khan daughters from last year as well as one son (Barenfang), so we’re pretty much following the same play book. We currently have 19 ewes, so about a third are Khan daughters. All are very good to excellent, but not exactly what we are breeding for in all ways (the Forrest line typically has a different crimp structure than we like). Structurally, they are all fantastic, and all are fine-to-super fine, but as I’ve said before, we aren’t breeding for two or three traits, but the complete animal.
Below are some of the Khan daughters to which I am referring:

Blue Diamond daughter out of Khan (also a Blue's Clues granddaughter)

As I said, I would like to breed them back to either Pompey or his son, and I currently have no way to do that (they are half-sisters to Barenfang). It’s a bit of a dilemma. In a perfect world, Constantinople would have a keeper son out of Pompey that we could use on some of these beautiful Khan daughters. My gut feel is that we would see great results from such a cross. It’s just not practical to have two thirds of our flock either Pompey or Khan daughters. That would mean we could only keep six of our current adults. Now that I think about it, Constantinople's Khan daughters are also an example of crossing Pompey's line with Black Forrest's. Constantinople is a Salicional daughter, who, as I said, is Pompey's half-sister. Those two are probably my two favorite Khan daughters from last year.
In short, there is a method to our madness here at Whispering Pines. While we have at times become too heavily invested in katmogets, it’s the bloodlines that we covet as well as the future potential of the sheep that we keep. Down the road, I could even see us bring back great sheep that we have sold where it makes genetic sense. When you are trying to maintain a flock of 16-to-18 ewes you have to let some good sheep go each year to make room for lambs that should be better. You rapidly reach a point, however, where you are selling sheep that are different, but not necessarily inferior to the ones that you keep. If we don’t think a sheep fits into our genetic puzzle, it might be a find for someone else with different goals.

I'll close with a picture of Barenfang as a lamb, who, as I said, is a striking example of the Pompey/Khan bloodline cross. Ahh, I can only hope we get one or two this good this year!


Danny Hansen said...
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Danny Hansen said...
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