We test the fineness of our flock every spring to determine the fiber diameter (measured in microns), and have done so for many years now. The last few years, we have been testing lambs in the fall as well in order to learn more about what the fiber does over time. It wouldn't seem like the diameter would change much between September and March, but it very often does.
I just got our ram micron results back today, and since it aligns with some other things I have been thinking about over the winter, I will post them here...tonight.
Whispering Pines Canterbury
He is three years old now and his fiber has been remarkably consistent since he was a lamb. I believe he is the finest three year old Shetland that we have had here on our farm. If anyone follows our blog (and I'm always surprised when people do given that the entertainment value isn't quite up there with "Game of Thrones"), you might recall that in the fall his average was 20.0 microns, which is great. I also felt that it would stay there through the winter, although I confess I didn't have a good reason for feeling that way other than what I was seeing in the fleece compared to past years. This spring, his results were:
AFD: 20.3/SD: 3.8/CV: 18.9%/SF:19.4 microns.
That's pretty rare territory for a three year old Shetland, and I like that it has stayed there for three years. I wish they all did.
Whispering Pines Stonehenge
This polled ram is also three this spring and his fleece too has held up well. I've always felt that he has one of the best handling fleeces that we have had in our flock, and every year I get reminded of that. Still, this is the age when a fleece will go in the toilet if it is going to. His results this year were:
AFD: 22.5/SD: 3.8/CV: 17.1%/ SF: 21.2 microns
As the saying goes, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, but I am impressed with these numbers because they confirm what I feel with my hands. Again, how many three year old Shetlands have numbers like this? So, this is pretty good so far. You always want to have solid rams because they are the foundation of your breeding program. It would be nice if they would produce three year old ewes with number like this, but there are a number of variables with fleece genetics, and I haven't figured all of them out yet.
Whispering Pines Rosewood
This two year old Stonehenge son has a very fine and uniform fleece. I was particularly interested in his fleece test this year because we used him on some ewes last fall and I am contemplating using him on some Canterbury daughters this fall. His spring test was:
AFD: 21.1/SD: 4.3/CV: 20.4%/ SF: 20.4 microns
That's a good test for a two year old. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to use him this fall since he is unrelated to the ewes he would get. Fineness isn't everything, but it's not to be dismissed either. I think he has enough positive attributes to cross well with Canterbury's daughters. Probably more so than Stonehenge.
Whispering Pines Mr. Darcy
This is one of our yearling Canterbury sons and the only one that is black based. His test this year was:
AFD: 19.6/SD: 3.6/CV: 18.3%/ SF: 18.7 microns
I generally consider SF's of 18.7 to be too low for a Shetland, but I just don't feel that way about his fleece. It has all the properties that I like about his mother's fleece, but with added fineness and uniformity. I have always said I would like an entire flock of ewes like his mother, genoa, so maybe Darcy is the ticket to making that happen.
Whispering Pines Wentworth
This yearling Itasca son is out of Egyptian Autumn and not Canterbury. Unfortunately, he is a half-brother to Pearl, who is Canterbury's mother, so he doesn't really bring us new genetics. Still, he is one of only two black based rams that we have, so I'd like to keep him around. His test was:
AFD: 21.6/SD: 4.2/CV: 19.5%/ SF: 20.8 microns
Four or five years ago, this would have seemed pretty remarkable, but it's actually the worst test of all our rams when you consider the age. I've always liked this ram, however, because he reminds me of Bond in many ways, even though Bond was finer. I'm going to have a hard look at him this year to determine where he fits in. Heck, Rosewood didn't fit in until I put the groups together and I had a vision that didn't occur to me until I was literally dragging sheep to their breeding pens.
Whispering Pines Edward
This yearling Canterbury ram is out of Venice. His test was:
AFD: 19.8/SD: 3.4/CV: 17.1%/ SF: 18.7 microns
It's hard not to like standard deviations of 3.4. I kept this select group of rams last fall before I had micron results to look at, so I'm simply not concerned yet about the low micron values. I liked the fleeces last fall and the character did not change over the winter, so my opinion hasn't changed. In fact, the fleeces were too short in the fall. Now they are where I want them. Do fleeces this fine still have the famous Shetland durability? That I don't know yet. What I do know is that they can help reduce the micron values on our ewe flock by some amount, and that is my goal. At some point, we'll find the sweet spot and then dial it in. I don't know where that is, however. I just know that we probably aren't going to be able to go finer than this.
Whispering Pines Bingley
Another fawn katmoget Canterbury son, this one out of Vogue. His test was:
AFD: 19.2/SD: 3.7/CV: 19.2%/ SF: 18.4 microns
Whispering Pines Knightley
Here is the final Canterbury son that we kept last year. He is out of Siena. His test was:
AFD: 19.6/SD: 3.6/CV: 18.6%/ SF: 18.7 microns
To be honest, this was my favorite ram from last spring. I knew he was good at birth, and I knew he was good last fall. When I grabbed the sample this spring, however, I felt Bingley's fleece was a smidge better. Just a squinch (note: I'm not trying to suggest that I can evaluate a fleece and detect a 0.4% difference in micron, but that was my unscientific assessment on the hoof).
I was grimacing a bit last fall when I decided to keep eight rams through the winter, and I am just as troubled now. I really have to decide what to do here and I suspect, some of these rams will end up on the sales list in May. I just don't need six fawn katmogets no matter how I rationalize this.
The last thing I will say about this group is that it's a pretty apples to apples comparison. All received the same hay from October until now, and didn't receive anything else except minerals. The ram lambs were on pasture until August, and I did note that their fall standard deviations were higher than they should have been because of the lush grass last summer. So, by rights, Bingley, Darcy, Wentworth, Knightley, and Edward would have been expected to have slightly higher test results. As the fleece grows over the winter, however, you can never be entirely sure what will happen. My theory is that as the fleece grows, the sample size increases (more tests performed along the length of the fiber, which from a statistical perspective, would decrease the standard deviation, assuming the average doesn't increase at the same time). That was my theory, and it played out that way with this year's lambs. The protein content of the hay was lower than in the past (about 9% vs. 14%), but I fed them much more of it to compensate. Probably twice as much. Body conditions look better than last year and probably as good as ever.
Considering all of that, I'm satisfied with these numbers and I feel very comfortable with what we have to work with here. These are the best of our best from the last three years.
I'll post the ewes at some point here once I digest it more.