Tuesday, September 23, 2008

To Breed or Not to Breed - Rich

That is the question. It’s a question I often stumble around with like a drunken pirate in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

How do we pick our breeding groups? We start with an idea about the type of lambs we want, don’t we? Do we want a brown or black based lamb? Do we want patterns or spots? What about modified colors? I think we consider all of these characteristics, don’t we? Or do we merely throw caution to the wind sometimes and put a ram and a ewe together because we like both of them and think we’ll like the lambs as well? Or do we pair up the ewes with rams that we think they'll get along with the best (you know, like we do with people). I was only kidding about that last part, but the point is that we all have different reasons for why we put together certain breedign groups.

For example, as we've discussed our breeding approach this fall, we have been afraid we’re going to end up with too many black based lambs. But we have a clear plan for where we want to go, and to be honest, lamb color isn’t really high on the list of what I am after. I don’t really care whether a lamb is brown or black based. Yes, I would prefer a nice mix, but our focus remains on conformation and fleece. I came across lots of rams this year with nice characteristics. I even found a few browns that I liked a lot. But I didn’t find a brown that had everything that I wanted. I saw some darn good ones that I probably should have taken, but at this point in our program, we're after very specific things in our rams (and I won't bore you with them).

As a result, most of our ewes will go with our two mature flock sires this year once again because they both have more of what I want than any others that I came across. Cihat and Clover both have excellent conformations, nice fleeces, and either carry brown or are brown.
Clover is mioget, but doesn’t carry spots.
Cihat is black and spotted and may carry modified genetics. I don’t know about that yet. But I do know that both rams have exceptional conformations by my standard (which admittedly, might not be the same standard that everyone else uses).

Then there is Black Walnut, a ram lamb born on the farm this year. He is the closest thing we have to all around perfect! He has a perfect conformation, a lovely intermediate fleece with nice luster, and is a spot carrying katmoget. Does he carry modified genetics? Possibly. So, we are going to use him this year on a few ewes to see what he throws. I haven’t decided how many yet. So he’s kind of a hybrid between Clover and Cihat in terms of what he brings to the program.

So, what else do we need in our program? Well, this is year three of our conformation improvement plan, so if all goes well, we should have a flock of ewes with conformations that don’t make me vomit every time I walk into the barn. I’m already comfortable with where we are at with conformations, but I think we can do better. Some people might think I’m nuts to poke holes in our ewe conformations, but I have a high standard in that area. I'm not saying other people don't have as high of a standard as we do, I'm just saying that there is a very specific type of conformation that we want and we are still working hard to get that. I want people to see one of our sheep and say "hey, that looks like a Whispering Pine sheep".

And I’m not one to believe that a spotted shetland can’t have an excellent conformation and fleece as some would suggest. I think we’ve all seen examples that prove that thought process wrong. We have several in the barn that prove that incorrect. It seems to be more of a struggle with the spotted sheep, but I remain dedicated to developing excellent spotted shetlands.

So, what else do we need? We need better fleeces. I think we share that goal with just about every other shetland breeder out there. Shetlands should not have average microns above 30. I think most people would prefer something closer to 25 than 30, but that doesn’t mean everyone should strive for 20 micron sheep either. I think you can have nice fleeces in the middle of that range and be quite happy with things. In fact, we have a lot of ewes just like that, and we are quite happy with them. But it’s fun to play around with genetics, so we are beginning our fleece improvement program in earnest.

Black Walnut plays a part in that, but we brought in Leyland almost exclusively for that purpose. I’ve already blogged about him, so I won’t add much more. He is different than anything else we have. His fleece type is different, his markings are different, his conformation is different. He just looks different. I think that’s good. We aren’t going to use him heavily this fall, but I do want to see what he can throw. If he improves the fleeces on some of our ewes, we could have something. Plus, he doesn’t act like a ram. He’s very laid back. So, we’ll see. This is only year one of the fleece improvement program. If he doesn’t give us exactly what we’re looking for next spring, we’ll have some nice lambs to sell. I’ve found that a lot of people are quite happy with sheep that I’m not in love with. It’s more a matter of taste than quality. We sold some sheep this year with nice conformations, but not exactly what I like. That’s a win win situation, so I’m happy about that.

Next spring will be one more leg of the journey. Each year, I feel like our lamb crops have improved, and if that holds true again, we’ll have our nicest crop this spring. Given the planning that we put into it, I wouldn’t expect anything different. We put a lot of thought into the potential of the offspring when we put two sheep together. If we don’t see the possibility of an improvement in more than two characteristics, we don’t do it. It’s that simple. It could be an improvement in the ram, or the ewe, it doesn’t matter. We’re also getting too old to be gaining ground in two characteristics while we take a step back in one or two others. As a result, that weighs heavily in our breeding decisions. It’s okay if we don’t improve in all areas, but I really don’t want to take steps backwards.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Niagara Celtic Festival - Jen

We were invited to bring our sheep to the Niagara Celtic Festival on the shores of Lake Ontario last weekend. So we pitched our tent, set up our little mini pen for Zabrina and Daisy, (part of our "travel flock") and put out our educational materials. We met a lot of nice people, ate too much and caught up with old friends - can't ask for much more than that!

We were settled right next to the pipe & drum encampment which was fine with me!
Zabrina and Daisy were a big hit.
I was demonstrating the drop spindle

Our neighbors

Andrew the Brave

William the Great

Monday, September 8, 2008

Silver Maple is for sale - Jen

This is Silver Maple, our yuglet sokket katmoget ram out of Cihat and Fantasia. We love him, but can't use him this year for a variety of reasons not related to his quality. Mainly we just don't have enough breeding pens! His fleece is spectacular. I know that word gets used a lot, but if you are looking for a ram to improve your fleeces, I strongly recommend him. Its intermediate, soft, crimpy and consistent from neck to britch. Where the britch gets black, it gets a little courser.

He has a great temperment, is halter broke, but isn't overly friendly. He is spotted and katmoget, so you have many possibilities and options if you use him in your breeding program.

The first fleece photo is of his side, the spot where we take samples for micron testing. The second fleece photo is just at the rump. Trying to show how consistent his fleece is.

We can send more photos, fleece samples and more detailed info on our assessment of him, please send us an email for more info. Also, we are waiting for his micron results, will publish as soon as available.

We are bringing him to Rhinebeck to show, but after the animals are released on Sunday he will be ready for pickup! He is ready to go now also, so if you want him before Rhinebeck, we can make arrangements for delivery/pickup.

Whispering Pines Silver Maple
Single Ram
Grey Yuglet Katmoget Sokket
Sire: Sheltering Pines Cihat S17465
Dam: V Creek Fantasia S24580
Price: $600 - includes registration and vet fees if applicable.
DOB: 4/15/08

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

NYS Fair - Jen

Photos from our week at New York State Fair. Met many nice people, revisited with old friends and spent a lot of time learning about sheep and the highly competitive world of the livestock exhibitor. Took a leap of faith with no idea what to expect (didn't even have a place to sleep when we got there!) Everything worked out and we are glad we went!

Silver Maple made a friend!

Fiber artist from Mexico, Jose Buenaventura Gonzalez, trying to spin with my double treadle wheel. He raises a native breed of sheep, dyes with cochineal and indigo, spins and weaves traditional blankets using rather primitive equipment from what he described to me. He was here touring Northeastern cities with an exhibit of his work.

Will had fun telling funny sheep stories to a rapt audience.

Rich and Will screwing around, trying to break my chair. Andrew was at a soccer tournament, he missed the entire weekend.

Silver Maple ready for the show ring. Rich has decided to sell him, will blog with more photos later this week.

The stalls are equipped with v. cool mezzanine for storage or hiding, as the case may be.

Two of the nicest neighbors a girl could ask for.

Me and the "show flock" just before heading out to the ring.