Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fleece Clinic II

Last year we did a fleece clinic on this blog to illustrate some Shetland fleece characteristics that we like. Shetlands come equipped with many fleece types, so don’t take this to be the definitive guide on the breed, but I will attempt to contrast the different types and, at the same time, illustrate some reasons to go with each type.

First of all, it’s not unusual to encounter double-coated Shetlands on your Shetland journey in the US. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a double-coated Shetland. They are common. What you need to determine is what you want to do with the fleece. Below is an example of a double-coated Shetland fleece.

This sample is very straight and coarse. But it has nice luster, which is to say it’s silky. It will spin up very well. But you would never want to use it in next-to-the-skin garments. It’s far too coarse for comfort. And without crimp, it lacks the elasticity that you want for some projects. This particular sample is about 34 microns on average, and the CV is over 30%, but not much over. This fleece is about 9" long.
It is not a breed standard Shetland fleece by any stretch of the imagination, but that doesn’t mean it is bad, necessarily. But I can’t see using it for anything other than rugs. I think it's an example of the type of fleece that starts a lot of arguments between breeders. When you say something does not meet the breed standard, people take exception to it, but, in my opinion, this one doesn't. Why? For one, 34 microns is too coarse. Shetlands are supposed to be fine. Secondly, there is not crimp here. Some might try to argue that it's wavey (which is what the breed standard calls out), but that's equivalent to saying blue is almost green. This fleece has no movement at all in the finished product. It has no elasticity whatsoever.
Now, given that this sample has two very distinct coats, you could easily spend the time to separate them and then the finer inner coat could be used for clothing, but it will still lack the elasticity that you desire. As I said, it comes down to what you want to do with the fleece. But the bigger question might be why would you choose Shetland if you are making rugs and/or other items that require extra durability, without crimp?
The next sample is also double-coated, but not as extreme. I’ve seen Shetland fleeces ranging from 2” to 16”, and this one is closer to 6”. It has good luster, but also lacks crimp like the first example.

In terms of fineness, it is about 32 microns with a 30% CV. It’s certainly not my ideal, but it is pretty silky, and doesn't feel as coarse as the first sample. You can do a bit more with this fleece than the last one, because the outer coat (guard hair) isn't as dominant, but it still lacks the crimp to really provide good elasticity to projects. And I know there are things you can do during the spinning process to compensate for the lack of crimp, but when you compare it to finer fleeces, there is a very noticeable difference. In terms of spinning properties, it's probably equivalent to the first sample. Both will spin up easily, which makes them a favorite of beginning spinners.
To sum up the first two samples, both are Shetland, but not particularly good examples of the breed. If these fleeces were the norm in the old days in Shetland, the breed would not have been called the finest of the British breeds. That's not to say they didn't exist, however.
Next is a sample of a fleece that I think is a pretty good example from an adult Shetland. You can see distinct crimp here.

The staple is 4", which is what I have found to be a good length. As far as fineness, this one is about 29 microns with a 23% CV. Not bad at all. Nice luster, but not as nice as others that I've seen. Having made products from this fleece, I can say we are pretty satisfied with it. You might say that 29 microns is at the very upper limit of what wool authorities would call fine, and you'd be correct. But you have to evaluate fleeces against multiple criteria, and this one grades out pretty well overall. It has a lot of good properties. And coming from a three-year old ewe, this is not bad at all. There are two coats here, but they would be difficult to separate. If you are into separating the coats, you might be better off with a fleece that contains a more pronounced difference between them. Icelandics have such fleeces and a lot of people like them for that reason.

The next sample is from what I would call a fine fleece. This is basically what we breed for here at Whispering Pines. That doesn't mean anyone else needs to follow what we do, but I'm merely illustrating what we are after.

This fleece falls somewhere between 26 and 28 microns with a 20% CV. It’s about 4” long and you can see the crimp quite clearly. This fleece is fully functional in that is has nice luster and fineness to go along with the other classic Shetland properties. It could be used in most projects, including those requiring extra durability. It really has no limitations for use. It's not as fine as some of the best Shetland fleeces I've seen, but it's very good. This fleece would not need to be separated into two coats because there really aren't two of them.
The final sample is what I would call an extra fine Shetland fleece. It's not Merino fine, but it is still very fine.

In Shetland parlance, an extra fine fleece should have an average micron of between 21 and 24 microns. Some would disagree with my assessment on that, but I’ve seen too many really nice 24 micron fleeces to say that they are not extra fine. And yes, you can notice the difference between one of these fleeces and say an 28 micron Shetland fleece (like the one above). I also don’t think there’s much of a downside to fleeces this fine. I would think you might give up some durability with the really fine stuff, but for years, they used Shetland fleeces in the UK for shawls and other next-to-skin applications. And they were able to do that because of the versatility of the fleeces. It has properties that allow it to be used in many applications. Shetland fleeces are very unique in the totality of their properties. They aren't like Alpaca fiber. They might not be as fine as Alpaca, but they are very durable. Shetland fleeces were commonly used in the hosiery industry back in the day. And that was another thing that made them so unique. They could be used in a demanding application like that, and yet still had excellent fineness. A good Shetland fleece handles like nothing else.
Shetland fleeces can also be quite diverse. The breed itself is very diverse in terms of the various attributes that make up the breed, but fleece is one example of that. I have seen single sheep that had three types of fleeces on one animal. The neck and shoulders were kind of like the good  sample above - very decent - to - good with lots of utility. Not extra fine, but still pretty good. Then by midside, you were into a fleece that resembled the second one from the top. Then, as you moved back a few inches, you were into something more like the top photo. The back half of the sheep really was very limited in terms of what you could do with it. For all intents and purposes, you started out with a three pound skirted fleece and ended up with less than a pound of what I would call decent and reasonably crimpy, and maybe another pound of fleece that wasn’t terribly coarse, but still had limited functionality. That’s just not what we breed for here, but you can find sheep like that without very much difficulty if that's what you like. As I said, it really depends on what you like in your fleeces.
In closing, here are a few other examples of extra fine fleeces with 4" staple lengths and great uniformity. And notice the classic Shetland lock structure on each one.

These fleeces might not be for everyone, but we think they represent the breed nicely. They won't be 6" long, but 3" to 4" is more typical of the breed when you get this fine. If someone can show me a fine and soft Shetland fleece that is longer than 6", I'll be very interested in that fleece. I am sure there are bloodlines like that, but I haven't come across one yet. A 6" fleece can be quite acceptable, but I wouldn't expect it to be this fine. I suppose it could be, but I think this would be the exception to the norm, based on what I have seen.
And maybe that's the final point of this post. You don't have to go super short to get extra fine. The Shetland Sheep Society allows fleeces to be as short as 2" and as long as 6". I don't care for the fleeces at those extremes, but I've seen some good stuff at those ends of the spectrum.

I have been fortunate to have visited 15 Shetland farms over the years, and I have seen a lot of different types of Shetlands and fleeces. That has given me some perspective on the breed that I would not have gained otherwise. It allowed me to really fine tune my craft. And to me, breeding is a craft. It's not easy. It's not hard breeding Shetlands because they are so small and hardy, but getting fleeces like we like has not been easy. And, to be honest, we still haven't reached our goals yet, but we have had enough success to get a glimpse of what is possible with the breed. And that keeps me working at it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sommarang Idelle

When I headed out to Wisconsin to attend the WSWF this past September, I left home with specific instructions not to buy any katmogets, but this one was too good to pass up. She is out of Sommarang Challis, another ewe that I am impressed with (hey, Lori knows what she is doing). Her father was Sommarang Gilroy who microned around 20.5 or something as a yearling. I also liked Gilroy a great deal. He wasn’t far off of the top rams in my estimation. It’s always nice to see the parents. In fact, if I don’t like one of the parents, I won’t take the sheep.

Anyway, this beautiful ewe is Sommarang  Idelle. In the best pair of ewe lambs class, she took first or second, and Isla took the other spot. I don’t remember who they were paired up with, but it wasn’t each other. So, Lori took first and second place with her two pair of ewe lamb entries. Not too bad. Idelle’s micron test was: AFD: 21.0 CV: 4.3 CV: 20.7% CEM: 8.1 SF: 20.4.
How does this lamb compare to the other two Wisconsin ewes? Structurally, I like her better. In terms of fleece, I prefer Isla and Ilke. But Idelle's fleece, although not quite as silky and fine as the other two, is a little longer and denser.
I just don’t encounter spotted ewes of this quality very often. I don’t breed specifically for spots these days, but I do appreciate a good spotted ewe when I see one.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sommarang Ilke

Proving how much I liked Firth of Fifth Avyt, I decided to buy another moorit daughter out of him. Ilke is another beautiful ewe. I didn’t go to Jefferson with the goal of buying up Avyt lambs, but once I saw him, I knew one wasn’t enough (of course, is it ever?). Ilke is out of Sommarang Comfrey, another of the amazing ewes that Lori owns. I prefer Isla if I had to pick one, but they are very close. Ilke’s micron test was: AFD: 20.2 CV: 4.5 CV: 22.3% CEM: 8.8 SF: 19.9. I think Ilke and Isla will have very similar yearling numbers, and certainly both will be keepers for next year.

They both feel really fine, but Ilke feels slightly softer. Either way, they are two of the softer ewes in our flock.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sommarang Isla

When I went to Jefferson this fall, I was on a mission to learn and to see if there were any moorit ewes that I thought would help our flock. There were, but most of them were not available. Fortunately, I left early for the trip so I could spend some time on the Thursday before the Judge's training talking to Lori Stephenson, Kate Sharp, and Alan Hill. I had already been talking with Lori about moorit ewes so I knew what she had, but I figured I'd take a look in person to see if I could talk myself into buying sheep (that's how I buy sheep. I go into it not planning on following through with whatever hairbrained idea I might have had earlier). Once in a while, I see something that blows me away, and so begins the inner turmoil of trying to talk myself out of it.

In this case, Lori had several really nice moorit lambs, so right away I knew I had some issues to deal with. I'm lucky to find one Shetland that I like (and that is also for sale) and here there were several. After looking them over pretty well, I slept on it and went to the training on Friday. Needless to say, I was really blown away with two of Lori's adult rams that were at the show. Hacket and Avyt were incredible rams, and certainly two that would've looked good on my farm...if they were polled. Still, they were (are) two excellent rams and I thought to myself that it would be nice to have some offspring from one or both of them.
After the training, I went back to the pen and looked the ewe lambs over again, and picked out two moorits that I liked a lot. I wrote down the eartag numbers and then proceeded to look at the pedigrees.

I was surprised to discover that both were Avyt daughters.

When I went to Jefferson, I already had an eye on Isla, but I didn’t know it was Isla I had selected that day until I looked at the pedigree, so that was kind of cool. The one I picked in the picture ended up matching my in person evaluation.

I think she adds a lot to my flock other than moorit. If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t have brought her home (although I am excited to have an Avyt lamb).

Isla is a ewe out of Sommerang Ginger and Firth of Fifth Avyt (a Black Forrest son). I nearly bought Ginger last year, but elected not to when I decided not to go to Jefferson in 2010.
This year, I had a hard look at both of her daughters out of Avyt and decided on this one. Avyt (for those who aren’t into Shetland genetics) was the Reserve Champion Shetland at Jefferson in 2011. That means he was not only the very best ram there (in the eyes of two certified Shetland Sheep Society judges), he was the second best Shetland. And honestly, the competition was incredible.
Lori sent in Isla’s fall micron test, which was pretty nice: AFD: 20.1 CV: 4.7 CV: 23.5% CEM: 7.9 SF: 20.0. I have often said that I don’t put much stock in fall micron tests, but I do think they provide some value. In this case, Lori provided the results after I had selected, so that was cool. Isla is very fine and soft, which was obvious to me the minute I handled her fleece. The CV is interesting in this case, because I don’t see a lot of tip, which would be indicative of double coating. I don’t see that at all. In my opinion, this is a very nice fleece.
The bottom line is that I like this lamb a great deal or I wouldn't have gone to all of the trouble of bringing her in. I am influenced by colors and patterns a little bit, but if the underlying sheep doesn't make the cut, it doesn't really matter. Every time we bring in new sheep, it ends up costing me a lot of money for OPP and Johnes testing to ensure we aren't bringing anything into our flock, and we keep everything in quarantine for four-to-six weeks, so when we bring something in, it has to be special. I think Isla is.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Whispering Pines Genoa

Genoa is out of our F2 Heights Orion ewe out of Whispering Pines Shiobhan and Sheltering Pines Pompey. She is one of the prettiest lambs we have had here and I really really like her fleece. It will probably micron at 23 with a low CV as a yearling. But, I really don’t care because it is very consistent from shoulder to tail and just has wonderful properties. And the color? Dark blue, which is just the best Shetland color ever. Okay, it's my favorite anyway. And soft soft soft.

In my opinion, she has the best fleece of any lamb we've had born here in terms of handle, lock structure, crimp, color, and overall fineness. She wasn't the finest lamb born here this year, but I just dig the fleece. Still, it's extra fine. Of course, I'm feeding the heck out of our lambs as of this writing to try and get more weight on them heading into the winter. Although that tends to have a negative impact on fleece fineness, I like our lambs to be close to 60 pounds on December 1st.

Her fleece is probably the most like Sheltering Pines Blue's Clues of any of the sheep we've had here on the farm. And the funny thing is that she's not even related to him. I have two of his daughters and this one is the most like him. The fleece just has a lacey quality that makes you want to take a nap in it. All I know is that I would like an entire flock with fleeces like this one.

As I scanned her pedigree recently for this post, there is a nice collection of great bloodlines in there that I hope bodes well for her lambs once I breed her next year. And the funny thing is that her fleece is unlike either of her parents. Both parents had wonderful fleeces, but I prefer this one right now.  I liked Shiobhan a lot, and her mother, Queen Anne's Lace, was also pretty nice. Anyway, whether it was Pompey's influence, or what, I don't know. But I do know that this is a really nice ewe lamb.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whispering Pines Harvest Moon

This lamb was one that I was pretty high on from day one and still am. Harvest Moon is out of Sheltering Pines Persia and Wintertime Bond. I think I can make the argument that she is the best Bond lamb that we have had. She isn’t quite as fine as some of the others, but should still come in around 23 microns. She is a very dark blue katmoget. She is a very nice combination of Shetland traits out of great bloodlines. I won't use her this year, but she should be an important part of our breeding program going forward.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Whispering Pines Vittoria

In keeping with the theme of naming Pompey's daughters after cities in Italy, this is Whispering Pines Vittoria, who is out of Pompey and Peridot. Peridot was a Wintertime Bond daughter that we liked a lot as a yearling, but decided to sell to keep our flock size down below 20 ewes.

That makes Vittoria a Bond granddaughter. I don’t have micron data on her, but in my estimation, her yearling test will be 22 microns with a low CV. Just a lovely fleece! Now, yes, she is a grey katmoget, but she carries moorit from her father. She is a really nice lamb out of a genetic cross that I had hoped would produce such a Shetland. It was the only line breeding that I did last year. I had planned to do more this year, but sold most of the Bond lambs; decisions that might not have been the best in hindsight, but, as you can see, we are heavy in grey katmogets, and only the best of the best stick around. And we just can't keep everything we like if we want to keep our flock size small.
The thing I like about this one is that, not only is she out of great bloodlines, her color is very different from some of the other grey katmogets that we have. Even though I love grey katmogets, I do like variety in type, color, and fleece. And it always seems like the grey katmogets have the best fleeces.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Whispering Pines Pearl

Whispering Pines Pearl is a grey katmoget yearling ewe out of Wintertime Itasca and Wintertime Bond, who are two of our finest adults.

Pearl’s yearling micron test was: AFD: 23.1 CV: 4.1 CV: 17.6% CEM: 7.1 SF: 21.9. Not as fine as we prefer, but when you combine it with the other properties, I’ll take it. When you get into nice silkiness and fineness like this, it’s splitting hairs when you start talking microns. Of course, there are other things buried within the numbers that probably speak volumes, but I have yet to completely crack that code. So, while I continue doing my research on Shetland fleeces, I’ll just enjoy what I have here, which are some beautiful fleeces.

Her fleece is also very consistent from front-to-back (as most of our sheep are), with a 3" staple length. She's a very petite ewe, but she has a lot of qualities that I like (and being petite is not a flaw, I just like a little more frame on my ewes. A small criticism, perhaps). 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blue Sapphire and Egyptian Autumn

Whispering Pines Blue Sapphire is another flock favorite. Another Blue’s Clues daughter with a fabulous fleece! I just really like this ewe. She has wonderful bloodlines as well. The only thing that remains to be discovered about this ewe is her pattern. She is a katmoget, but is she double-patterned? I hoped to find that out this year, but I still don’t know. Sapphire’s micron test was: AFD: 24.1 CV: 4.4 CV: 18.3% CEM: 7.5 SF: 22.9. I've certainly seen better yearling micron test results, but when I say her fleece is very nice, I'm stating that it has all of the properties that I want in a Shetland fleece. It has nice length and crimp, the handle is exceptional, and the lock structure is correct.

Her ram this year out of Egyptian King is also very nice. Egyptian Autumn is a fawn katmoget with very small scurs. As a result, we elected to keep him even though he is a katmoget. We already have two katmoget rams, which will make it difficult to use him in our flock, but hopefully, I'll figure out a way. If not this year, then hopefully next. I have several ewes that would benefit from his properties, but they are all katmogets. At this point, I don't know how many katmoget-to-katmoget breedings I want to roll out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blue Diamond, Kiyah, and Isis

Whispering Pines Blue Diamond is a yearling out of Sheltering Pines Blue’s Clues and Constantinople. I still love this ewe!

One of two Blue’s Clues daughters, she is built really well and has a nice dense fine fleece with good length to boot. She's an F3 Jericho, which, as we've said before, are genetics that we've wanted to add to our flock.

Like all of our sheep, she has things I don’t like, but she’s a good one. She is a katmoget, but a fawn one (which makes it okay). Her lambs this year were incredible! This is another bloodline that I think a lot of! Diamond’s micron test was: AFD: 25.4 CV: 5.1 CV: 19.9% CEM: 8.5 SF: 24.5. That’s right where I thought it would be as a yearling. We’ll see how the fleece matures in year two, but I like what I see right now. It doesn’t seem much different to me than her first fleece.

Isis is one of her lambs from this spring.

Isis is an Egyptian King ewe lamb out of Blue Diamond. Right now, I’m pretty high on this girl. She has a very fine fleece with nice length. I will estimate that her fleece will be around 23 microns as a yearling. If it is, I’ll be doing handsprings down the street because it has all the other properties I like as well. There isn’t much tip here, so it’s good length, not coarse guard hair. She will have a decent CV as well; perhaps not under 20%, but low 20's anyway.

Isis’ twin sister is named Kiyah. I named the Egyptian King daughters (both of them) after Egyptian Queens. This girl is in the running for best lamb of 2011. She is definitely the finest, but she has nearly everything else as well. Her fleece won’t be as long as her sister’s, but it will likely be 21 or 22 microns when she turns one next spring. I also like that she is brown-based. In fact, that’s reason for celebration in our flock.

I'm pretty happy with these three right now. I was able to combine a couple of nice bloodlines I like and produce two pretty nice ewe lambs, so I can't complain about that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Itasca and Jumpy

Wintertime Itasca will be three years old this spring and still like her a great deal because she has much going for her. She has wool on the poll, has an amazing, fine fleece, with great density, and has a pretty good conformation as well. Very good actually. Nice tail, etc. She looks like a Shetland.

She is out of Whistlestop 0427, who has produced some incredible sheep. So, Itasca has some incredible genetics behind her to go with what you see. She has produced very well for us in the short time that we have had her and we continue to look toward the future with her.

Itasca had two daughters this year that we liked a great deal, but we sold one of them. I regret selling her to some extent, but we felt we needed to move out a few really nice katmogets.

But we kept this one.

English Garden is a grey katmoget lamb out of Little Buckaroo. She’s a lighter katmoget with very feminine qualities. So far, Itasca is throwing that in her lambs, and I really like it. I will not breed her this year. We call this one Jumpy because she has rare leaping ability for a Shetland.  Her fleece (as you can see) is quite stunning. It should be more than 3” long with nice elasticity.  This lamb is an F2 Jericho, an imported ram that I really like. I'd like all of our lambs to look like this one, and fortunately, a number of them did this year.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sheltering Pines Constantinople & Whispering Pines Irish Rose

Sheltering Pines Constantinople is different than Cor de Nuit in many ways. She is our tallest ewe, but her proportions are absolutely perfect. What I like most about her is her perfect head and topline. Her fleece is nothing to sneeze at either, but I have other ewes who have nicer fleeces. Of course, they aren’t three years old. For a three-year old, it’s a very nice fleece (meaning you can’t compare a lamb’s fleece to an adults).

She is out of Salicional, who was the Supreme Champion Shetland at the WSWF this year. I have to admit that I was a big Salicional fan even before Jefferson, which is one of the reasons I brought Constantinople in to begin with. They do look a lot alike.
Plus, I really like this bloodline. Salicional is actually Pompey’s half-sister, which is why I brought him in. Their father was William The Conqueror, who seemed to produce very well. He goes back to Bramble Dixen, another ram that produced well. On her mother’s side, you have North Wind Holiday, who I think a lot of as well. So, Constantinople has a nice mix of genes. Her three year old micron test was AFD: 27.5 CV: 20.1%. I'm happy with that in a three year old Shetland. Especially one that looks like her.
Speaking of genes, this is Irish Rose out of Constantinople and Wintertime Bond. I think this is going to be a really nice ewe.

Not as fine as perhaps all of the other keeper lambs, but she has her mother’s long body and nice proportions. We have always been about conformation here and this is what we are after. I also like the luster in this fleece. It feels very silky and soft. It’s one of those fleeces that I have a tough time with when I try to estimate fineness. I would say it’s around 25 microns and I think that’s close to what it will be as a yearling. But she will have a low CV, and the luster is worth the price of admission. Plus, the fleece has a classic lock structure. The very essence of what makes a Shetland fleece handle like nothing else. Let's put it this way, she's finer than her mother was at this age, and I actually like her fleece a little better than Constantinoples (probably because of the luster). And her fleece looks pretty much like this from front-to-back, which is also a very desirable quality. I am also very interested in how she produces, given her lineage.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Whispering Pines Siena

This year, we named all of Pompey Magnus' lambs after cities in Italy. This is one of his daughters.

Siena is Sheltering Pines Cor de Nuit's daughter out of Pompey. We like this lamb a lot for so many reasons. She's probably as nice of a lamb as we've had born here. Great conformation, tail, and fleece. Her fleece has great density, like her mother's, and has great handle and crimp. It won't be super fine, but I do think it'll be between 24 and 25 microns as a yearling. Followers of our blog probably know that we would like our fleeces to be finer than that, but you'll also likely remember that we want our fleeces to be uniform from front-to-back with consistent fiber diameter throughout. She has all of that.

So, she's a good one, and certainly close to what we envisioned when we put Pompey and Cor de Nuit together last fall.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cor de Nuit

It occurred to me today that I haven't done our ewe-a-day posts this year, so I better get to it. It's been an annual tradition for several years, and since I enjoy seeing people do similar posts, I guess we'll stay with it another year.

Sheltering Pines Cor de Nuit is the flock matriarch. Of the lambs that we kept this year, five call her their mother or grandmother. We also have her son Egyptian King from last year. This year, I discovered that she carries moorit. She is out of Thelonious Monk (a ram that I always liked) and Justalit’l Lana (a Bramble Dixen daughter). I love her genetics a great deal, which is one of the reasons she is still here.

Another thing she offers our flock is incredible fleece uniformity and density. Two things that most Shetlands lack. I wouldn’t call her a perfect Shetland ewe, but she is very rare in terms of what she brings to the table. And she is a producer. We've not had a single lamb out of her that we didn't like a great deal, and we've come to expect the best out of her at lambing time.
When we start making tough cuts next spring, I don’t know where her position will be in the flock. Some of that depends on what she has for lambs. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Last Ewe Lamb For Sale For 2011

Over the past week, we have started going through our flock again to determine how we are going to proceed this year. Once we decided we’re not breeding ewe lambs, it raised some questions about how many lambs we want to keep through the winter.

As a result, we have decided to sell one more ewe lamb this year. This lamb is out of S’more Sparkles and Sheltering Pines Pompey Magnus. We went back and forth with this lamb this year. First, we were going to keep her, then we sold her, then the deal fell through. Then I was going to keep her again.

She’s a pretty ewe who really should throw fine lambs given her pedigree. She’s an F3 Orion and her father is really fine. I would say her fleece will be about 5” - 6” long. It has a nice handle as well. I don't have micron results on her, but, although she won't be super fine, she won't be coarse either.

Here is a good opportunity to add some polled and fine fleecegenetics to your flock.

And yes, she carries moorit and spots as well. If we were breeding ewe lambs like in the past, she is one that would have a place in our flock.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 Breeding Plans

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.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Closing Thoughts (Almost) On Jefferson

I have some more thoughts on this past weekend’s WSWF in lovely Wisconsin.
I don’t know that anyone walked away from the event thinking that there is only one correct Shetland. I think that’s been a fear for a lot of people when we start comparing the SSS sheep to what we have here in the US. On the contrary, I saw an incredible amount of diversity at Jefferson. I think that’s what we want in NASSA. And Kate and Alan were very open about that fact. You have to emphasize correct breed type (which they did), but you also have to recognize that there is a range of acceptable traits to consider. I hope we all came away with that lesson.

I have also heard it said that fine fleece people are single trait breeders; just focusing on fineness at the expense of other perhaps more valuable traits. Well, I can tell you that I didn’t see evidence of that in Jefferson. I saw correct conformations and fine fleeces in most cases. And it doesn’t matter what I think about it, Kate and Alan saw the same thing (and noted it). No, they didn’t pass everything put before them, but they were very good at pointing out the strengths and weaknesses so that improvement was within reach.

Alan made a good point during the wool show. Someone asked what makes one fleece long and straight and another 4” and crimpy? Was it nutrition? And he was rather pointed with his response, saying it was because of selection. Specifically, proper breeding and proper selection. That may seem obvious to some, but clearly that’s not universally understood. That’s the kind of thing that made Jefferson so special. Having a candid exchange of ideas, and being receptive to the incredible experience that we were provided. We could all agree or disagree with what Kate and Alan chose in the ring, but I don’t think that was the point. If you don’t consider other views and open yourself up to new ideas, there can be no learning.

As time passes, we’ll all drift off doing our own things with our flocks, but we can’t lose the lessons we learned this past weekend, which is that we can have wonderful diversity and not give up correct Shetland traits. But we have to be willing to be open-minded about learning, and not stubbornly stick to our preconceived notions about the breed. I know our flock will be better in the future because of what I learned over the weekend. And I can be as stubborn as anyone.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I got back from The Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival on Sunday and I have to say it was a pretty special event. I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time over the weekend with Kate Sharp and Alan Hill talking a great deal about Shetland history and learning a ton about the breed. As many of you know, we have spent the last few years really working hard at bringing our flock up to snuff with the 1927 Shetland Breed standard. It’s important to me to have our flock in close alignment with what the 1927 standard requires. And spending three days with actual certified Shetland Sheep Society inspectors and judges was incredibly valuable. Just what the doctor ordered.
The highlight for me was participating in the inspector and judge’s training on Friday. You don’t know what you don’t know until you spend time working side-by-side with two absolute masters like Kate and Alan. The methodical “hands on” approach was something to watch. I’ll never forget it. It was nice receiving some confirmation that our breeding approach isn’t all that far off, but the real value for me was in getting additional clarification around the finer points of the breed standard.

I had a little apprehension about hearing what they had to say because it was entirely possible that my understanding of Shetland sheep was way off. I was relieved to find out that it isn’t, but the whole thing was incredibly educational. I know I will take the lessons to heart (as I’m sure the other participants in the training will).

The morning portion of the training involved Kate and Alan demonstrating the finer points of inspection on a live animal (one of Garrett’s rams. I don’t know which one, but he was nice).

This was followed with a discussion around judging in the UK, which was quite informative.

The afternoon session involved breaking up into two groups to have the judges evaluate individual animals. That was an incredible learning experience because all of the sheep were different. It was interesting to see how they approached assessing the diversity. I also have to confess that I was moving back and forth between groups so I could see how each judge was handling each point in the standard. It was probably as good as or better than any training I have received on any subject.

On Saturday, I had a lot of fun watching the fleece competition, which was also judged by Kate and Alan. The top two prizes went to fleeces by Karen Valley and her daughter Meghan. Third place went to one of Garrett’s fleeces. I think Karen or Meghan also got fourth with another fleece. I might be mistaken about that. Theresa Gygi took fifth place honors with one of her black fleeces. Keep in mind that this was a huge Shetland fleece class. Alan and Kate told me in private that all the fleeces in the top 10 would’ve been indistinguishable from the top fleeces in a UK show! That’s pretty impressive. Theresa’s daughter Tori also took first place in the white Shetland class. That was also a large class. Congrats to everyone.

Finally, the show was pretty awesome on Saturday afternoon. Below are some pictures.

Lori Stephenson took top honors with Firth of Fifth Avyt in the ram class. Let me just say that he was an incredible Shetland ram. Her ram Hacket was also incredible as was Karen’s ram Grasshopper. I was amazed at the quality of the sheep at this show.

In the ewe class, Kelly Bartels took first place overall with Sheltering Pines Salicional (Constantinople’s mother). As I was watching the class, I commented to someone that the ewes in that class were unbelievable! You had lambs, yearlings, and adults in one class, and each one was absolutely spectacular! Each was a champion and I know Kelly is extremely happy with having Salicional pull out top honors! That says something about how good she is.

I could go on and on, but it was a great time, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a great collection of Shetlands in one place before. I would’ve liked to have taken some of our sheep, but I didn’t feel comfortable dragging them that far. Kudos to the people who did!

I don’t have a lot of pictures (an annoying story), but here are a few.

This is Theresa’s ewe lamb. I don’t know her name, but she was extremely nice.

This moorit ewe was Lori Stephenson’s. She was standing right by me, so I got a pretty good picture of her. I think she’s a good example of the type of sheep that were in that large ewe lamb class. I think there were 37 ewes in that class. Karen Valley's beautiful black ewe is next to Lori's.

Here is another of Lori’s ewes. Lori had several good ones. I didn’t get good pictures of a lot of the other lambs in that class, but I have a few more I’ll post in the coming days. Lori did take first and second place in the best pair of ewe lambs class.

The whole thing was a lot of fun and hopefully this gives you an idea of the quality of Shetlands there.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Egyptian King Lamb Fleeces

I’ve already said how much we like the Egyptian King lambs, but pictures are always worth more than a thousand words.

This shaela ram out of Sheltering Pines Christmas Holly is a good example of what we like in a Shetland. He is very much like Holly’s ram from last year, Rowdy. I think he’s a great example of a polled Shetland ram. He didn’t do me any favors by taking a nice roll in the grass clippings for this photo shoot, but it at least gives you an idea of his qualities.

I think he will micron in the 24-to-25 range as a yearling, based on what I see right now. More importantly, he has good lock structure, consistency, and will have a low CV, which translates directly to the handle of the fleece.

Blue Diamond is a Blue’s Clues daughter from last spring who we like a great deal. Her black daughter is quite impressive. Great lock structure, uniformity, density, and fineness. She will probably micron in the 23—24 range with a low CV. This is an excellent black ewe who carries spots and moorit. She’s better than her mother, which is what we are all about.

Unfortunately, I thought I had a current picture, but did not. I'll have to get one this weekend.

Her sister is a fawn katmoget, who quite frankly, is nicer than her sister. This ewe is our finest of the year, in my opinion, and I don’t feel that she trades off much for that fineness. How fine will she be? Who can say? I would guess 21 microns with a low CV.

Blue Sapphire was one of our favorite ewes last year. She is a Blue’s Clues daughter who had a fleece that was the most like his. I’ll probably never have another fleece like his, but it’ll be fun trying. So, when we bred her to Egyptian King, we had high hopes for the lamb. And we weren’t disappointed. This ram lamb is nicer than both parents, in my opinion. He is scurred (yes, those are scurs. I’m not going to try to convince anyone that he’s polled), but they are small scurs, which is a good thing.

Anyway, he’s very fine, has great density, and an awesome conformation. We’ll just have to see how he matures. I think he will be close to 22 microns as a yearling, and probably a really low CV (maybe 16%). Just a great ram out of fantastic genetics!

Did I say that I like Egyptian King? I’ll do a post on him at some point.