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.