Monday, December 10, 2012

Sheltering Pines Pompey Magnus

I brought in Sheltering Pines Pompey two years ago because I thought both he and his bloodline seemed to consistently produce sheep that I liked.

The first year, he didn’t disappoint me either. I liked all of his lambs, and we still have two of his daughters (Siena and Genoa). Unfortunately, I didn’t give him that many ewes that first year, and I gave him the year off last year while I went in another direction. It’s one of those things where you want to try different bloodlines and see what happens. And good things did happen, but he’s too nice to sit idle again, and I really would like to get more ewes like Genoa and Siena. Quite frankly, they are our nicest sheep.

Pompey has held his fineness very well over the years. He’s six now, and his last micron test was 25.6 on average, and his CV was 20%. His spinning fineness of 24.9 puts him in the super fine category. It’s not a long fleece (probably three inches), but it has great crimp and density. There are some good polled rams around, but he’s really nice, and certainly one of the finest for his age.
I picked ewes for his group based exclusively on correct type and fleece quality. Obviously, I didn’t put his own daughters in with him, however.
The ewes are:
Blue Sapphire
Blue Diamond
Irish Rose
I didn’t much care whether the ewes were katmogets, spotted, or solid. I am interested in getting great lambs only. The patterns just don’t matter to me. Plus, I really like katmogets.
Obviously, no one can predict which ewes will have the best lambs, but I think we have a good chance of getting some nice ones out of this group. I don’t really even know how many ewes we will keep next year, so I don’t think we need to get more than three or four great ewes out of the three groups I’ve set up. The way I look at it, the more the lambs we end up keeping, the more ewes we’ll have to sell to make room. I don’t really want to sell any of these ewes. I would like to get some more blacks since we only have one right now, but I’m not really that serious about that or I’d be using Egyptian King. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use him next year. If all goes well, I shouldn’t feel compelled to use Pompey again next year, but you never know. It’s easy to assume there’ll be another breeding season down the road for some of these rams, but that isn’t always the case.
I'll close with some pictures of his group. Pompey is in the middle of the top picture. He's trying to blend in.



Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter Sky Khan

Last year, I felt our ewes were of sufficient quality that I could try harder at bringing in some brown based lambs. I had been thinking about getting a moorit ram for a little while, but just didn’t see anything polled that I really had to have. I saw some really nice horned rams, but that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go (although it was tempting). Scurred would’ve been fine as well. Finally, at the last minute, this ram became available, and I felt like he was what we needed. He was polled, moorit, super fine, and I just really liked how he looked. In fact, I liked him as a lamb as well, but never really gave much thought to it since we had plenty of good rams at the time (can you have too many? Yes, you can).

Khan is a Black Forrest son. Black Forrest is known as one of the finest Shetland rams in the country (although Pompey is arguably as fine). And as you look at some of the finer Shetland rams in the country, most of them seem to trace back to Forrest. Certainly, not all of them, but a lot of them do.

Khan’s two year old micron test was: AFD: 22.5 CV: 21.3 CEM: 8.0 CF: 95.7% SF: 22.0 CRV: 93.9. I don’t know much, but I think that qualifies for super fine status. His average will surely creep up on his third fleece, but I still think it will be less than 25.0 microns. If you aren’t into numbers like I am, what does all of that mean? A comfort factor of 95.7% is pretty darn good. A CRV of 93.9 is pretty special as well. I like to have as many fine fibers as I can get without giving up other fleece traits that we like.
He has most of the things I like in a ram such as level topline, long body, nice tail, and what I think is a really nice head for a polled ram. I don’t care for some of the heads on polled rams. I do think the horned Shetland rams are more handsome and majestic looking, but I really like Khan’s head.
His ewes this year are:
It’s a small group, but what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for with quality.
I’ve not played around much with Black Forrest genetics, so I really don’t know how they will cross with these ewes, but they have the nicest fleeces in our flock, and they are some of our top overall ewes.
Theresa told me once to just breed the best to the best, so that’s what I am trying to do. I think these ewes are the right ones for him. In fact, I did breed Siena to him last year, which is how we ended up with Barenfang.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Whispering Pines Barenfang

The tour of the ewes in our flock is complete, so it's off to the breeding groups.

This is Khan’s son out of Siena from this spring. He is very much like his mother in looks except that he has Khan’s head. That’s a pretty good outcome, essentially combining the best of both parents. I don’t really like to breed ram lambs, but I am rolling the dice here. I really don’t mind if he doesn’t breed any of his ewes, however, but it would be a nice bonus. I should probably use a clean up ram, but that just extends the lambing season, and I really can’t do that.

His six month micron test was: AFD: 21.7 SD: 3.9 CV: 17.9 CEM: 7.3 CF: 98.1% SF: 20.6 CRV: 71.9. Those are pretty good numbers to go along with my overall assessment of him. His fleece also has fantastic density and uniformity to go along with luster. He's one of the better ram lambs we've had born here, and certainly the finest.
I just figured I needed to try him out and see how we do. If he does breed these ewes, I have a high level of confidence in the quality of the lambs. His ewes are:
Sommarang Ilke
We’ll see how this goes. I think my gamble here speaks to the confidence I have in the other groups I’ve set up. This one is a bonus.
Speaking of bonus, here's a few of his lamb pictures. I think Corinne did this last year, and I thought it was cool to show how the lambs have matured.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Whispering Pines Kahlua

Well, it took some time, but we are at lucky 19 in our ewe flock. This was our first lamb born this year, and the last one I'm blogging about during our annual tour of the flock.

Kahlua is out of Wintertime Grasshopper and Winter Sky Vogue. Both of the parents are fine, and I am particularly fond of Vogue. She just has a look about her that I like. She's of average size for the breed (I would say 75-80 pounds). This lamb is moorit, but a bit lighter than say Coloma or Kahlua. She's not modified though. She does carry spots (for what that's worth) and is super fine (at least I would say she is without having micron reports to prove it). She is one of those lambs who will need some time to develop. She looks different than all of our other lambs in both type and fleece, so we'll see how she turns out. If you see her from a distance, you'd say she has a primitive fleece because it appears longer and open. But it's really not that way at all once you take a closer look. It's actually one of our finer fleeces from this year's crop. It's just a different type. The old notion that there were somehow three distinct fleece types with Shetlands just isn't so. Even within single-coated Shetlands, there are very different types. This is an example of one of them.

To be honest, I could care less about the types as long as they are consistent from front-to-back and don't have excessive tip. Tip is indicative of guard hairs (which are longer and coarser than the other fibers). Guard hairs ruin an otherwise fine Shetland fleece.

I have heard it said that some spinners like the long, straight fleeces. To that I say, to each his/her own. In talking with spinners, I think the long straight fibers are easier to spin. But if you want to make products that are itch-free and elastic, those Shetland fleeces aren't going to get the job done. At any rate, we have all single-coated Shetlands here at Whispering Pines. We've experimented with different types, and we arrived here after many years of disappointments with fleeces. We even purchased fleeces from other people just to see if we could find some fine, double-coated fiber. I had heard good things about them, but I tend to require data and evidence before I climb on board the band wagon. Some of the double-coated fleeces are soft and silky, but unless you are going to separate the two coats (which can be quite difficult to do), you can forget about calling roving or yarn from such fleeces "fine". The average might be fine, but there is so much variation within the fleece that you will have a large percentage over 30 microns, which is the absolute upper threshold for scratchiness. Most people prefer fiber that is finer than that.

Bottom line, this lamb is not typical for our flock, but she is very fine and consistent. In fact, I like the idea that she might have a 4" plus fleece that is crimpy, fine, and consistent. That's all I really ask for in our flock. I like density too, but we require fine, crimpy, and consistent.

This is a nice Shetland lamb. She isn't the last one I'm blogging about for any particular reason. Someone had to run the anchor leg. Another thing I like about her (and really all of the lambs) is that I like the pedigree. Having experimented with so many Shetland bloodlines, we have determined that some produce well pretty often, and some just don't. A lot of that has to do with several generations of good and bad breeding. This isn't a breed that is going to kick out lambs of predictable quality year in and year out, but if you go after the right bloodlines, your chances are much higher.

I hope everyone has enjoyed our little flock tour this year. I wish more people would do this, because, quite frankly, I enjoy seeing what other people have and why they like them. It's not a judgmental thing; it's just easier than traveling around visiting different flocks. I would rather visit flocks in person, but it's not very practical. Oddly enough, I learned things about our flock by doing this series of posts. Writing for me is sort of relaxing, but it forces a harder evaluation of our flock. I don't like to say things that aren't true. If I say something about one of our sheep, you can be sure I really believe it, and I can tie the statement back to the Shetland standard. As I've said before, there is a substantial lack of knowledge in this country about the Shetland breed. As a person who believes in maintaining the breed the way they are in the UK, I hope that people see this and a light goes on. We had a Jamieson and Smith customer approach us at one fiber event this past fall, and they were shocked that you could buy something similar in the US. She wasn't looking for lace weight (which we did have), but something else that escapes me at the moment.

We're just plugging along trying to do our part in showing fiber and sheep people that this breed is useful as a production animal, not just as a pet (although they surely make nice pets as well). We have bags of britch wool and skirtings that people buy for knitting because it's better than some of the stuff they usually encounter. Not everyone needs or wants to pay $2 an ounce for raw Shetland fiber. And we don't charge that for everything either. In fact, we sell more of the fine or good shetland fiber than we do the super fine stuff.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. That's the ewe flock heading into the winter. Some will be bred and some won't be. But that's a topic for another time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Whispering Pines Anisetta

Okay, just a few more lambs to write about, and then it’s off to other educational topics that have been creeping and crawling around inside my head (along with the voices…and bats).

This ewe lamb is another Khan daughter out of Sommarang Isla (a ewe that I’ve already blogged about. I don’t always breed ewe lambs, but reluctantly did put Isla in a group last fall. This lamb validated that decision for us. She has that deep rich moorit color that I mentioned the other day, and overall, looks very similar to Coloma (Itasca’s daughter). I have a tough time telling them a part, quite frankly. They have similar fleeces and overall type.

This isn't a great picture of her, but she is in the lamb pasture, and not in a breeding group, and it's tough to get close ups of the lambs.
She is fine boned, crimpy, and fine, and just exhibits the type that I like.

Next year, I will probably have to make some tough choices with some of the yearlings because I do truly like all of them. Yes, I like some better than others, but I think all of them have great potential. In some ways, it comes down to colors, patterns, and markings. It’s kind of like collecting baseball cards. How many Reggie Jacksons to you really need? But Izarra is pretty nice, and likely better than some of the other ewe lambs that I like a lot. The good news is that if I end up selling some of these lambs, someone is going to get nice sheep, which is what we have been shooting for in the first place. My philosophy has always been to keep only those Shetlands that move us closer to our goals so we can keep our flock small. That philosophy is going to help other people improve their flocks, and the breed overall. If I keep all of them, I’m not really doing anything positive for the breed. I don’t know if all of that is true, but it helps me part with sheep that I want to keep.
I don’t know if Izarra will be a keeper or not, but that’s my plan right now. Over the years, we have brought in sheep for a specific purpose, and that was to inch us closer to our goals. Some pay dividends, and some don’t. And some do pay dividends to other people at some point. That’s part of the hobby.

Whispering Pines Izarra

This moorit ewe is out of Wintertime Khan and Sommarang Idelle. I like this lamb for several reasons, one of them being the cool striping on her back legs. Her mother was a fawn katmoget, but almost all white. As a result, I expect this ewe to have some pretty flashy lambs down the road.

This is another lamb who isn't as fine as her parents, but has the bloodline that could potentially pay off down the road. I toyed with the idea of selling her at one point, but had second thoughts. After much debate, I felt her genetics were worth holding onto. She has a nice fleece as well, and we just haven't had a lot of nice moorit fleeces in our flock. Nice tail, straight legs, fine fleece, etc. I feel bad about the ewes that are at the backend of these posts because I have run out of new things to say that I haven't already written.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Whispering Pines Amaretto

I think I covered all of the adult ewes, so back to the lambs.

This ewe lamb is out of Winter Sky Khan and Whispering Pines Blue Diamond.

As you can see, she resembles her mother in body type. I don't like here fleece as much as her mother's, but it is quite nice. It's a rich dark moorit, which is a must have for any flock. The variety in colors is also very nice, but you almost have to have at least one dark moorit.

I've always felt that it's easier to improve fleeces than conformations, so I think this ewe has a lot of potential. I don't think she is going to be super fine, but both of her parents are. I think that bodes well for her lambs down the road to have such a fine pedigree. Her grandfather is Black Forrest, and her grandmother is Constantinople. Her other grandfather is Wintertime Blues. Her great grandfather is Todhill Jericho. If you follow Shetland bloodlines like I do, that's like being related to Wayne Gretzky, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Mia Hamm. Ultimately, it only matters how good she is, but I'm pretty happy with her quality as well. I think she's one of our better lambs; not the finest, but overall, one of the best this year.

As an aside, I am somewhat surprised at the growth rate of this year's lambs. All were 60 pounds or greater as of November 1st. Given the drought, and the fact that we bred for later lambs than we ever have, I would not have expected that. We have not seen that before. We've been lucky to have one or two that large in the past. I did extend the graining period this year (because of the drought), so it's probably not that much of a mystery is it? We'll no doubt pay for that when we micron fleeces next spring. If the lambs grew that well, and the adults are all well-conditioned, you know the fleeces are going to micron higher as well, right? Still trying to find the right balance with all of the variables.

For comparison, our average lamb weights in the past were somewhere between 45 and 50 pounds in about the same timeframe (about six months). I did an experiment many years ago where I took twins and grained one, but not the other, and that difference in weight was pretty dramatic with the same grain and rations that I used this year (about 1/2 cup per sheep). It doesn't seem like much, but it clearly impacts growth. I did the same thing last fall with the adults in an attempt at increasing the twinning rate, and it accomplished the opposite. All of the ewes seemed in good condition, but we still had a lot of singles (even out of the ewes that normally twin). On the flip side, we did have a lot of ewe lambs, so that made up for it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Whispering Pines Kiyah

This Egyptian King daughter out of Blue Diamond built very well, and ranks high in our rating system for Shetlands.

Kiyah has a very fine and dense fleece with the type of crimp that we like so well. I don’t care for the larger crimp and don’t breed for that. There’s nothing wrong with larger crimp at all, but the smaller crimp give you the ability to build elasticity into your products. Over time, I would expect to have our flock fairly evenly split in terms of crimp style as long as they are all fine or super fine. Overall, this is probably one of our nicest ewes and we’ve been waiting to see what our Egyptian King offspring will produce. It’s another great bloodline that goes back to Wintertime Bond, Todhill Jericho, and Sheltering Pines Salicional. That’s about as good as it gets for bloodlines in a Shetland.

I think Kiyah is a pretty good example of the type of improvement that is possible with the breed. Constantinople is a little taller than we like (not excessively tall, but on a relative scale), and Egyptian King is on the stocky side. I actually like his build, because he has a wider stance than some of our other rams, and he is also smaller. Plus, he added some of those traits in his lamb. Plus, he has a gorgeous head. Now that I am saying all of this, I'm wondering why I've never bred him to Constantinople. Hmmm...anyway, I bred her daughter, Blue Diamond, to him, and I liked the results. Maybe next year. My point was, that in two generations, we have a ewe with a lot of the traits that Constantinople has (length of body, proportions), and added his fleece (dense, uniform, crimpy, and fine). I actually like Blue Diamond's fleece better, because it has better overall type, but I don't think I've ever seen (and I know we've never had) a Shetland with a CRV of 107.1. I checked past micron results, and even Bond wasn't that crimpy. His CRV was 84.7, which I thought was pretty incredible at the time.

Having said all of that, there are things I want to improve with this ewe, so we'll have to see how that goes. I always say that balance is what we are after, and super fine is desirable, but so is crimp, luster, length, and lock structure. For comparision purposes, Genoa (in my opinion), has a nicer fleece than Kiyah, but her CRV is only 77.0. And yet, Genoa is a micron finer than Kiyah at the same age. What I have concluded from all of that is that I prefer my yearlings to be in the 21-24 micron range because those have been our nicest fleeces. We have also had some really nice yearling fleeces higher than that, however. It seems like 22-23 microns is the sweetspot in terms of balance. Of course, all of that depends on what you like in your fleeces, I suppose.

Also, the ewe lamb behind Kiyah is Constantinople's from this year. You have a granddaughter and daughter in the same picture. They have very different fleeces, but they share her topline and other characteristics that I like (as shown below). Also, both ewes have less britch than Constantinople has (although she doesn't really have that much in the whole scheme of things, just a little more than most of our sheep). What that equates to is higher yield (which is why we are able to charge so much for our fleeces).

Behind Constantinople are Blue Diamond (her daughter from two years ago), and Irish Rose (her daughter from last year). Yes, we probably have two many Constantinople offspring, but I like them, what can I say?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sommarang Ilke

Okay, I got out this morning and got some more pictures, so let's go back to our adults again and take a quick break from the lambs.

Sommarang Ilke is another ewe that we brought in last year and she is Isla’s half-sister (same father - Avyt). She is smaller than Isla, but I like her fleece even better. Her yearling micron test was nearly identical to Isla’s, but I definitely like her fleece better.
How fine is she? Her yearling micron test had an avg fiber diameter of 22.3. I'm not sure how much it will increase this year, but it still feels super fine to me. Her CEM is 9.7, which is higher than I prefer, but indicative of a single coated fleece, nontheless. Her CV is 22%, which is also higher than I like, but still in the range that I find acceptable. Her CRV is 72.2, which is also very good. The CRV is a measure of the amount of crimp present. We have smaller and tighter crimp than this in our flock, but this is still an excellent number. Compare that number to Kiyah for contrast. Kiyah is off the charts.
It’s nice having moorits in the flock again, but it’s especially gratifying to have Shetlands like this. They aren’t a dime a dozen; trust me on that.