Saturday, September 21, 2013

2013 Fiber Festival Season

It’s fiber festival and the time when we get a lot of questions about our fiber and Shetlands. I thought I would take some time to answer a few questions ahead of time so I don’t screw up the answer in person like I usually do.

Q: Why is your Shetland fiber so much better than much of what is on the market?

A: It comes down to bloodlines, and proper selection. I have been trained by UK folks as a Shetland Sheep inspector and I have learned a bit about what the folks in the homeland consider to be proper Shetland. More importantly, we select against that criteria. We look at all of the proper fleece characteristics; not just one or two. Fiber fineness is just one attribute that is important. Shetlands are not a commercial breed and have to be evaluated against different criteria. In short, if you have the correct standard, are trained to that standard, and properly select against that standard, you end up with very correct Shetland fleeces that would be recognizable in the UK where the breed originated. Then it’s a matter of trial and error with bloodlines to determine which ones produce those characteristics (most of them don’t).

Q: How important is nutrition to fleece quality?

A: It’s important, but not nearly as important as bloodlines and proper selection. You can add two to three microns to a Shetland’s fleece through heavy graining, and you can subtract more than that by not feeding them properly, but crimp, silkiness, consistency, and proper lock structure are all inherent in the design of the animal. Good fleeces are the result of breeding. Long fleeces are not the result of overfeeding any more than short ones are the result of underfeeding.

Q: How important are micron tests?

A: Micron tests are one tool that we use to evaluate fleeces, but arguably the least important. One of the reasons for that is that nutrition can and does influence the results. I’ve experimented with that and I can say that with complete certainty. But, for the average, properly fed flock, they are an important tool. When you start comparing between flocks; that’s when things get misleading. That’s why I never  buy sheep based on micron results. I can tell certain things about a fleece just by looking at it, and I can tell even more by feeling it. More importantly, good customers usually pick out our best fleeces pretty consistently, and those fleeces aren’t always our finest.

Q: You have a weird fleece grading system, can you explain it?

A: We use the grading chart that we created in the Fine Fleece Shetland Fleece Association, which is an adaptation of the one Jamieson and Smith uses in the UK. The main difference is that we incorporated micron values into our grading system, which  J & S does not do. We did that because J & S has one guy who grades the entire Shetland wool clip, whereas, we have no similar method in North America. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we can do without having one experienced, central figure doing the grading.

Q: Can you explain what Superfine means? Merino’s are finer than Shetland, and yet you are using the term superfine, which is somewhat misleading.

A: Superfine is a term used by Jamieson and Smith to describe the finest of Shetland fleeces. It is their top grade. We adopted that terminology for our flock so that people could compare our fleeces in a manner similar to what J & S uses. The FFSSA currently defines Superfine as less than 25 microns, but with low variability. That means very little tip and minimal guard hair. We didn’t invent the grading system we use; it’s the same methodology that J & S uses in the UK with the addition of micron values. There’s no real way to use an identical system, but the spirit is there. As an example, if we have a 24.5 micron fleece but it is more intermediate because it has noticeable guard hair (meaning the CV will be higher), it doesn’t get the superfine grade even though the average would qualify. It’s a holistic approach to fleece grading, and not as easy as just looking at the average micron, but it’s more effective and more useful to the end user. 

Fine is the next grade, and that works the same way except that the average micron values are higher (but still less than 30 microns). 

In short, superfine is a Jamieson and Smith convention that we are using because we think it captures the correct qualities of a Shetland fleece. A merino is a commercial animal, which requires a commercial standard. I know it’s confusing, but we are trying to align the Shetland breed with the terminology that made them famous in their native land. They were known as the finest of the British breed as far back as the 18th century (before there were Merino’s in the UK), and we are trying to maintain the historical terminology as much as possible. The term Superfine means the finest that was available at that time in history.  Shetlands aren’t the finest available today, but the other fleece properties are still there, and in the interest of historical accuracy, we are maintaining the same phrasing.

Q: None of your fleeces are double coated. Why is that?

A: We have tried many bloodlines and fleece types, but both our experience and literature suggest that the best Shetland fleeces tend toward the kindly type. You do not see the long, flowing double coated fleeces in the UK like you do here. That’s an Americanization of the original breed. You might see some level of double coating over there, but certainly not the extremes we see here. And the reason for that is that it doesn’t meet the historical breed standard. It’s okay if people breed for double coating, but those animals aren’t superfine. The inner coat might be, but that’s only part of the equation. Unless you are separating the coats and marketing them separately, you have no business slapping that kind of label on them. Those sheep have superfine inner coats combined with coarse and longer outer coats. That would be like mixing gourmet coffee with cheap swill out of the vending machine and calling it gourmet. Can a double coated fleece still be called “fine?” Yes. It all depends on how severe the condition is. We have ways of determining that. Can a double coated Shetland also be called “superfine?” The simple answer is yes, but with a similar caveat.

Q: I’ve seen Shetland fleeces that were low in micron, and silky soft, but that were fairly long. How can that be?

A: Soft can be a function of silky, which is completely different than fine. But a fleece like you are describing can also be quite fine. Be that as it may, it is longer because of the guard hair, which is not fine (technically, it could be less than 30 microns, but typically isn’t). You might prefer that type of fleece, and I would not try and talk you out of it. Those fleeces are often great for spinners because of the length and silkiness, but don’t be fooled into thinking you have something that is “next to skin” capable. Those long guard hairs will be prickly, regardless of their silkiness (which is a function of how the fiber’s scales overlap

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ram Lambs For Sale 2013

Where does the time go? I remember sending out our sales list earlier this year and promising to follow up shortly with the ram list. Well, it’s shortly now.

We did something different this year with our rams. I don’t think Shetlands really begin to show themselves until late August/early September, so we waited this year to see exactly what we had before we sent out a list. The advantage to doing that is that we know exactly what we are offering people. There shouldn’t be any surprises. On the flip side, it’s a bit late in the year to offer sheep for sale.

That’s okay, because we never plan on selling many rams, and I’d rather be certain of the quality before they leave here.

Rather than bore everyone with talk of bloodlines and stuff, I’ll just say that all of the bloodlines are top notch and I’ll be happy to break that down to anyone who asks. As you can see, however, all are superior quality Shetland rams and if I had to go out on a limb, I would say that all will be super fine as yearlings.

The other thing I can say is that the fleeces are exquisite on all of them! That’s right, even the black one. It’s hard to find super fine black rams, but I think he will be one. He has gotten better throughout the summer. You sink your hands into these fleeces and you don’t want to take them out. These are easily the best rams we have ever produced as a group, and I do think several will be the absolute best we have had here. I think each one will add something special to the gene pool in the US or we wouldn’t be offering them for sale.

Call or email us if you have any questions or interest. Most, but not all, will be for sale.



Sunday, June 30, 2013

Whispering Pines 2013 Sales List

This was a particularly tough list to put together this year because all of the ewes in our flock (and very nearly all of the rams) would fit into our breeding program going forward. I suppose that’s a good problem to have, but as we put this list together, we came up with good reasons to keep everyone. But, since that isn’t possible, here is what we have to offer this year so far. We will be doing a separate ram list once we sort that out (which will be this week). We’ll probably pick three or four rams that we think will add something significant to a fine fleece flock, and we’ll probably limit the sale of them to flocks interested in improving their flocks (genotypically and phenotypically).

The ewes are out of three rams: Winter Sky Khan, Barenfang, and First of Fifth Avyt. Avyt is one of the nicer horned Shetland rams that I have seen, and Khan is one of the nicer polled rams I have come across. As a point of reference, Khan’s three-year old micron average was 22.5 and his spinning fineness is 21.7, which probably makes him the finest Shetland ram in North America for his age. I don’t have micron data on Avyt, but these ewes are out of the finest Shetland genetics in the U.S.

The first ewe is Sommarang Isla, a two-year old ewe with an outstanding conformation and fleece. Her mother was Sommarang Ginger, and her father was Firth of Fifth Avyt, who is one of the nicer Shetland rams I have seen during my travels. As you can see here, here twin ewe lambs are pretty outstanding, so she should produce exceptionally well in the future. It’s hard to sell ewes this good, but you can’t continue keeping mothers and their twins if you want to keep the old flock size down to a manageable number. That’s the only reason she is for sale. This is a rare opportunity to obtain these genetics. I don’t have much to criticize about this ewe.

Sommarang Ilke is another super fine ewe that we brought in from Wisconsin in 2011. Her father is also First of Fifth Avyt, which is why I brought both of these ewes back with me. I liked that ram a great deal, and wanted those genetics in our program. Ilke is denser and a little crimpier than her half-sister Isla. She is also smaller, which some people will like and some will hate. It would be nice to hold onto some of these genetics a year or two longer, but we can’t really do that. She is two years old. Beautiful head on this girl as well, in my opinion.

The only ewe lamb we are selling this year is this one out of Barenfang and Ilke. We like her and the fact that both of her parents are super fine, but at the end of the day, we have too many ewe lambs we are trying to keep. I think she will produce well, but since we aren’t breeding ewe lambs this year, it doesn’t make sense to keep all that we are planning to keep. This lamb is also the darkest chocolate lamb we had this year. She almost looked black for the longest time. I say this about a lot of our sheep, but the genetics are outstanding here going back several generations.


Anisetta is one of the few khan lambs we are selling. She is a 2012 lamb out of Isla and has a lot of promise. She wasn’t bred this year, but she will produce for people when bred to the right rams. This is another ewe that we would like to keep. If I were to offer up a criticism of her, it would be that her fleece isn’t as crimpy as we prefer. But it is fine, and it is crimpy. The staple length is about four inches.

Izarra is the last Khan lamb we are selling this year. She is a yearling out of Sommarang Idelle. We like this ewe and she will offer a lot to a fine fleece breeding program. Her fleece is nice, with maybe a 4.5” staple length, with nice crimp. We bred her to Barenfang this year, and she had a very nicely built ram lamb, with a very uniform fleece from front-to-back. So, I would expect her to produce well in the future with the right ram.

The other thing Izarra offers that the other ewes on this list do not is spotting. I no longer value spotted Shetlands like I once did, but if you are into nicely conformed, fine, spotted Shetlands, I think this ewe can offer you a lot.

So, there it is. We decided to really do a hard look this year to be sure our list was correct, and although you can never say that for sure, we think the ones we are keeping will move us toward our goals, and we think the ones on this list will do the same for other folks looking to improve their breeding programs. If you have any questions, by all means, email us or call us. We'll be happy to discuss the attributes of each sheep on the list. These ewes are the result of careful breeding and selection, and we think they are some of the best we have ever offered. Our sales list is always small, but we think what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality.

We will offer a group discount depending on the number of sheep involved.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lambing Conclusion 2013

I haven't been on top of our lamb posts this spring, so I will try to bring things up-to-date in one fell swoop.

Izarra had a pretty fantastic ram lamb out of Barenfang and he illustrates the potential that I saw in Barenfang when we threw some ewes in with him last fall. Izarra is a Khan daughter, and Barenfang is a Khan son. This is a closer line breeding than I normally do, but there were some things I was looking to combine with this pairing, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

On a related note, I got my ram micron tests back today and Khan came back at 22.5 microns as a three year old, which I thought was quite impressive. His spinning fineness was 21.9 microns.

Barenfang's numbers were excellent as well. His yearling test was 21.5 on average, with a 20.7 spinning fineness. If I had to pick between the two, I would go with Barenfang simply because his fleece has the full range of characteristics that I am looking for. But they are both excellent polled rams. Anyway, I like Izarra's ram lamb, to make a long story short (after I've already made it long).

Frangelico, another Khan daughter also came through with an excellent fawn katmoget ram out of Pompey. We ended up with 10 ram lambs this year, and nine ewe lambs, and this ram is at the top of the list. I said before how I liked how the Khan and Pompey lines have worked together, and this one is a good example of it. I'll have to get better pictures once the lambs mature more, but this was the best I could do with the time I had tonight.

Itasca is a ewe who always produces well, and we always look forward to her lambs because of it. This year we bred her to Pompey for the first time, and she produced this beautiful fawn katmoget, who has earned a spot in our top five ewe lamb list this year. She is what I was looking for when I cooked up this pairing last spring. It took me a while to get around to it, but once I did, it paid off.

And finally, Pearl produced an excellent fawn katmoget ram lamb out of Khan. This is Pearl's first lamb even though she is three. She is a very refined ewe, so we waited a year to breed her and for a variety of reasons, she didn't get bred last year either. But the wait was worth it, because I see this ram as a future flock sire. It's hard to really predict how a lamb will turn out, but I like what I see in this one. Time will tell whether he has his mother's density, but both of his parents are superfine.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Whispering Pines Blue Diamond x Pompey Magnus

Blue Diamond is one of our two Blue's Clues daughters, and also one of our better Constantinople daughters. Constantinople always throws really nice lambs, but Diamond's fleece is the tops. We felt like there was a good chance of getting really nice lambs from this breeding and we were not disappointed.

The grey ram is a really nice katmoget, with just about everything you could want in a ram lamb. The moorit is also extremely nice and is most likely polled. This is about as good as we could've hoped for, even though I don't typically get excited about rams. The truth is, however, we wanted a couple of nice ram lambs this year either out of Constantinople or one of her daughters. We have several to choose from. This breeding combined some of my favorite bloodlines.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sommarang Isla x Pompey Magnus

Isla is a super fine ewe that we brought in from Wisconsin in 2011 and I was very interested in breeding her to Pompey, so that's what we did last fall. I liked her ewe lamb last spring out of Khan and could have gone that way again, but I had reasons for going the way I did.

The result was two very dark fawn katmoget ewe lambs. One is bigger than the other, but otherwise, they are pretty identical. They both look pretty sharp with very soft and fine fleeces.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sommarang Ilke x Whispering Pines Barenfang

Ilke is one of our two Wisconsin ewes that we brought in back in 2011. The goal at that time was to infuse some additional top notch genetics into our flock (she is out of Firth of Fifth Avyt) as well as some much needed moorit. It's impossible to find super fine Shetlands out east, and I felt Ilke would move us toward our goals.

I bred her to Barenfang because I felt they both had very dense, super fine fleeces, and sometimes you just go with a hunch.

This little moorit lamb is the result and I really think she is built really well, and the fleece has potential as well. But, to be honest, I'm just happy to have a nice lamb out of Barenfang, who is a Khan son. If we elect to keep her, I think she adds a nice combination of genetics to go with what will be a dense fleece.

The other day I mentioned Genoa's ram, and finally got around to photographing him. He is out of Winter Sky Khan.


 You can see how his color and markings are identical to Genoa's.

I also included additional pictures of his moorit sister, shown here next to Blue Diamond's yearling daughter from last spring. Lots of rooing.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Whispering Pines Blue Sapphire x Pompey Magnus

Lambing slowly plods along here at Whispering Pines, but so far, the wait has been worth it.

Whispering Pines Blue Sapphire lambed and had two really nice lambs (one male and one female). As you can see, we finally got our coveted black lamb, although, we would have preferred a ewe in black. I’m just saying. This ram is very silky and soft, and has what is known as a dog coat. He has a nice structure and will most likely be a half-poll.

The ewe lamb is a fawn katmoget that is also silky and soft. We don’t typically decide on sale animals until all of the lambs are born and have had time to mature some, but I would be surprised if this lamb was on that list. I personally think her fleece will be very similar to her mothers, but one can’t know that for sure. But the fact that that’s even a possibility is quite exciting! It’s been very difficult producing my vision of the perfect Shetland fleece, so it’s always fun to see that potential in some of the lambs. And I also like that we are getting a fair amount of diversity in fleece type this year. I’ve always said that there are many types of Shetland fleeces within an acceptable range.

I've also always said that collecting the best bloodlines would be a strategy that would be the correct path forward if I could use them correctly (something I'm still working on), and it's rewarding to see some measure of success with that approach. It's not going to pay off with every lamb, but soon or later, proper selection is going to increase our success rate.

The next struggle is balancing selection so that we maintain the correct combination of all Shetland attributes, while maintaining a manageable flock size. In fact, if lambing ended today, I would be happy to switch our focus to the insanely tough choices we will have to make with our flock this year. I suppose we'll find a way, but it's never been this tough before.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Whispering Pines Genoa x Winter Sky Khan

I blogged about Siena and Kiyah recently, and readers will recognize Whispering Pines Genoa (Pompey Mangus x Shiobhan) as another of our top ewes. In fact, she is my top ewe in the flock. That’s a matter of taste because none of them are perfect, and they aren’t all strong in the same areas. Genoa is the result of some AI we did several years back. Her mother was Whispering Pines Shiobhan, an F1 Orion. When we bred Shiobhan to Pompey, we were looking for several things (we’re never looking for just one thing). We were looking for fineness of fleece (Pompey was one of the finest Shetlands in the country), and moorit. Well, we got fineness and type in spades, but Genoa is not brown-based.

Genoa was also my hardest breeding decision last fall. I ended up putting her with Winter Sky Khan because he was my best option really. Genoa is Pompey’s daughter, and Barenfang is a Pompey grandson. Ultimately, I think I made the right decision. Khan is a super fine three-year old ram, and in the grand scheme of our breeding program, not only our best option for Genoa, but really the only one.

I wasn't able to get a picture of the ram lamb, but I will soon. What I can say is that he looks very much like Genoa did at birth. Same color and fleece type. He is pretty much a copy of her at the same age. What I am hoping for is the same fleece. Genoa’s fleece is stunning in both color and handle. I see a lot of potential in this ram. I am hoping to get some updated pictures tomorrow since the weather looks like it may break for at least one day.

This moorit ewe is a stunner as well. It took two generations, but we did finally get moorit from Shiobhan’s genetics. I look forward to seeing her mature. We started out with a white ewe lamb who was dominant for black, ended up a dark blue katmoget (Genoa) and then this little moorit, who is in contention for my favorite lamb so far this year.

I also look forward to getting better pictures.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Whispering Pines Kiyah x Sheltering Pines Pompey Magnus

Whispering Pines Kiyah is out of Blue Diamond and Egyptian King, which means she is a second generation Whispering Pines sheep. We have always resisted the temptation to simply load up our flock with Whispering Pines offspring unless they fit a genetic purpose. There are so many things we look for before we elect to keep a lamb for future use. Kiyah is one of those sheep that we saw genetic potential in. Actually, she is built as solidly as any Shetlands we have owned, and has the crimpiest fleece in our flock (her CRV as a yearling was 107). She is also fine and extremely uniform from front-to-back. In short, she has a lot of things that we value.

We bred her to Pompey, not because Khan would’ve been a bad choice, but because I liked the line breeding potential here. Blue Diamond is Kiyah’s mother, and Wintertime Bond (Pompey’s grandson). That makes Kiyah a Bond grandson, and a Constantinople granddaughter. This is not a heavy line breeding, but it does bring together a lot of valuable genetics.

This ram lamb is a fawn katmoget with a lot of potential. There is very little I don’t like about this guy at this young age. He should be polled.

His sister sets the bar much higher, however. This is one beautiful ewe lamb, and I’ll resist the usual hyperbole and leave it at that. We’ve had several ewe lambs born here that I would put on our wall of fame, and this is one of them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Whispering Pines Siena x Winter Sky Khan

As readers of this blog know, Whispering Pines Siena is one of our best ewes (she is a Pompey Magnus daughter out of Cor de Nuit). She has a dense, crimpy, and fine fleece with an excellent conformation. Last year, we got a ram out of her when bred to Winter Sky Khan that we felt was as good as his mother in most ways. Barenfang then became sort of our gold standard for how we want our lambs to look. We liked him so much that we gave him a few ewes to see if he could produce that type, and we also repeated the Khan Siena breeding.

This moorit ewe lamb is the result of that breeding and I like her a great deal. Again, this is a very young lamb (the pictures were taken the same day as the photos of Constantinople’s rams and they are the same age).