Friday, November 27, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines 99

Here is a super fine spotted ewe out of Egyptian Autumn and Irish Rose. We call her 99, after the Toto song of the same name. All of our ewes from last year were named after songs about girls. Her fleece stats are: 23.7/4.2/17.9/7.6/22.5.
I don’t know if her two year old fleece will come in under 25 microns, but I really want to see what kind of lambs she will produce. She is the only lamb we got out of her mother, who was a Bond daughter. I like her though. I think her yearling fleece stacks up nicely to our other yearling ewes. More importantly, perhaps, I love her straight topline and overall build.
Her lamb picture:


Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Sarah

Sarah is out of Stonehenge and Kiyah, so we have another combination of Jericho and Bond Genetics in this ewe along with Orion. That’s a pretty nice trifecta of bloodlines. Kiyah was out of Blue Diamond, who was out of Blue’s Clues, who was out of Blues, who was a Jericho son. That’s a long walk to get to Jericho, but it’s worth the journey. Stonehenge is out of Genoa, who is out of Shiobhan, who is out of Orion. A little shorter stroll. Her fleece stats are: 21.7/4/18.2/7.2/20.7.
She has a little more britch than I like, but that's okay as long as the fleece doesn't start out fine in the shoulders and then gradually fall apart the further back you get. Hers doesn't do that. It's pretty uniform right back to the hips. I still don't like it, but I don't consider it to be a severe flaw, and in her case, it's about the only one she has.

Her fleece is right there with Kelly Kelly’s in terms of quality, which finally convinced me that Stonehenge was producing exceptionally well given the small number of ewes he was bred to that year. We ended up keeping four ewes from him, and if I remember correctly, he only had four of them.
I have to include her lamb picture because she was one of the cooler lambs we've had:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Sherrie

Sherrie is another Stonehenge daughter that we are high on. Her mother is Blue Sapphire. Her fleece stats are: 22.9/4/17.3/7/21.6.
I think when you get your standard deviations down to 4.0, you are doing well. As with most of our fawn katmogets, I wish she was a different color, but when you get superb fleeces like this, you have to be happy regardless.
As with all of our sheep, however, I tend to get most excited about their genetics and what they might produce. Our yearlings just have several generations of fleeces that we really like. That increases the odds of getting really nice sheep. Having spent years breeding decent fleeces out of average or below average fleeces, I eventually came to realize that throwbacks are common place with Shetlands. The odds are much improved when you have three generations of genetics in a sheep's pedigree that meet our standards. That way, even if they throw back, it's to something really nice. Five generations would be better, but I don't think we have anything like that yet.
Here is her lamb picture:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Mustang Sally



Mustang Sally is another yearling moorit that we like a great deal. She is out of Khan and Siena. Her fleece results are: 23.1/4.6/19.9/7.8/22.3.
We like the super fine moorit fleeces, if for no other reason than how rare they are on our farm. I wouldn’t call her an improvement on her mother, but she is finer at this age. She is one of two Khan daughters that we still own. We do still have many of his grandkids, but we did have to move out some of his kids to make room for them.
I also thought she was a pretty nice lamb as this picture shows:

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Pamela

Pamela is out of Egyptian Autumn and Frangelico, who are excellent Shetlands in their own right. Pamela is finer than both of them were as yearlings, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign.

Her fleece stats are: 22.7/4.3/18.9/7.1/21.7. Frangelico was probably my favorite Khan daughter (or top three anyway). Having lambs like this, unfortunately, forced us to sell her to make room. It's a curse sometimes to have improved lambs, because at some point, you have to part with animals that produce really well. In Frangelico's case, all her lambs were outstanding. It's always a tough call to make, but you can't continue improving if you hold onto all the good ewes. You have to sell them knowing full well that their offspring carry even more potential. I don't think I've ever regretted selling a ewe, but Frangelico and her twin sister, Irish Mist were tough ones to let go.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Rosanna

The yearling ewes are all extremely nice and they are out of three different rams, which is nice. It's always exciting to combine different ram and ewe genetics in a way that I think gives us the best odds of getting even better lambs. These yearlings are out of the best rams we have ever used in Canterbury, Stonehenge, and Khan. You aren't going to get much better than that. Which is why it shouldn't surprise me when most of the lambs are not better than those rams. Still, we know the ewes have a lot of genetic potential and sometimes we are able to get those rare lambs that are better than both parents. Not often,  but it happens. It's rare because very often you are combing animals that have one or more weaknesses and you are trying to get the best features of each parent without the negatives. That's exceedingly difficult to achieve. But it's fun to try and very rewarding when it happens. And sometimes you get something different, that you don't quite know how to characterize. Is he/she better or just different? It can take time to tell. Rosanna is such a ewe.

Rosanna is a grey katmoget ewe out of Itasca and Stonehenge. She has a gorgeous grey fleece with nice length and is pretty fine for a yearling. Stonehenge is Genoa's son from two year's ago out of Khan. His fleece is different, but I was always struck by its incredible handle. Just really soft and silky. It's not a lock structure that I am excited about, but the fleece itself stands out to me in a good way, so that's the important thing. It's very dreadlocky, which doesn't mean much other than it's not my favorite type. I have found this type of fleece in a number of Black Forrest offspring and it's become an almost signature trait of his. We don't see it in any other bloodline. It's not a bad thing by any stretch, but it is different. I kind of like a little bit of different once in a while.

I'll do a post on him shortly, but the key takeaway here is that we ended up keeping all of his ewe lambs. I didn't even realize it until the decisions were made and I looked at the pedigrees. We did not use him last year, but will this fall at least on a few ewes.

Rosanna's fleece stats are: 23/4.6/19.8/8/22.2.

I don’t have much experience with this type of fleece, but if you look at the numbers, they are right in line with what we are after in a yearling fleece. I like to see them less than 22, but this is in the ballpark. If I were a betting man, I would say that the two year old fleece will not be under 25 microns like we like, but the SF might be (which is really what I want anyway). I just think this is a beautiful grey fleece. I was excited to sell her fleece to a very knowledgeable fleece person this fall who spent time at Shetland wool week a few years back in Shetland. She told some neat stories and seemed to really like our fleeces.
I am looking forward to what Rosanna can produce with the right ram. She is one of four Stonehenge daughters we will be using this fall and I truly don't know what to expect in the lambs.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Treviso

Treviso is another two year old Pompey daughter out of Itasca. She doesn’t have the prettiest Shetland head but the rest of her is out of this world. If I could only retain one two year old ewe, Treviso would be the one. She is definitely my favorite!
Her fleece is very light tan, almost white and it is so very soft. Her fleece stats are: 24.6/4.8/19.7/7.4/23.7.
Here is another example of how the stats can be misleading because when you put her yarn next to Turin’s there is a night and day difference. I can’t exactly pinpoint why since both are super fine, but I think it is because Treviso is more uniform from front-to-back. Whatever the reason, I’ll take more of it. People have literally gasped when they hold her yarn in their hands. In fact, I gasped the first time I laid my hands on it. We even had yarn from finer sheep that wasn't as nice as this sheep's.
Itasca always had great lambs, but she requires really fine rams to get the best out of her. This one is close to the total package.
That's it for the two year olds. Next up is a lovely group of yearlings that we get to throw into the genetic mix this fall when we set up breeding groups (most likely this weekend).

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Turin

Turin is another excellent fawn katmoget out of Pompey and Vogue. This year she had a beautiful spotted ram (Rochester), so I know she can produce quality spots. Her fleece stats are: 24.7/4.7/19.1/8/23.7.
As I said, the fawn katmoget Pompey daughters are very similar in appearance and fleece. Turin is a bit finer than the rest with her impressive 23.7 SF, but they are all excellent.
You can always tell when I get tired of trying to differentiate each ewe. I start writing less when I get to a lot of the fawn katmogets that are similar. Even though I find each of their genetics interesting, not everyone does. What I can say is that I gave a lot of thought to what these genetics could do for us long term. And I did most of that thought three years ago, before they were even conceived. In this case, it was before I even purchased Turin's mother. When I brought Pompey in to our flock, it was to put with ewes that I thought would cross well with his genetics. And now, I am looking at his daughters and trying to decide which genetics are most likely to work best together. As much as I might thing all ewes will work well with Canterbury, that's not necessarily true. Turin has a bit of a melting pot of fleece types in her background, so you never really know how that is going to work. But when you breed a ram with a 19 SF on his second fleece to a ewe with a 23.7 SF on her second fleece, I think the odds are pretty much on your side in terms of fineness.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Venice

Well, we're well into the two year old ewes now. I refer to these ewes as the boring ones because I always look at all of our sheep as steps to something better and we now have lambs and yearlings in the flock that are a year or two closer to my vision than the two year olds. In reality, however, there is gold in them there ewes. One or more of them will have another Jane Eyre next year. I don't know which one(s), but that's what I expect from this group.

Venice is another Pompey daughter who was/is on our sales list for this year and probably will be next year as well. It’s not that’s she’s not as good as our other ewes, but she is a fawn katmoget and we have many of those. In fact, Venice looks very similar to Florence and several of our other ewes. So, it’s hard to keep duplicates when you have a limited flock size. Her fleece stats are very good, but not exceptional for our flock: 27.3/4.2/15.6/7/25.4. Still, her 25.4 SF is pretty telling, and somewhat rare in the North American Shetland community. The other thing I like about her is that she is always there to greet me at chore time because she was a bottle lamb. I am impressed so far with her third fleece, although we don’t test our adult ewes until spring. I will say that it feels finer than 27 microns, so I am not expecting an increase. She is out of Sommarang Isla. She's another one that I really don't want to sell because she offers me variety in fleece type, and yet retains the signature softness that defines our flock as a whole.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Kahlua

Somehow, in my quest to present our ewes in the order of age, I missed Kahlua.

Kahlua is out of Wintertime Grasshopper and Winter Sky Vogue. I've always liked this ewe and I think she has the nicest handling moorit fleece I have personally ever handled. It is a little shorter than I like, but it's hard to find this kind of fineness, crimp, and overall handle on a ewe as nice as she is. I also like the lambs she has had. We have kept all of them!

Her three year old micron test results are: 25.2/4/15.8/6.6/23.6. Not too shabby!

Here is Lydia, her ewe lamb this year out of Canterbury. Also excellent.

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Florence

Florence with her lamb, Jane Eyre.

Shifting from one Pompey daughter to another, Florence is one of a large group of two year old daughters that we kept out of him. This was my first year of breeding these girls and I was looking for really special lambs. Florence was one ewe that delivered against that goal. Florence is out of Blue Sapphire, who I have already talked about. This is a good time to say that you can not know which ewes are going to produce each year and which ones will not. That’s why I stocked up on the Pompey daughters to increase our odds. The important thing is that they are producing great fleeces while you are waiting for lambs that are improvements on them. Florence’s two year old fleece stats are: 24.8/5.6/22.7/9.9/24.5.
These are not the best micron results in our flock, but I do like the < 25 micron SF. In fact, I do not like this fleece as much as Genoa’s or Siena’s even though it is finer. These things are all relative, however, as this is an excellent fleece and a fantastic ewe.
Just to give you an idea of what I mean when I say great bloodlines produce great offspring, here is a picture of Florence's daughter this year out of Canterbury. Her name is Jane Eyre and she is the prettiest Shetland ewe we've ever had born here (the finest also).


Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Genoa

Genoa is another example of a fantastic Shetland with a great handling higher microning fleece. Both she and her son Stonehenge have wonderful fleeces that I would love to have more of. They beg you to sink your hands in them. Genoa is also four years old. She is also an interesting story. She is out of an F1 Heights Orion daughter who was white. We bred that ewe to Pompey to get Genoa. I knew we had something special immediately. Her color and markings were unique. Katmogets come in many styles and she was one that I had not seen before. He son Stonehenge was the same way, as was his daughter, Rossanna. It’s a look I am trying to reproduce as much as possible. When all is said and done, I think Genoa will have the greatest impact on our flock of any Shetland we have owned except maybe Pearl. So, when you look at Mr. Darcy, you see the possibilities created by combining those genetics like we did. Her fleece stats are almost meaningless, but here they are: 27.5/4.2/15.2/6.5/25.6.

If you scan these pages, you will notice her average is the highest in our flock. But the SF is still excellent for a four year old Shetland. We have had average microns like this in the past on sheep that we just didn't care for at all. That's why the low SD and SF are of such importance. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Siena

Siena is another flock favorite for a lot of reasons. She has a fantastic fleece and is built really well. She was our first Pompey daughter and also the first indication that I was onto something when I brought him in to help improve our fleeces. She is a definite improvement on her mother in all categories and we have been fortunate to get nice offspring from her. Barenfang is an excellent example of what she can do, as is Knightley (a great ram out of Canterbury that I have not talked about yet). When I sorted fleeces this year, hers stood out because it has a great combination of traits. Her four year old fleece stats are: 27.2/4.9/18/8.1/26.
As you can see, her average does not stand out as being exceptional, but the fleece is truly outstanding. It’s a fleece that I would want to reproduce over and over. It would be nice to shave a few microns off of it, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes finer isn’t better. Some of our finer stuff just isn’t as nice as this one. Our breeding goals have evolved somewhat since we bred for Siena and Blue Sapphire, etc. A lot has changed over the years and yet we still have these ewes in the face of much pressure to cut back. I think that’s a testament to how good these ewes are. It also shows how unique I think they are. You just don’t find stuff this good out there…anywhere. We are the only ones dumb enough to sell stuff this good, and that’s only because we have to eventually or we have to stop breeding altogether.

Below is a picture of Siena with her ewe lamb from this year out of Canterbury. Unfortunately, she has her mother's head and not her fathers, but there's nothing wrong with that either.

Ewe-A-Day - Winter Sky Vogue

I was dismayed to learn that I can't seem to find any pictures of Vogue, so this partial shot of her with this year's lambs will have to do for now.

I did find this older picture below, but it looks like it was taken from a satellite.

I brought Winter Sky Vogue and Khan home together one November during a snowstorm. She was bred to Wintertime Grasshopper at the time and we still have the ewe lamb, Kahlua. She is not our finest ewe, but it is a fleece that I like a great deal. It just looks finer than it tests. We always enter it in the fine fleece category at the fiber shows and it always finishes in first or second. It also placed second in a tough class at the 2011 Wisconsin Fiber Festival. That was noteworthy because that show was judged by certified Shetland Sheep Society experts. I think she is a pretty ewe and I also like her offspring. I wouldn’t judge our thoughts about our flock members by which ones we choose to keep. We sell a lot of good Shetlands because we have a limited amount of room and have no choice. In a perfect world, we would retain more of them because the genetics are some of the best. Her five year old fleece results are: 26.8/5.3/19.9/9/25.9.

Those are very nice numbers for her age, and the fleece has nice lock structure and length to boot.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Whispering Pines Pearl

Pearl remains one of the best Shetlands we have had born here on our farm. She is out of Wintertime Bond and Itasca. Why I only bred those sheep together that one year, I’ll never know. There are times when I want to repeatedly slam my head in a car door for some of the decisions I have made over the years and this is one of them. Fortunately, 99% of my breeding decisions turned out for the best, so I can’t complain too much.

Her fawn katmoget daughter above to her left.

Part of her grey katmoget daughter to her right (above and below). Both out of Egyptian Autumn. Egyptian Autumn is out of Blue Sapphire and Egyptian King. We have had good luck with the Jericho and Pompey crosses, and this is another one. Blue Sapphire is out of Blue's Clues and Bond is a Pompey grandson. Egyptian King was Bond's son. Blue's Clues was out of Wintertime Blues, who was out of Jericho. It takes a while sometimes to start getting offspring that realize the potential of a particular ram and ewe, which is why I always look several generations down the road when I choose breeding groups. I've heard it said that it often times isn't the F1 sheep that realize your vision, it's the F2 or F3's. That's what I've noticed also. I don't know that her daughters will be better than her (or Egyptian Autumn for that matter), but I do expect that their offspring will be. Both daughters do have nice fleece length, however, so I am excited to work with that as well.

Pearl’s five year old fleece stats are: 25.2/4.4/17.3/7.5/23.8. Those are fantastic numbers for a five year old, but it’s not our favorite fleece in the flock. Again, an SF of 23.8 is very rare for a Shetland of her age.

The important thing is that she has been an incredible producer of future talent. She will most likely end up being most famous for being Canterbury’s mother, but she is one of the better Shetland ewes around on her own merit.
She is also one of the first Shetland ewes we have had possessing a head that I really like. Not that it's necessarily better than other sheep in our flock, but I do like it. Bond had it, and Canterbury does as well. Some of Canterbury's lambs also have it. I think Pearl is also a good example of what you can do with careful breeding. Itasca is our largest Shetland, and Pearl is very fine boned and right in the sweet spot for what I like a Shetland to be. She is also the first truly fine Shetland we have had born here. Her fleece was so soft and unlike anything else we had ever seen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Blue Sapphire

Blue Sapphire has always been a flock favorite and we are excited to get black-based sheep out of her next spring if we can. We have several of her offspring in our flock and we have sold several of her excellent sons. Egyptian Autumn was one of those sons and I believe he is one of the best rams around. Blue Sapphire is out of Sheltering Pines Onyx Velour and Sheltering Pines Blue’s Clues, who was an F2 Jericho. Great fleece on this ewe! I can honestly say she is one of the best Spotted Shetlands I have seen, and I am glad we have been able to keep several of her ewe lambs. Her fleece stats are: 26.7/4.6/17.3/8.3/25.2.
This is a classic example of why I rely so much on the SF. Sapphire’s SF is 25.2, which seems to match what her fleece feels like. If one were to only look at her average of 26.7, it might not stand out. Of course, she is 5 years old...and spotted. A few years ago, we were lucky to have two year old ewes with fleece numbers like that. As I will say more than once in this series of posts, the average micron isn't the Holy Grail. I've had lower averages than hers, but it's the handle that matters, and hers is excellent, as the SF suggests. I'd like to have a few more like her.
Not much to fault with this ewe.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ewe-A-Day - Itasca

I think Shetland Sheep breeders tend to like their flocks regardless of whether their sheep are good, bad, or average. After visiting 16 flocks, that’s my take away. What excites me are the flocks that are taking an analytical approach to where they are and making adjustments based on the results. That’s really the most fundamental step to any improvement initiative.

Having done that with our flock every year since at least 2005, I can honestly report that the Whispering Pines flock is still a work in progress, but I am very bullish on our breeding program. Over the next few months, I am going to provide data and analysis to back up my good feeling. We are not exactly where I would like to be against all of our goals, but we have exceeded many of them in 2015.
I did not believe we could make the kind of progress that we've made over the past four years or so. In many ways, managing our breeding program is like managing a sports team. You plan and constantly redo the roster, but at the end of the day, things don't always go as planned, and sometimes it seems like you have more losses than wins, but if you look at it objectively, you can see the progress. All of the sheep that I am going to share are fantastic Shetlands. Some people will prefer this one over that one, or maybe even some of their own sheep over ours, but I can promise you one thing. Every sheep in these posts is excellent and they produce! I will sell sheep that don't produce consistently, and I will sometimes keep a lesser ewe who does produce consistently. Why? Because I'm not breeding for now, I am breeding for the next few years. I am breeding toward sheep that are even better than what we have today.
I have developed a new way to quantify our sheep based on where I think they are relative to 1927 Shetland Sheep standard. That is a bit of a flawed approach because all breeders seem to be making claims about how well their sheep meet that standard, and clearly not all are doing that very well. I have been trained to that standard by certified Shetland Sheep Society Inspectors/Judges. There are only a handful of breeders in North America who can make that claim. That doesn’t make me more knowledgeable than those breeders, but it does provide a point of reference in terms of the claims I’ll be making. People who have not been trained to any standard can’t really be making valid claims about that standard. That applies to all things in life where standards exist. Personal preferences are a different thing altogether. People have a right to like what they like, however, and I respect that. I'm merely pointing out that the sheep on this list are part of our flock because of what they bring to the table in terms of genetics and fleece quality. They are the best of the breeding we have been doing since 2001. I have heard people say that Shetlands are a primitive breed and as such, should not be improved. Those are personal opinions, but I can tell you this. Shetlands in this country had to be improved. They had to be improved because the breed had deteriorated so badly since they were first imported. So, I don't look at as improving the breed as much as bringing them back to what they once were. Our goal here at Whispering Pines is simple. It's to restore the Fine Fleece Shetland to the place it once held as the "Finest of The British Breeds." These ewes are a result of that lofty goal, but they are the foundation for what is to come.
I’m going to start this year’s ewe-a-day marathon with the oldest ewe followed by the youngest.

Wintertime Itasca is one of two black ewes that we have and she is also our largest ewe. Her fleece is very good, but certainly no longer what we are breeding for. Whether it’s because she is black, or because her CV is relatively high, I can’t say. What I can say is that she is a producer. Wentworth is out of her. Pearl is out of her. And Treviso is her daughter as well. And that doesn’t include some very nice Shetlands that we don’t own anymore. I can’t think of a lamb of hers that we didn’t like. This year, we will be looking for her to produce either fine blacks or dark katmogets. I’m also thinking about putting her with Canterbury because of his finer bone and overall fineness, but I’m not sure that would be the best cross conformationwise. I did put her with our F1 Jericho ram one year and loved the results from a conformation standpoint, but the lamb fleeces weren’t as fine as I would have liked. Good base hits, but not homeruns in the fleece department. I have several good options that I think will bring out her best one more time.
Itasca’s fleece stats are very respectable for a 7 year old Shetland who eats everything in sight: 24.7/5.8/23.5/10.3/24.6.
As I have said previously (and will say again), I don’t like the higher CV’s and hers is 23.5%. But at the end of the day, her SF is 24.6, and that puts her in elite territory for her age. She is a good example of why I always say there are multiple ways to meet the 1927 breed standard. Her fleece is superfine and well within that 3"-5" sweet spot. Her fleece is crimpy and dense as well. The rest of my gripes are a matter of personal taste. I also love the wool on the poll.
I am also going to mention nutrition a few times during these posts, and Itasca is a good example of what I am going to say. She is fat. Our pastures this year were very lush and I am seeing it in the growthiness of the lambs and yearlings. I also see it in the lamb micron stats.
One last story on Itasca. I still remember the day I put her, Bond, and Blue's Clues on the truck at Stephen Rouse's house so many years back. I still remember Bill Stearman looking at her and Bond and whispering in my ear something to the effect of, "God forbid you breed him to her." I was thinking about doing that, but hearing it from Bill confirmed that was the right thing to do. It always pays to listen to people who know more about the breed than you ever will. Even if they are Canadian...LOL. That breeding that year gave us Pearl, who ultimately gave us Canterbury. You never know where breeding decisions are going to lead, but it's nice to get homeruns now and again.