Sunday, October 2, 2016

New Sheep 2016

We’ve had a tremendous amount of success with our breeding program over the past seven years or so. For the most part, it’s been a pretty linear progression from where we started and where we are now. Each year’s lambs seem to top the previous one's. We can point to all sorts of subjective criteria to illustrate this point, or we can point to micron data which proves it beyond a reasonable doubt.
This year, we have done a reset and reformulated our five year plan. Why would we do that if we have had steady progress, one might ask? The answer is simple. You have to regularly review your plans to make sure you aren’t walking around with blinders on. Even though I routinely mention in these pages that micron results aren’t our driving focus, they aren’t unimportant either, which is to say that they have to be a portion of our overall improvement program. We have never focused solely on fleece micron because handle is the more important component in my opinion. Our best fleeces are not always our finest. There are just too many other important attributes with fleece alone, not to mention the conformation of the sheep.
To this end, after reviewing our progress against our goals, we have decided to make some adjustments to our priorities and what we will be targeting. The priorities are (and not necessarily in this order):

·        Fleece handle

·        Fleece length

·        Fleece micron

·        Sheep conformation

·        Color

·        Thriftiness

·        Overall size

I didn’t put color at the top because that would send a message that we are after that at all costs. That couldn’t be further from the truth. But what has happened over the years is that we have retained the sheep that meet our goals the best. Those sheep have traditionally been fawn katmogets. All of our rams at one point were fawn katmogets. We probably have the best fawn katmoget rams in the country. They have virtually all of the attributes we have been targeting, but that has led to us retaining…wait for it…a lot of fawn katmoget ewes. As much as we like our current flock, we simply can’t continue doing that. So, we are going to change that this breeding cycle.
We found that we achieved steady fleece improvement with this approach, but I always said that we would modify it once we were able to find black/brown/white unpatterned sheep that were as good as the fawn katmogets that we had been using in our program. That has been a very difficult task, but one we are going to take on in earnest this year.
We have also always been about proper sheep conformation. The problem is that in going after the other goals, we have sometimes sold our best built sheep because their fleeces were not as good as others’ in our flock. All of these goals conflict to some degree in a flock like ours that has to be limited in size. If you only are allowed to keep 30 or so ewes, you want to keep the ones with the best fleeces as a rule.
My point is that all of these goals have to be considered together in a checks and balances manner. I’ve also come to the conclusion that you can’t weight them differently. The truth is that no one Shetland has all of them to the degree we would like, which is why we weighted things the way we did. If we didn’t do that, we would have to retain everything, which is not an option. Going forward, however, we will be taking a harder look at which ones we retain and why. The last thing we want to do is to take a step back in our fine fleece program by chasing other things…like color, for example.
To make a long story short, we are going to take a slightly different direction. That shift, although seemingly minor, did necessitate us bringing in some new rams this year. As much as I would love to use all of the ones we currently have, that’s just not possible. All of them are katmogets, and only two are black-based kats. At some point, I would like to go back to them, but not until we get some other things back in balance.
The rams that we brought in this year are superb.  Sometimes, you have to try new things if you want to take your program to new heights, and we are excited about having them as a vital part of the next phase in our program. We thank Kelly Bartels for setting us up with these fantastic sheep! Now I feel pressure to do something good with them.
The first ram is OK Acres Aries. He is a black smirslet socket out of Ok Acres Danby and Whispering Pines Irish Mist.

Irish Mist is out of Khan and Constantinople, who is out of Salicional. I like that we were able to bring back a son of hers, particularly a black one. Although we never wanted to sell her, we wouldn’t have gotten a black ram out of her had we not. We will use him on some ewes this fall. In all likelihood, we’ll have a black group, which is exciting by itself.
Aries has good length and a soft fleece with good crimp. I don’t know what his micron is, but I’m not concerned about that. He has everything else we are after going forward. Very nice ram!

The second ram we brought in is OK Acres Nitro. He is a mioget smirslet sokket yearling out of OK Acres Sierra and OK Acres Einstein. Einstein is a Salicional son. Salicional remains one of my favorite Shetland ewes in the country even though I have never owned her. Nitro is only a grandson, but that’s good enough for me. Sierra is out of Black Forrest lines, specifically, Fudge, who produced so many fine fleece sheep over the years.

I did not go to Jefferson with the idea of bringing in a moorit, but I fell in love with him right away and managed to convince myself (and Jen) that this was an important move for us. As I said, sometimes you have to challenge the status quo before you can really be open to change. Once I did that, the cambers clicked into place and my new vision appeared (not literally). The funny thing is that he’s a half-brother to Ok Acres Danby, who is Aries’ father. I am always drawn to certain bloodlines it seems. I just gravitate to certain bloodlines before I even know what they are. Certain ones produce sheep that I like. I think it's fair to say I have a type.
I don’t know for sure that Nitro is mioget, but he looks that way to me. I’ll probably have to wait to see how his next fleece comes in to be sure. His fleece is very light underneath, but that is not his true color. I feel confident he is modified, however, which is another unstated goal.

I also don’t know how fine he is in his second fleece, but it is very silky and crimpy. My goal is to reproduce this fleece as many times as I can. It has all the properties we are after and so rarely see in a Shetland. As I started to sketch out potential breeding groups before I bought him, it became clear that he was a missing piece that we needed for the coming two year olds especially. We have a lot of Canterbury daughters that we want to breed this year and next, and we lacked a ram to get the most out of them. We believe Nitro will unlock some things that are in the genetic pool. It’s just a good match for what we need in the next phase of our breeding program.
We also brought in two ewe lambs, also from OK Acres. I don’t like to bring in new sheep, so when I do, it’s for a specific purpose, and isn’t done so without much much thought.
Kelly and I have talked about white Shetlands for several years now, and the talks probably increased this year. Last year, we brought in White Pine Reawick, who is a white ewe, but she did not have a white lamb this year. As a result, we were looking at maybe bringing in a white ram, but that didn’t quite happen. Finding polled white rams that meet our needs is a challenge. We ended up going with this lovely white ewe, OK Acres Elara. It’s tough to find white Shetland ewes in the quality we are after, but this one fits the bill. Absolutely striking ewe with a fantastic white fleece! She won’t be in a breeding group this year, but she does fill the need for the white lamb that Reawick didn’t give us this year.

The last ewe lamb that I added at the last minute was OK Acres Sarin, who is out of Ok Acres Seneca, who is out of V creek Sarah and Bug. Bond was also out of Sarah, and those are genetics that I like a great deal. The main draw here is that she is black and has a fleece with good length and fineness. She isn’t has fine as Elara, but she gives us plenty to work with. I also like her conformation a great deal. Nice long body and pretty head.

Finding fine black Shetlands has been even more challenging than white ones. This is another ewe for next year’s program, however. We have two lambs of our own breeding to use next year, so this makes it three…to go with Georgianna, who is a yearling. We are always looking ahead with our program and it’s never too early to start planning.
We think these four new additions are important for our future goals and we are excited about getting to work. Very excited! Breeding season always arrives with much excitement here, but this one has awakened some of my mad scientist sensors. Thanks again to Kelly for her help in making this interesting for me again.


Kelly said...

What a nice post.....and what kind things to say. I am humbled that breeders that I respect so much find something in my flock that they are excited about for their own flock. I think our goals are very similar, which makes it a bit easier to have sheep that we both like in each of our flocks. I'm really struggling to figure out which ram will be a good match for Irish Mist this year, but I know that no matter which breeding group she's in, she will produce great lambs for me. She's a testiment to your breeding program and I'm happy to have her in my flock.

English sheep gal said...

Wow, some wonderful new additions, glad you found some pieces to fill gaps in your overall jigsaw puzzle plan for the future of the flock. Look forward to meeting them sometime, and seeing how their future lambs turn out....