Sunday, July 22, 2007

Breeding Groups

I've been pondering many of the following thoughts/questions for the past few weeks. In no way am I going to try and offend anyone here or critisize your breeding programs. Then again its my

Having gone to school for Animal Science, emphasis in genetics and nutrition I find it rather frightening to see how some people in all species that I keep can vary so much in their interpretation of their written standard. Even more frightening is their reasoning for the breeding "oh their babies would look so CUTE" or "i'll make so much money from this breeding" or other 'RED FLAG' comments that scare me about the future of the species that I love and am committed to.

Having grown up on a farm there are obvious advantages to breeding programs. I've had a full life of learning early (like before my teens) of how important certain qualities are in our species. It seems to me that many people within city limits who are breeding dogs, or parakeets or goldfish or pigeons or whatever do it more for the emotional aspects of it. They do it for fun and because they enjoy it. Is that really what the breeds were intended for? For fun? Sure their enjoyment is inevitable but let's try to reason with ourselves. It seems that those who were born on farms have a better understanding of breeding programs and of things such as butchering, putting animals down, tagging, dehorning and the like. They also understand that the animals were put here for a purpose and that purpose should remain in tact for future generations and breeding should not be taken lightly.

In our dairy cows we emphasized strong feet and legs, correct udder placement, longevity, productivity (long milking history, a calf every year), fertility, temperament.....the list goes on and on (and in no particular order). Not just because they had to milk, but because those traits were things that would keep our animals around longer and keeping our paychecks bigger.

Beef cows we bred for (and still do) good mothering ability, grazing efficiency, high milk (for a beef cow) sound temperament, longevity, fertility, carcass traits (marbling, leanness, yield grade etc) and their list goes on and on.

Pymgy goats we breed for flat and wide pelvis' (those slanted rear ends with narrow pins only creates nightmares during kidding season and that trait is highly heritiable!), the wedge shaped head, adequate rear angualation, sound feed and legs and of course that wonderfully sweet temperament.

In our Cardigans it varies and although I've never bred a litter, I do know what I will be looking for. The proper wrap in front, a proper front that drops with a nice posternum, a level topline with gorgeous rear angulation, level planes on the head with large round ears, wedgeshaped head and colors that are rich and wonderful to look at.

Now for Shetlands. Wow where do I begin? I've done a lot of pedigree researching, trying to figure out lines and trying to figure out where they are coming from and where they are going with their groups. I've visited several local new friends whom I've drilled for information in regards to their breeding programs, their likes and dislikes, their goals, etc. I've asked a lot of questions in regards to nutrition and how it interacts with fleece quality, and I've felt numerous sheep at a few of their homes and really dug into them to try and see what they see and ask questions as to why they like them.

Realizing that the Shetland Sheep breed does not have an official written standard, how does one realize the 'uniformity' of a 'breed'? Obviously each shepherd will realize that their interpretation is different but that is why we have mentors, and judges right? that is who should know all there is to know about the breed, where it came from and where it should be going. Then why so much difference?

I realize that people's goals are going to be different than mine. I realize mine will be different than theirs. I do feel however that we must all be going for the same uniformity overall. So you like short crimpy UK fleeces? Great!! Make sure that they are consistent from neck to britch. I don't think I've seen more than 6 sheep in the past year that are really truly consistent from front to rear. That is a breeding goal that we should work on. Having a ram that falls out at the britch no matter how nice is going to produce those without. Genetically it can't happen. Prove me wrong!

So you like the long primitive Dailey stock? Good for you! Make sure those fleeces are just as consistent as the UK lines or the classic lines. Why should any one 'kind' of shetland have a different fleece ? Sure the length, handle and feel of the wool will be different but that consistency should still be there.

So you like polled animals? Great! Not that many years ago I found that most 'abherent' horns or scurs were frowned upon. Why all of a sudden are they 'ok' to have? If you want polled, you better make sure they are polled, or have those huge horns that are D style like the breed is known for. I've seen some rams with horns that remind me of my motorcycle handbars. Way out and far around. What is that all about? Who said that was acceptable? Do you see what I"m getting at? I don't care if you have them, but geez where did the uniformity of our breed go?

What about colors. Ah yes that question. Modifieds are 'all the rage' right now. But you have to remember they are recessive. And nature made them that way for a reason. In pigeons we have a 6 month turn around for generations so we can get two of them in a year. After breeding pigeons for 15 years I can tell you I have not raised past 3 or 4 generations any type or recessive color without having huge losses due to lower immunity towards diseases, genetic defects i.e. blindness, 6 toes, twisted beaks, etc. You must introduce the 'normal' colors that are dominant and found more often in 'nature'. In one generation you can breed it back and start over. Do everything in moderation!

I don't care if you raise Ag, white, moorit, mioget or emsket but for pity sake NAME THEM RIGHT! I have been trying to figure out the difference between emsket and 'light grey' (Ag) Some Ag has that bluish tint to it. So does emsket. They aren't interchangable (again correct me if I'm wrong) so why are we calling them one if they really aren't? I've been looking at pedigrees and there are numerous pedigrees where the genetics just don't make sense. You cannot have a musket come out of a moorit and an emsket. something tells me that person thought their Ag grey was an emsket. Genetically Ag has to be expressed in order to have it. End of discussion! You cannot get it that way and either a ram jumped the fence and bred a ewe in another pen or you can't tell what your colors are in your own pen. If you don't know, test breed and alter your assumptions by seeing what the results are.

I had a friend in pigeons that had a pair of yellows raise three red babies in two years. Well again, genetically yellow is recessive to red. If they are yellow they cannot be anything but yellow. Come to find out there are red cock birds in the same pen and someone is getting frisky and copulating with that yellow hen. Its good to know your basic genetics.

It really sounds like I"m bitter. I'm not! I"m trying to educate. I'm not going to say I know it all, or know everything about Shetlands or about animal genetics or about farming. But I hope that this makes you rethink your decisions as to why to breed something.

So while you are out in your coops, your pastures or your paddocks this year and you are planning next year's babies please try to keep the emotional aspect of it out. Cute might sell but is it really for the betterment of the breed?

*turns and steps off of soapbox and exits stage right*


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Your comment about big D horns is interesting, because I've heard from some parties that the round profile is really the more correct and traditional horn type for Shetlands. The D type is obviously more prevalent in North America....

I, for one, am not for rubber-stamped uniformity. In fleece on one sheep, yes. But beyond that I think there is a lot of room for variety within the understood breed standard. Something for everyone, as they say. There are lots of sheep breeds which show much more uniformity than Shetlands. If one desires that much uniformity, perhaps one should change breeds! Let's enjoy Shetlands for all they have to offer, not try to make them something they have never been.

I am one of those going polled (for now). I realize to get there, I will end up with some scurs and abherent horns; as you know, that is the nature of breeding for a certain trait with a limited number of animals carrying the gene you desire. So some will be culled to become fiber pets or someone's dinner. That happens to those bred to be fully horned, too -- or at least it should. Lois Moore's blog has a great treatise on horns; I really admire her position to wait until a ram is mature enough to evaluate whether his horns have made that critical turn (no matter how wide they are) before she uses him for breeding or sells him.

Viva the discussion!

Becky Utecht said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of shetlands! First about colors, not everyone agrees on musket and fawn. In different areas of the country they are switched around. So you're right in checking over the pedigrees and seeing that you can't really rely on them for genetic information.
Ag grey is usually easily differentiated from non-ag. Ag animals will have characteristic light areas on the nose, around the eyes, in the ears and on the scrotum. In adults, these areas change color with the seasons, so you have to observe the animal throughout the year if in doubt. And yes Ag can be hidden under white, so it's not always visible.
IMO, Light Grey is Ag, the animal becomes near white with age. I wonder about Grey, the kind that stays a nice grey over time. I love that color. Emsket is darker than Grey and Shaela is darker still.
IMO, there's really no need to get all worked up over it, the colors were given by the Shetlanders in regard to what they SAW, not in regard to genetics. So a sheep could change colors over its lifespan.
I have wondered about those super wide horns too. I don't care for them either.
I am SO glad there are people willing to put up with scurred and abherent horned lambs in an effort to eventually give us a line of true polled shetlands, more power to them!
And when it comes to fleece, I like variety there too, I use a ram with a long dual coat and a ram with the shorter crimpy type fleece. And I am happy with the diversity in their lambs and the variety of fleece types in my flock. As a spinner, I can find a use for most types of fleeces.

Juliann said...

Garrett, I've got to comment on this as you seem to be unaware of how the polled gene is inherited. I'm sure you have received this faulty information from one of the vocal "antis" out there, who have no knowledge of the inheritance of the polled gene, and feel it is easier to complain about it than try to understand it.
I'm sure you are not that type of person, so I'll explain.
A ram with aberrant horns or scurs carries one copy of the polled gene, and one copy of the horn gene. These rams are used in a polled breeding program hoping that they will pass down that one valuable poll gene. Nobody that I know of is trying to breed for scurs. But the use of these animals is crucial for polled breeding there are too few smooth polled rams out there.
You may also find it interesting that a lot of "smooth polled" ram lambs are genetic half polls, still capable of passing down a horn gene.
Let me stress to you that it is the GENOTYPE that is of importance here, NOT THE PHENOTYPE! We are coaxing out an incompletely dominant trait!
I use scurred rams in my breeding program, and have gotten smooth polled ram lambs by them, which is my goal.
People frowned upon scurs because they didn't understand them. They thought they were "bad horns" Aberrants? Breeder's couldn't distinguish them from normal horns so they were used. If you have any questions about the poll gene, please feel free to ask me rather than believing the misinformation and garbage spread by ignorant breeders, or breeders of horned rams who feel threatened by the presence of polled rams. Those people shouldn't be making negative comments about something that they don't understand.

"So you like polled animals? Great! Not that many years ago I found that most 'abherent' horns or scurs were frowned upon. Why all of a sudden are they 'ok' to have? If you want polled, you better make sure they are polled."

Garrett808 said...

Thanks ladies for wonderful comments. Please remember that this post had a common thread in it :that there is no written standard or no uniform goals for our 'breed'. All examples were used soley as a comparison that there is much variation in the breed and I do not think that there is one thing better than another! Juliann, you have done so much for the polled gene in Shetlands I must commend you for that! It is people like yourself who are doing the breed right (and breeding them right) for the most 'ideal' smooth polled rams. I was talking about the general public and what they may or may not know and the lack of uniformity in the breed globally. Great discussion!

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