Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thinking outloud. Please help ;)

So there are so many questions that I as a 'newer to Shetlands' faces daily, and many questions that go unanswered, or will be answered only to bring up two more questions :)

Since blogging has really brought us 'closer' in getting to know each other, I think its only helpful for me to pose questions (either ones I've answered myself and encourage you to think about, or ones I want an answer to really really bad!)

My first question may stem in to 100 more but we've got nothing but time!

I love debates and discussions and welcome opinions other than my own! Honest!

My first question is why did I get in to Shetlands? I can actually answer this one! I was really wanting a small group of sheep for Sadie and Oliver to herd. No kidding! They were small, colorful, hardy and easy enough for me to maneuver myself if need be. I then had a winter with them and fell in love with their personalities, the wool, the lambs, and quickly my 50+ herd of goats were dispersed and I became more of a shepherd of sheep.

I purchased sheep from several people, studied the lines (pedigrees) and looked at the sheep in many aspects....fleece, structure, color, pattern, pedigree, personality, and breed type (i.e. longevity, mothering ability, productivity, resilience, etc).

I have always been a man of evidence and quickly learned that any tool to help make decisions with something I am still learning with is better than no tools (aka guessing). I learned to how take fleece samples for micron testing. I drew blood for contagious diseases such as OPP, CL and Johne's. I weighed lambs at birth and again at weaning and every spring and fall after that for my own records of gain and productivity. Why? Because I enjoyed this information but I also yearned for it. I NEEDED to know. I hate guessing or assuming.

Is what I do for everyone? Absolutely not. I don' think the majority of people that are in Shetlands had other breeds of sheep before them. They are not livestock people and making money at it was never really a thought. They have them for fun or because they are pets. (well ok my dogs are pets and I still test them too so that doesn't hold true for me I guess)

Is that ok? Absolutely. But this is another debate I want to start at another time :)

So I micron test and I blood test. My flock is negative for OPP, CL and Johne's. I test all new animals while they are in quarantine. I feel its very important. People don't think these diseases are in our breed but how do you know? Do you test your flock to prove me wrong? Many meet breeds have these diseases but don't tell people publicly. Pity.

So I do all the work and do all the testing and who benefits? Well I do for my own piece of mind, but so do the buyers. I believe the blood work figured out to be about 30 dollars per animal give or take and micron testing is a mere 1.25 per sample per year. Not too bad of a price considering I can sleep at night knowing that my animals won't pass these diseases to other flocks and I can give proof of what my fleeces are, not just 'guess' or 'say' they are soft. Soft is a word that is relative. My soft may not be your soft. Your soft may not be as soft as mine.

I did AI this past fall. Why? Because the type of Shetland that I want to per the 1927 Standard that the SSS uses is what i want to have. Is this for everyone? Another topic for another day. Remind me!

My AI lambs are just stellar. Not much compares to them that I have seen on other blogs. No offense please! I have a specific look I am after and just because your sheep don't look like what i want doesn't make them any less special. They just aren't for me. I'm sure you say the same of my single coated lambs :) Its ok I'm tough!

So again why the AI? I want to breed sheep like the home country raises. Breed them to the Standard. Americans have a great way of changing things....all my breeds of pigeons came from Europe...most don't look a thing like the European breed....we created our own standard...same with the dogs....our standards are SIMILAR but they all still look like Cardigans...I'm afraid I can't say the same for Shetlands. Again another topic!

When I try to market my lambs this summer/fall I will have a hard time knowing who to sell and who to keep to eat. Do I think these lambs could improve a lot of other flocks? Absolutely! In fleece and structure and breed type. Yes. Hands down. Will I think they will all sell? No. Not in this economy and not because most people don't seem to like the single coated sheep. Its ok. I eat a lot! So why the huge price for the AI procedure? Its important to me and my continuation of developing my own line of Shetlands that resembles the standard for our sheep. The original 1927 standard that hasn't been changed in the last decade here in the USA.

I do think it will be a pity more people will not take advantage of these AI lambs. Not because I want to make a buck but I truly believe they can help improve others' flocks here or in WA state or Maine or Texas. They can improve mine and that is why I'm keeping at least SIX ram lambs! Hey when you have 14 of them its easy to keep more than you were expecting. And I truly believe they will be valuable to the breed...such an asset. Such a waste if they aren't used.

My lambs aren't perfect. I don't think I have the softest sheep, but I do believe my animals have something to offer others and I hope those that read this will take heart that I am truly looking out for the best interest of my OWN sheep and their improvement but also more importantly of the breed.

I hope to each year make progress in the direction I want to take my flock and when ewes or ram become available it won't be because they no longer can do me any good, its because they have given me better lambs then they themselves are and they can be replaced and sent to another farm who can hopefully get as nice of lambs out of them as I did.

I currently have 10 ewes slated for sale after their lambs are weaned mid summer. By the Jefferson show I hope to have some of the lambs evaluated for sale. Why so late? Well can you honestly tell me that by just looking at ONE photo of a lamb when its wet or a day old can tell you how they will look as a yearling or as a three year old? No. With a micron test on the lambs that will help me decide further who to keep as I will have already decided who has the nicest struture and horns by then, but fleeces I'm still such a newbie.

with 10 ewes moving out that allows me to keep all 10 of my ewe lambs to evaluate them over the winter and see what their spring micron test comes back as. Its only my 3rd lambing but I already have a better handle on this than I did a year ago and that makes me feel a bit better :)


Sharrie said...

Wow! You have had some time to think about this sheep thing. It is well stated. It is good to know where you want to go.

Debra Mc said...

Hi Garrett. I'm so glad to have found your blog today. We share very similar college backgrounds, and I too first bought sheep for my German Shepherds to herd. I'm just now getting interested in fiber arts and have much to learn about wool. I'd love to visit your operation some you offer tours?

Mim said...

I live in Nv far away from the shows and breeders who show. So I purchased from people I thought knew what they were doing and found I started at the bottom of the scale to perfecton! I've always raised registered animals in the last 30 years and never had breeders sell culls as breeding animals. Most Shetland people I know are selling everything as breeders. In six years I've only had one ram born here with horns that don't hit his face in the first year! Last year I lost all my lambs, either died or I can't sell because they came from the sheep who made the blind/dead lambs. I'm still crawling out of that one. I gave up but had to get it back together and start breeding again. I have too much invested in the sheep I have now. Your doing it right wish I was able to invest in A-I. I am looking for a ram but it freaks me out. Don't know were to go. We do love the meat these guys make. Better then any other lamb or goat we've eaten!!! So my focus is on the style of shetland with the most meat right now! I bought them originally for the fleece so that is my other main focus. Maybe in another 6 years I'll have a show animal!

Juliann said...

Okay let's talk Shetlands...What's the question again?

hee hee!

Available sheep

With my work load continuing to pile up, and less time to spend with the sheep, I am offering the following: My entire flock of BlueFaced ...