Thursday, June 11, 2009

Standard Weights Shetlands and BFLs

Now before everyone gets all excited.....I have found the weights from the SSS Standard. Its a guideline that should be followed. Maybe not all of your sheep (or mine) will fit the range and that is ok! but if your entire flock is under or over then maybe its time to think about where you are headed :)

Standard Shetland Weights:
Ewes: 75-100# (mature)
Rams: 90-110# (mature) (I"ve also seen up to 125# mentioned in some places, not on the SSS)

My ewes: 60-100# (yearling to mature)
Rams: 80-120# (yearling to mature)

I feel comfortable with these numbers. My average for the ewes is 78.6 pounds, so on the lower end of the scale but they are growing babies like crazy! Its fun to see how much the lambs take out of them. One ewe has lost 12 pounds since her lamb was born but her lamb is also one of the fastest growing lambs out there! I weighed them before breeding groups and then again tonight, so about 6.5 months later. My yearlings are in the 60-80 pound range so in another two years they will all most likely be within the limits.

I do have a 2 year old ewe who is quite danty. She is 62 pounds now, with her breeding group weight at 65 pounds. Her daughter is nearly 4 weeks later than my AI lambs and nearly the same size :) So she's a great momma who seems to be holding her condition.

My BFLs average weight was 126.6 pounds. I found different weight averages on the BLU and BFLBA websites.

BLUNA states 150-175# for ewes and BFLBA states 170-220#. Which is correct? I couldn't find a weight on the UK BFL breed association page.

For rams BLUNA states 200-250# and BFLBA states 250-300#. Again which is correct?

I have only one two year old ewe and she is currently at 145 pounds. Her daughter is nearly gaining .75#/day and momma is maintaing weight. The baby is alrady 45# at 53 days old! At breeding group time, she weighed 120 pounds. My yearlings average from 105-145 and none are bred (not even late!!)

I should be fun to try and weight them all NEXT year :)


Theresa said...

Bowie states that Shetlands in the south are heavier - Ewes AVERAGE 99 lbs and rams can weigh up to 143 lbs. This is due to much richer pastures.

Since I have fields that are full of clover that has a protein level of 25% (or higher!), my sheep are going to exhibit the higher end of the weight range. My ewes probably average around 90-93+ lbs and adult rams at 120-125. Two years ago my ewe average was 85-87 lbs (weighed). This also means that my fleeces will weigh more because my sheep are eating so much protein (and their hooves grow faster!). The ewe flock fleece wt average this year was 4.25 lbs and the adult rams were 5.6 lbs.

Breeding for several years with pastures that have been improved has proven to be the best indicator of sheep health, lamb growth rates, body conditioning, fleece wt and fleece handle. I would never want to raise stock on unimproved pastures, especially for grass-fed market animals. They would not grow fast enough to make any ROI. With improved pastures, it is doable.

Juliann said...

Garrett, where is the source for these weight guidelines? I may need to reference them....

Theresa said...

This is straight off the SSS website: Hill sheep on Shetland average 25kgs. whilst in the south of England ewes may weigh 40kgs. and rams 65kgs. Fecundity is usually 140% on the islands, but can attain 200% on the mainland.

This is a big difference! Poor feed = smaller sheep with less reproductive capabilities (and smaller finer fleeces). The opposite is true for good feed. It all boils down to nutrition!

Rams also typically weigh 20-30% or more than the ewe for any breed of sheep.

Garrett808 said...

Theresa are you telling me that my flock is poorly fed?? That's quite an assumption!

1. If it were based on that I would have a tiny flock of 60 pound ewes with microns close to 20!

2. Most of these smaller ewes have microns in the upper 20s, lower 30s.

3. I still see a wide range of microns in the lambs from any given year. Last year I had lambs anywhere from 20 microns to 34 microns at FIVE months of age, all on the same exact pasture and hay.

4. Most of the mature ewes, I purchased as mature ewes and they were already showing their mature weights, so I could not have done anything to them to affect their weights. Interestingly enough their microns also have not changed since coming to my farm. A sign that the nutrition is NOT the end all be all.

I think the sheep in the 'south' of the UK were not only being fed more and perhaps 'better' but the people were choosing for a larger animal. I guess I'd have to ask someone there before I assumed it.

Garrett808 said...

Juliann. the OK state animal website was one place I found the weights. Also Linda Wendleboe's website, Stephens, etc.

It used to be on the NASSA site until it was removed.

Angela Rountree said...

I don't think variablity of nutrition is the entire answer to the variation in Shetland size and fleece, but it should not be completely discounted, either. I have made a conscious effort to buy small-to-medium Shetlands (easier for this middle-aged shepherdess to manage alone) and have more than one animal that I condition scored at 2-3 on purchasing, put on our pastures and WHAM!!-they gained 20-30 lbs on my pasture in 6 months or less, while only gaining 1 point in condition score. Our pastures were fertilized and reseeded in redclover and fescue in 2005, with no maintenance other than grazing and mowing since then. I do feed grain (1 cup daily) to the yearling ewes, throughout the winter; I also grain the pregnant ewes for 8 weeks before lambing, working up to 1 cup daily. I give supplemental hay during winter and dry spells, and have flushed with grain and /or alfalfa pellets. Still, some of my Shetlands remain petite and fine-boned, others really bulk up. The ewes that stay over 100 lbs are re-homed, as are rams I cannot manage.

Theresa said...

No, I am not stating that your animals are underfed. Actually, mine are most likely overfed - on clover, not grain. This will affect micron counts by increasing them (Yocom verifies this as well as other sites). Unfortunately, I can do nothing about this. (OK, girls, you can only look at the extremely lush pasture next to you and get a "maintenance" diet of grass hay. Yeah, right! The baaing would be heard in the next county!)

There are many different feeding patterns in NA. Bowie cannot be wrong in stating that there is a substantial size difference between Shetland and England. This, I believe, was within one generation. Low microns, on the other hand are an indication of one of two reasons - low nutrition or genetics or both. Robin M. has sheep that are under 20 and winning in the ring (in the UK). I'd like some of those!

Small sheep tend to have finer fleeces and be slower growing (the finest Merinos are the smaller ones; bigger, faster growing ones have stronger fleeces, though there is work ongoing to combine both characteristics). I've seen very few Shetlands at the top end of the wt range in the low 20's. All of my finer microned ewes are smaller boned and lighter wts. Correlation? Yes.

I have also seen a difference in the handle of the fleece of sheep that I have bought. It usually takes one or two years, but it has always been for the better - more silky feeling and a bit more wt(microns ?). I'm certain it is the feeding that does this - the clover has a better balance of nutrition than most grasses, higher in Mg, Ca & P so that may be the reason. Every farm is a microcosm so that must be taken into consideration when evaluating anything about a breed as diverse as ours.

Juliann said...

Garrett, I think Theresa is pointing out a difference between scattald fed and park fed sheep, in both size and fineness. These differences are noted in the UK as environmental differences, and not meant to be critical of any certain management practices.

Cynthia said...

Someone really might want to interview Dr Lupton (Texas AM) about international fleece improvement (maybe for the NASSA newsletter?). While discussion about pastures are extremely debatable (absolute tomes of scientific research), there is no question about size and fleece improvement. As sheep are bred for finer fleeces their size diminishes. This has been documented for so many years in the true fleece cultures such as NZ and AU, it is simply understood as fact. And by finer they mean entire fleece structure (the entire report, not just that silly AFD that keeps getting tossed around).

The super fine merinos we hear about are now far smaller than their near distant ancestors. The actual weight of the fleece is also proportionally lighter.

According to those experts, the challenge in fleece improvement programs is to get your fleece to precisely the type and configuration you are working toward and accept that your stock will be finer overall as you hone in on a specific, finer type. Then you begin taking your absolute best ram and putting him over your absolute best ewes, slowly working toward greater size. The is not a casual "few years" worth of work. The experts I have spoken to over the years tell me that many very expert shepherds -working with ideal sheep nutrition and ungodly amounts of fleece testing- have been working on their fleece programs for 30 years or more.

For my own tastes I don't feel the need to exceed the SSS weights and I accept the lighter fleece weights in exchange for the very fine fleece. I got into Shetlands precisely because of the historically lighter, finer animal. I looked at Icelandic for several years and appreciate them but chose against them. I would be so sad to see Shetlands become them.

Juliann said...

Cynthia, would you say that CV is more important than the actual micron number?
In my own stock, I see good micron number (mid-twenties) in some animals, but their is a cottony feel to the fleece (instead of silky, which is what I want). And the CV's are higher in these sheep (higher twenties, thirties).

Cynthia said...

Absolutely Juliann. I see people so excited about 22-26 AFD and then hear their CV reports 28, 32, 50. OUCH.

I have been testing at least once per year -more with lambs- for long enough now that I do see the wisdom in what the experts have pounded into my brain: The AFD needs to go down but not without the rest of the report following. MOST importantly is the actual histogram -regardless of numbers- must be as close to an inverted V as possible. The CV is huge tell for future potential.

I had never heard that term -tell- until I started talking to these experts. It is an old gambler's term that means the "less obvious but most important signals given about a hidden hand." The CV is certainly a genetic "tell" in that it provides exactly what it is; the possible variations that will either productively or destructively influence the fleece.

I don't keep sheep anymore with CVs over 24 - and that is actually high for me now. I have faith in higher CVs only if the total histogram is a nearly perfect inverted V; a nearly impossible result with higher CVs, but it does occasionally happen.

Another point rarely discussed is that just as Shetlands are slow to mature, it will take 3 years to see their true fleece (actually 5 if the sheep has any double-coat in their background). The important therefore in fleece testing the under 3 yr crowd cannot be over-stressed: A breeder using ANY untested ewe or ram under 3 yrs old is going to throw an absolute bank-breaker on breeding, feeding and tending offspring only to have to live with the genetic crap-shoot if they have not been testing.


Brenda said...

Hello Garret,
You asked about these figures "BLUNA states 150-175# for ewes and BFLBA states 170-220#. Which is correct? I couldn't find a weight on the UK BFL breed association page.

For rams BLUNA states 200-250# and BFLBA states 250-300#. Again which is correct?"

I think folks who have less UK bloodlines in their genetics are still seeing the smaller framed and lighter weight sheep, both rams and ewes. Those original USA domestics were quite small and short. Also, those who grain feed for that full 1st year will see larger and heavier yearlings, but eventually when they reach 3 yrs old everyone will equal out.

I just ran a 2 year old ram across the scale, shorn, hay fed all winter, and now on just grass. He's still got more growing to do, but he was a trim 230 lbs. He is also one of my smaller framed rams BTW.
Same holds true for my ewes, mine will hold to the UK standards, and then even some of mine are smaller than what I've seen in the UK.

I think a lot has to do in this country with geography, climate, and personal preference when it comes to body scale selection, and feeding regimen. Also, some folks might not have access to the different genetics that can bring about sheep that will equal the customary UK standards.

Juliann said...

I googled "understanding micron test results" and found this site:

Some neat info on there.
Cynthia, great post. I printed it out for future reference.
I haven't been testing lambs. Just yearling rams and older, and two year old ewes. When is the best time to do the first test on April lambs? I'm assuming some time in the fall or winter?

Cynthia said...

Juliann: There are some very fine websites out there that will aid in one's fleece education. A very packed website that is also handy for those wishing to pursue private questions and more in-depth research:

This site is a treasure and now that CSIRO is cutting back on Wool research, the AWTA is again going to be the primary source for wool improvement news. The definitions are a bit more involved than commonly found and thus more valuable for those trying to hone their own skills.


Cynthia said...

Sorry Juliann, meant to answer your ? on testing.

I test all lambs for the first time as we enter fall. I prefer to wait until the cooler nites and shorter days trigger that first flush of adult fleece in anticipation of winter. End September to end October.

This test gives enough information to help prevent holding stock over that will just suck the life out of my sheep budget. In my experience and example 6mn old lamb with a report such as: AFD-26 SD-11, CV-27 and a F>30:16% is going to be worthless to holdover a year. The histogram itself looks like a wild, wide black wall of scratchings and is going to be a disaster in 3 years.

I tend to test with A&M every year for ewes and rams. I also test rams at 1,2 and 3 yrs with YM. The purpose has really had more to do with wanting to make sure of the variables of the two sites (although frankly multiple testing with rams is critical in my opinion, simply because they can impact your program so greatly).

If you are going to double test it is important that you are testing apples to apples though. When I sample from rams and send to both sites I take the entire 4" length along the last rib and sent the top 2" to one and the bottom 2" to the other. I make sure to alternate who gets what: Ram 1 is top to YM and bottom to AM. Ram 2 is top to AM, bottom to YM. and so on. Having done this for 6 years now I can tell you that there is no significant difference between the test results. I did try two rams one year with taking samples from either side and found a huge difference. Another story in how much fleece can change from area to area.

Anyway, I hear it said that a yearling fleece is not what we can expect from an adult and that fleece will get worse over the years. True, the first fleece is as good as it gets for Shetlands (not for all breeds), but an example outstanding report on a yearling lamb (raised well, always the proviso : AFD:20, SD:3.4, CV:19, F>30:3 and have a strong histogram with a nice inverted V.

At 3 years this lamb should have a report that is a dependable: AFD:25, SD:4, CV:20, F>30:6. Unless the adult has a very strong primitive in its background (or you have been ignoring the pattern of the histogram), this report should remain fairly consistent for the sheep's lifetime.

I argue against the statement that Shetlands will worsen considerably over the years. My eldest, non-iset black ewe just died this year from old age. Her report last year was nearly identical to the first I did when I purchased her as an already twice sold adult 7 years ago; with the exception of more over 30 fibers: AFD:27.3, SD:5.9, CV:21.7 F>30:18.7. This report changed only the year she had a stroke with return to normal in a year. I think that it is not that fleece inherently worsens, I think lousy histograms finally catch up with their potential.

People have asked me how I can have any sheep with so great a culling routine. First I have to say that I don't hesitate to keep a ewe with a high AFD IF, IF the overall histogram is a pretty inverted V. A high AFD (and low SD, CV) can be overcome with a great ram. It is important only that I NOT hold onto any sheep with that scattered, storm-front looking histogram; no trailing legs to the right on the report.

Most importantly, of what value is holding onto truly dreadful stock if your goal is fleece improvement? Yes, I have fewer sheep now, but what I have generally requires only an outstanding ram to insure good qualities and thus my breeding program is less roulette than it was years ago.

I occasionally sell ewes that have been in my program and proven highly improvable to young breeders so that they can benefit from my process. The rest, the crazy histograms I find in those young lamb reports and/or the older sheep that pop primitive genetics in their second and third year? They pay for hay for my Shetland addiction through the meat market.

Juliann said...

Cynthia, thank you!
I'm going to start testing my lambs. I may not cull all of them who disappoint me, but at least I'll have an idea of how soft they are.

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