Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on breeding decisions

Isn't it always funny when you start something you think "Hmm...after a few years of investing into this new project I'll be able to recoup some of my expenses?" Now I never intended to be rich off of breeding sheep, but I thought it would be a nice way to make some money, enough to cover the cost of vet visits if needed, mineral, fencing supplies etc and general day to day expenses.

I guess I'm still considered in the 'building up' stages, so not expecting to make any revenue.

However I've realized today is this: I should be only breeding for myself.

I shouldn't breed to 'fill a market or niche'. I shouldn't breed to make lots of pets for other people. I should only breed for myself and if others find my sheep appreciable, then perhaps I would sell a few here and there, but only as a 'surprise' sale so to speak where I was not counting on that income to happen.

It makes sense. I do it in my cattle and pigeons without a second thought. I keep only my best animals and slaughter the rest or sell them to feed lots (the cattle, not the pigeons). The birds I keep for myself or they go to dog trainers or the Hmong in the metro areas that eat them. I haven't typically sold a lot of breeding stock in those species and I've had them a lot longer than I've had Shetlands. Just in the past few years I have actually sold some cattle breeding stock as well as some pigeon breeding stock. Its amazing how proud I feel that people also appreciate my lines of cattle and pigeons. Did I think people would with my sheep?

As I've said before, when I started out I got sheep from a couple different places. I found a certain 'look' and fleece type that I preferred and am now breeding towards that goal. The money from the sheep I do sell, that are no longer in my long term goal, is then put towards sheep that hopefully will be. I guess its more of a 'balancing act' , trying to find what I think I need to move my breeding program forward, and what i think I can part with, while still helping others out.

Some people may think they need only 6 or 10 sheep to move their breeding program forward, others (mostly commercial) think they need 100s of ewes. I have found my 'balance' of around 30 ewes and 10 ewe lambs to be ideal, holding back around 10 ewe lambs to 'grow on' while I replace some of the ewes I feel are no longer in my long term plan.

Some may think 40 females is a lot and somedays I feel like it is. Then on the other hand, how does one keep all of the patterns and colors they come in if you don't have a few of each? What if something were to happen to one of the animals say that are fawn katmoget? You could soon find yourself without any katmogets. its just an example. not the end all be all.

I have wittled my numbers almost down to what I can consider my lower end. I have 27 adult ewes to hold on to right now. I'm still waiting for my microns to come back from Texas A&M. When I get them I may have more to sell or some that were borderline before will prove time to move out. I have 16 shetland ewe lambs and i'm hoping to keep 10 or so to evaluate over winter. The biggest steps will be checking for conformational flaws or virtues and then fleece testing in the fall (September sometime). After that I will know for sure who stays or goes. I myself find that the single coated sheep are my calling and anything that may be more intermediate will moer than likely be for sale. I find that most Shetlanders (is that a word for Shetland shepherders) prefer the intermediate and that is just fine and dandy. I think these girls would be welcome additions to your flocks! :) :)

With this many ewes and numerous rams the combinations are nearly endless as to what I may want to improve upon in any given breeding. Giving me half sisters or full sisters is ideal as I can take one to each different ram and see where my best 'click' for a breeding happened and repeat it. Some lines cross well, others are not so beautiful :) Living and learning.

I'm always a big fan of goals. You don't know how far you've come without checking your goals and realigning them every once in awhile!

What you may prioritize may be different than mine and I can respect that. It would be a boring world if we all agreed on everything! And right now I'm set on testing my flock for OPP, CL and Johne's. I'm set on doing micron results for my sheep and I'm set on using AI as a means to improve my lines. Three things that many/most in the Shetland world don't seem to do. And that is ok! I may not always do what I do now, and someday our roads may cross and that will be fun too.

And in the end if no one buys what I feel are nice breeding stock for someone else's flock, that is oK too. I'd rather eat them than give them away at prices that are too low. And that's not being harsh, just being realistic. Bring on the brats!!!! :)


Kara said...

Makes sense. Do you micron test all the sheep again in Sept. or just the lambs? I was thinking of sending a second round in the fall. Using three different rams last year I am curious what the lambs' numbers will be. What does CV stand for? I know the number is better if it is low, and it indicates how much the fleece will get courser, but what it is a reading of? Thanks for you help.

Juliann said...

If I could make enough money to just cover buying hay, I'd be happy.
Back when I raised donkeys and show poultry, there were breeders who would never sell the breeding stock. Those precious bloodlines were carefully guarded. They didn't want the competition of someone else buying their best animals and then "competing" with them.
I think it is refreshing that Shetland people are different, in the sense that we are all helping each other by selling our best sheep to make a positive influence in another person's flock, and to the breed overall. Just think where we would all be at if Stephen refused to sell his registered sheep of excellent quality to us newbies? If he butchered them instead of selling them?
I agree we don't need to get hung up on sales, or showing. I am shipping sheep to market now that I would have paid $400 for years ago. They might simply be overstock, or simply not good enough to have my name on the papers, even though they are a kool krazy kolor. They might be overstock, as I simply have to keep my numbers low due to limited space here. I'd love to have a larger flock, I just can't. I'm comfortable with about 20-25 ewes, and I think I'm only going to bred 15 or 16 a year. That's my sad little limit. :(
When I catch myself looking at my lambs and thinking "What will Letty like in the ring?" I know I need to seriously correct my thinking. We do need to breed for our own enjoyment, as well as to do no harm to the breed overall.

Cindy said...

Good for you Garrett--breed for yourself first as you are the one that has to live with and look at the animals everyday. If you breed to meet the market, for other's use, and you can't stand the stock you have, then you have lost the focus you had when you started. Keep up the good work and use the exact same thought process for your dogs too. Don't breed for someone else or just to win, breed for a goal--your goal.

Mim said...

I've always bred sheep in numbers that fit my land and how much hay I can fit in the barn. I pick the best, for meat and fleece, and eat the others. No one here in Nevada wants to breed sheep. In six years I have sold only one breeding animal. I will not sell weed eaters and seldom sell a pet. I have genetic problems in my flock now and will not sell any animal who even has a one in four chance of carrying this to anyone who will breed. So the last two years has been a total loss except for meat!
There are too many colors so any sheep I deem best in the flock is the color I work on. Right now I have mostly Ag so will breed for more solid colors with a new ram or two. Since I make very little money on my sheep I can't buy from people that are too far from my home. I envy you guys who live closer together and have the pastures to feed larger numbers. I want a sheep with a 5+ pound intermidiate fleece as soft as possible. I do know that the spinners love single coated soft fleece so you will have a market for them also. Shetlands are great because we have more choices and between us we can keep this diversity alive!
To raise sheep that others want to add to their flock will be the iceing on the cake.

Carol B. said...

Shetland sheep have so much diversity in color and wool type. I have always believed that Shetland sheep owners should breed what they liked within the loose standard of the breed. Don't go with fad colors, or what you think will sell well or show well. Breed what you like to see in your pasture.

My "problem" with Shetland sheep was that I always saw other sheep that I felt I needed to add to my flock. I loved the many colors and patterns, but did not have room for all of them.

On my little farm, I could only breed 10 or 12 Shetland ewes. Improvement meant frequent turn over of rams and ewes. I was constantly shopping for new breeding stock.

Where I could keep 15 to 20 Shetland sheep, I figure I can only keep 10 to 12 bigger sheep. And even then, I figure I need to restrict myself to breeding only 6 Bluefaced Leicester ewes each year.

I lose diversity in my flock by switching breeds, but I gain simplicity. I will still go ram shopping every couple of years, but I will choose from my own ewe lambs which I will keep for breeding.

It feels good to be breeding what I want to see in my pasture. And to let the marketing of breeding stock be much less of a focus.

susan said...

My flock size is 7-12 breeding ewes. I try not to have very many because I have to do all my own shearing, and try to feed as little supplemental feed as I can. The small number deffinately limits how many different colors and fleece types that I can work with.
Deffinatley breeding for what I like and works for me and my farm is the way to go. I just wish I could breed for wool that would resist stickers! I think it might be possible, I do notice some of my sheep are sticker magnents and some only have a few. It would be nice to be able to add this bit in while not loosing the other wool qualities I like, like finness and crimp.

Gail V said...

Garrett, define intermediate fleece for me. I'm still unsure.
I know single coated, I think, and I know primitive. But what is it that might be in-between, or "intermediate"? My wavy, long-wooled girl whose fleece isn't primitive, but isn't crimped and all the same level, like her mother?
Thanks for your thoughts. And me, I will sell ewes for not much money, if they are not dynamite ewes. If I like them, regardless, and the buyer does, knowing their less than perfect traits, I figure they get a chance to live longer, and that's nice. If it's a wild ewe, I have no issue with it going to slaughter.

Angela Rountree said...

A few months ago, Juliann posted a blog about the 10 commandments of breeding. It inspired me so that I copied and pasted it into my "flock standards" document so that I may frequently review it when I need inspiration. It reminds me to stick to my own personal flock goals rather than staying abreast of fashionable trends in the Shetland world.

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 ...