Thursday, July 22, 2010

It really is about the breed, not you

I am quite concerned over the fervor that is resonating in some people's minds and voices over what a Shetland is. Not WAS. I don't care what they were 400 years ago. I'm concerned over preserving the breed NOW, according to the 1927 Standard.

When I first started purchasing sheep I purchased some single coated sheep. I also had purchased several very double coated sheep (because after all the breed is 'diverse'). However, after doing research and finding the Shetland Sheep Society website, I was convinced not all of my sheep were true representatives of the breed. This isn't bashing any one person's breeding program. Its not saying that I'm an apt pupil having found historic evidence in documents and photos to make me decide either way. I still HAVE some double coated sheep, but I don't use them for breeding purebred. And I don't register their lambs as being registrable. I also don't tell you that each of my lambs is show quality and how wonderful they are. Reality check. Its not about me. Or how well I can put breeding pairs together.

Its not about me making money at this, or more than you, or less than you. Its not about winning at a sheep show and bragging about it every time I open my mouth, or about coming in last at the long line of 20+ sheep. Its not about me being wrong and you being right or vice versa.

Its about preservation of what a Shetland Sheep should look like today, and since 1927 (or thereabouts). I am all for diversity. I have short legged and long legged sheep. I have some with more britch wool than I like, and some very consistent down their tail head. I have every pattern, and nearly every color. I have different sizes, head shapes and ear sets. I don't have one perfect sheep. nor one sheep I would think 'hey that's show quality'. They aren't perfect and don't fit the Standard perfectly, but I'm working it, and I think I'm progressing in the right direction.

I'm extremely hard on my sheep. I nit pick every day I am out there. Some days I look at them and think how far I've come. Other days I nearly cry over my lack of ability to move them further along to LOOK like sheep that fit the 1927 Standard.

And why do I care? I care because I care about the BREED. I care about the well being and preservation of the Shetland Sheep. I don't want newbies in ten years unable to decide on what kind of 40 varieties of "shetland sheep" that are out there to decide which one is really the true expression of the shetland sheep of the 1927 standard.

its true there are pockets of isolation, like on Foula, that have had no improvement one iota for decades due to the sheer isolation of the entire island. They also co-mingle their entire flock. The entire FLOCK on the island. not just my sheep and your sheep. EVERYBODY'S!

Why do I care so much? This breed of sheep has given my highest highs and my lowest lows. I am emotionally concerned for their well being as a breed and for their future. they are a very unique breed of sheep, unlike any other short tailed cousin they might have.

WE are supposed to be good stewards of the breed. To preserve and protect SHETLAND SHEEP. Not our pocketbooks, or egos or honestly our livelihood. Its time to stop being greedy and opposed to learning and becoming educated about what TRULY is representative of a Shetland of the 1927 Standard.

Let's learn together. I'm eager to find out all I can. And I want future shepherds to have the ability to proudly say they have the best breed of sheep out there. And its still recognizable as a Shetland.


Kanisha said...

so much to think about in any breed homgenity,diversity, phenotype versus genotype. what defines a breed is as much about personal observation and preference as breed characterisitics. You need only look at any breedto see that the characterisitics are shaped by those whims. The overiding concern maybe fit for purpose?

If shetlands were/ are rooed should they have a double coat?
I don't keep shetlands so am not about to step into any debate on the subject but if there is one defining criteria for the breed shouldn't it to establish what it is or was used for and how best to keep those qualities?

Meagan said...

Hiya, I'm a newbie farmer in Eastern Ontario who raises Shetlands. I've been following your blog for awhile now, having found it due to its Shetland content. Being new to farming and sheep, I have not been aware of this controversy. Are there any illustrations showing the differences between the short and long hair varieties?

Theresa said...

Great post Garrett! T

Karen Valley said...


Laura said...

Right on! Even though I don't raise Shetlands, I'm involved with the preservation of another critically endangered breed, the Romeldale. We have somewhat of the same problem, brought about by inbreeding depression. When our registry went through ALBC to get an improvement program approved, the other registries for Romeldales now tell everyone that our sheep are not purebred, which is not true.

However, your point about doing what's best for the sheep is the prime factor. People need to cull rams that have bad horns, not use them for breeding, and eat any offspring that they have - not save them because a) they're a shetland, and b) because they have a nice fleece. Fleece can be changed in a generation - horns can't.

I've seen scraggly horned, cow hocked sheep in the shetland ring (not to pick on them - this kind of sheep exists in all breeds)- these sheep should never have been deemed "show quality." I've always felt that my show sheep are the ones that I'm keeping for breeding - the rest are dinner...

Nancy K. said...

Future shepherds???
I think I have the best breed of sheep (for me) right NOW!


Theresa said...

Hi Laura,
In Shetlands, the fleece is not improveable that fast in one generation, i.e. - going from a strong coarse double coated fleece to a fine soft single coat. This is because of the diversity of genes that are involved with Shetlands. Breeding fine soft single coats to the same GENERALLY means that you get fine soft single coats, but that isn't always true. Sometimes, many times, you get throwbacks. The more you lock in the good fleece genetics, the better chance you have though. Shetland genetics are DIVERSE so all kinds of things pop up, even years down the road. When you have good conformation on a strong coarse double coat a breeder needs to seek out fine soft fleeces to correct the fleece. But it will still take a long time to correct.

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of what "show quality" is. This is such a key issue to work on in this breed. It is coming along but more education is always needed to help breeders better understand what is correct conformation, especially since Shetlands are a primitive breed and have a slightly different structure than your typical meat breed. Slow and hard work.

Donna said...

A big AMEN, Garrett...after breeding Newfoundland dogs for many years, I watched what happened to the breed (as well as many others)...let's pay attention!!

Cynthia said...

Brilliant Garrett. This is precisely what I have been trying to write about and post to Chat with NASSA. I get so angry when I try to write that I end up going in circles. You have inspired me to finish my notes.

It is the failure of NASSA to uphold the very standards the early '90s board said we were joining that has caused so much pain. I believe we may be too late to stop the disaster that this continuum of silent support of the powerful few -by the last dozen years worth of boards- has caused the Shetland.

We are not renewing our membership this year and are selling off the bulk of our flock.

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 ...