Saturday, September 18, 2010

Good Horns

There seems to be a lot of dissent within the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders' Association lately. Some of the folks like the short, crimpy fleeces, some like the long, wavy fleeces. I must say, I have a little bit of both in our flock. In fact, our first sheep were of both varieties, and we purchased them from several "reputable flocks".

There is also a bit of a gap between the breeders breeding for bigger sheep and those of us who like the smaller sheep. We got a lot of comments this past weekend at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival, where we were exhibiting some of our Shetlands, about how cute and small our sheep were. Well, our Shetlands are the same size today as they were almost ten years ago when we bought our first Shetlands. And we still have one of those original sheep, and she is about the same size as all of our other adult ewes. Shetlands are not "miniature" sheep, but they are small - they are supposed to be small. If you want a nice leg of lamb, get a Polypay or a Coopworth (we have those, too).

When visiting the Shetland barn at the Festival, we noticed some Shetlands that were quite large. In fact, they compared in size to the Icelandics that were being exhibited in another barn. I will have to do some research - I'm not really an expert on the "perfect" Shetland. But I seem to recall that Shetlands were supposed to be finer boned, agile - more "deer-like" to successfully navigate the rocky shorelines of the Shetland Islands. Ewes were to be feminine and the rams should be "manly", but still agile, not heavy, ponderous things.

And the one thing that really gets me is when supposedly reputable breeders sell adult rams with crappy horns. Sometimes a ram lamb will be sold who eventually has fatal horns - I had an absolutely gorgeous ram lamb, with wonderful wide horns, one of our first years with Shetlands. But those gorgeous, wide horns grew right back around, heading for the underside of his jaw. He ended up in little white packages and was very tasty. But year after year, we see adult rams, with terrible horns, being sold to other breeders.

We all have an opinion on what is a good fleece, or whether we like solids or patterns, or whether "bigger is better". But there is really no excuse to keep a ram after his horns take that deadly turn back toward his head. Wether him if you must, take him to market, but don't sell him to another breeder. And if you don't know what good horns look like, see below. While the photo may not be the greatest, the horns are pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.


Michelle said...

I agree; bigger is not better, and rams with bad horns should be culled, not sold as breeding animals! And I think there is room for all types of fleeces, as long as they are soft and fine (and people are willing to verify that with micron testing and textile samples). It is interesting to read the various blog posts regarding WSWF. One person who attended went on and ON about the too-big and too-small sheep there; apparently the sheep she has at home are the only ones who are the RIGHT size!

Lael said...

Well, we don't micron test our fleeces - I tell people we don't if they ask. I only judge them by their feel - and the ones that I think are coarser, I advertise that way. And, supposedly, the original Shetland did not have a consistent fleece - the neck wool was used for things such as the wedding ring shawl, the mid-section used for clothing and the britch wool for rugs and the like. So is the consistent, fine fleece really correct historically? Most of my fleeces go to repeat customers, so I figure if it ain't broke, I'm not going to fix it.

But I see "prominent" people in the Midwest offering adult rams with bad horns for sale and to me that is really wrong.