Thursday, August 03, 2006

choosing breeding groups

Well, believe it or not----it's August.
Yes, those cute little ram lambs are growing long horns. There is a variety out there. Long and tall pointy horns, wide and curving horns, little round curves that hold close to the head....maybe you even have some rams with very small horns, they might have genes for polled rams.
Well, did you look at your big lovable old rams yet? Are you going to breed them again?....or are you going to let someone rest for a year and try out a new little boy?
How and who you breed depends on your physical setting. If you have a place for rams to stay out in the pasture without putting them near your breeding groups, you might be able to hold some rams over. It is harder to keep a grown ram from a breeding group than keeping a ram lamb do have to have strong fence and visual barriers for that to work.

Let's say, you have an ideal situation. You have a nice ram with nice horns, a good tail, and good fleece. Now how do you choose who to breed to him?
Leaving spots and katmogets/gulmogets out of the mix....Let's start with color.
White....Awt is dominant....If you have a ewe who is Awt can put her with any ram, and she likely will have white lambs....if she also carrys Aa(solid color)....either black or moorit.....she could also produce a lamb of that color. You can test breed that ewe to first a black and then a moorit ram to see what she carries. She could also be Awt Ag....that is, any lamb she has with color will carry grey or musket....a mixture of light and dark fibers.
Ag, grey or musket....a pattern that mixes the colored fiber with a light almost white fiber, resulting in a lovely soft heathery color.
If your ram is Ag grey or would likely mix him with black or moorit ewes, that way you could get a mixture of lambs born. There is a limit to the number of lambs of the same color we can sell in a year. So we try to mix the potential colors up, and get enough variety in the lamb colors.
Black and moorit rams seem popular, but remember that black fleece usually feels harsher to our hands, if you are going to breed with a black ram....he should have other quatities that make him desirable....big beautiful horns.....tiny tail...great wide rump and legs.....AND....he has got to have the best fleece you can find! Given the choice between rams...I would tend to pick the moorit ram over the black, because folks like moorits better.
The other condition that would impress me for a black ram is that he is also recessive for moorit. You can tell on your ram lambs...they are the ones with a moorit dam or sire. For older rams you just have to breed them to moorit or musket ewes, and see if they can have a recessive lamb. I have always felt that the recessive moorits are much deeper in color....especially if they are recessive from both is grey, sire is black...lamb is moorit.....that is a recessive on both sides.

What are the other factors you try to balance for your breeding groups. Tails are a big one.....if your ram has a perfect tail...and if he doesn't can you tell me three good reasons why you need to breed with him? Then you choose ewes to breed to him who have a less than perfect tail....fuzzy long tipped tails can be improved....can you put a couple of not so great tailed ewes with your "perfect" ram?
What if you have never gotten good horns from your lovely it her fault? is where you choose a ram with big tall wide horns for her.....never put a ewe back with the same ram who produced terrible horns with her last year....ram are cheap....don't throw that ewe's genes away by breeding her to the same ram.....this should also be considered when looking at the lambs tails....Did your ewe produce questionable tails....or maybe one lamb looks good, one looks fuzzy. Try a new ram on her. YOU are in charge of the lambs you produce....the only excuse you have for producing a bad lamb is that the ram or ewe jumped the fence!
Every year you must look at your product....the lambs....and try to improve.
Legs....ho boy! I get so many questions about legs....did you know that shetlands are small? Did you also consider that the width of the rump can figure in the appearance of the legs? We can catch the lambs that have one leg dragging because the leg is turning out and doesn't bend the way it should....I personally feel that is far different from the narrow rear end on a small shetland....remember I breed small shetlands. The more narrow the rear end...the more the legs look imperfect. Your resulting lambs each year should show some improvement from the dam....if not you are not doing your job.
So we can already see that a breeding group could be formed based on several different purposes.... some of the ewes are brown, one has a long tail, one is white, one grey, one had bad horns with a different ram. What about fleece?
Have you tried micron testing?...this is helpful in choosing which ewes to breed to who. I prefer a medium wavey fleece with luster. So most years I breed with a short fleeced crimpy ram, and let his crimp produce more wave in my prefered fleece. This year I have a medium to long light grey fleeced ram lamb. He has good luster, and his fleece holds soft locks. Sorry, can't remember what that is called. I'm going to try breeding him to a few ewes with a similar fleece, and see if I like what happens. Usually, I am happier with the fleeces where the ram has crimp down to his rump....but isn't really single coated.
I spin in the grease....can you imagine me combing out the little tiny locks on a single coated fleece like those katmogets have? No way would I take the time, especially when I am working toward a rug.

Go get a sheet of paper, and try out your breeding groups.....think about each ewe as you choose her mate....and don't put your little ewe with a big fat ram....wait for another season when she is bigger....or he is smaller....or you got a new ram for her. Over the years, I can tell you that ewes are fussy about their potential mates. Ewes like horns, they apparently like a musky smell, and they really don't like ram lambs. Try not to disappoint your older ewes, if they only have a few years of breeding left...give them the best!...A ram they are proud to be with.....maybe you raised him...maybe you have to buy him....At least when folks come to look at your sheep they won't be struck by a puny little ram lamb trying to woo a mature ewe. I have also found that ewes like knowing that ram before breeding. I have ewes going up to the rams they bred with last year, and doing a little nose touching....they will breed faster with a ram they already know....and they may just produce a totally different lamb with him too.

You know the best lamb we can produce?'s the one that folks pick out in the field and say....I like that that one for sale? Go do it....I might just get to your farm and see that lambs...I know I will say I want that one.....I'm a sheep-aholic!


At 6:00 PM, Blogger Pat's Place said...

See what I mean??? This just boggles my mind - all the options, possibilities, genetics, science, fate and luck that are involved in breeding sheep.

I think I'll leave shepherding to you and just stick to city living, keeping art as my muse...


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