Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What are your goals?

I like spots...everyone knows that. I have wanted spotted sheep since I saw my first shetland lambs for sale, and went inside where there was one of the shetland posters. You know the ones, made from Sue Russo's book about spotted sheep. I was sold. I went to look at my first ram a few weeks later. I looked more at his pedigree than his horns. I paid for boarding him for a month while I went home and fenced a ram pasture.
That was fun! I fenced and a couple weeks later the lady who sold the ram to me said I had to pick him up that day. Seems he was ramming a goat who stuck his head thru the fence. Daahhh.
What did she expect if she had a goat dumb enough to get caught in the fence?
I took my ram home, and looked for more ewes. I found a few older ewes who's owner wanted to sell out of shetlands. You likely have found those people too. Eleanor and her daughter came with Eleanor's ram lamb. The lady said his sire was killed in a fight the fall before. That went right over my head. I remembered it after my little ram lamb flattened three, count them three six foot rail gates, trying to get to the other little ram...who by now had girls with him. Call huband....eliminate ram.
Start over looking for ram lambs.
I might say something here about people selling out of shetlands. There are several reasons that could happen. Moving, health of the owner....goals achieved or not achieved with shetlands. Some of these sales may even repeat themselves. My only thought there would be marketing. You have heard of buyer beware. If a person is selling one breed of sheep and keeping another....what does that say about the breed they are selling? Well, I knew. This lady had claimed she didn't have use for their wool anymore. I should have asked why....it seems that either in their initial breeding or in their constant line-breeding....these sheep had terrible shetland wool. (A couple of years later I culled the whole line along with lambs.)
There is a reason I needed to buy ram lambs. I don't have a trailer. I was happier, seeing what a ram lamb can do with his horns....bringing ram lambs home in a dog crate in the back of my truck. No way I was stuffing one of those big boys in a crate. I found there were a lot of ram lambs that could go with the ewes I was buying. "Oh take him, free!" Otherwise, it seemed all those little rams had to be shipped. And most breeders find sending their cute little ram lambs to market is distasteful.
There are those breeders who will wether a ram lamb for you, and actually sell them that way.
Well good for them. I would rather keep them intact and ship for meat. That, because I assisted my vet wether 7 little rams one morning. I wasn't doing that any more...and I have heard too many horror stories about banded ram lambs breeding the flock. My unsold and unbred ram lambs go to market. Usually there are some tall lady sheep there too...so they are happy for a while.
I usually get 35 to 45 ram lambs born here in a year....What number are sold for breeding rams?...Usually about 6....I use maybe another 4 or 6 myself....just to see what they can do. I may actually ship those boys after the breedings. Yes, I am tough on my ram lambs.
What do I base my choices on for breeding the ram lambs I keep and use? Well, I like spots....so I will usually breed spotted ram lambs. I don't choose for size....so I might breed a smaller ram lamb as often as I would breed a normal sized ram lamb. No, I may not breed a larger ram lamb...because I prefer shetlands on the smaller side of normal. What's normal?....your choice.
Close or puny horns will cause the ram lamb to be shipped before breeding. I have always had great horned adult rams...so I have their genetics in my flock. I don't usually have to worry about close horns. I might look to see if the ram has even horns. I prefer to have a ram lamb's fleece feel good. I even photographed and kept a couple of ram lambs last year because I liked their fleece.
What are your goals? Do you want a small spinning flock with one breeding ram or even two?
You likely will be buying those breeding rams....because you have to start somewhere. If you breed all your girls to one ram, then you will have to have a second unrelated ram to breed the ewe lambs you keep. I have no doubt you will keep some. If you avoid breeding those ewe lambs for a year....then by the time they are two or three you have to buy a different ram.
Holy smokes, batman.....what if your first ram is perfect??? You HAVE to keep him for breeding....then you also HAVE to sell all your ewe lambs.
What if you have bought a ram lamb in good faith and he isn't ...HORRORS...perfect. Do you use him one year and then pass him along to someone dumb enough to buy him? Do you ask the original breeder to replace him because his horn is growing thru his jaw? Do you quietly ship him and grit your teeth and try to buy another? Well, usually it comes down to cash. If you spent a lot on the ram....the breeder will listen to your complaints and maybe give you a deal on another ram lamb. If you bought the cheapest ram you could find...you should keep quiet and ship him. Maybe you should study this breeding field before buying another.
It has been suggested to me that no lambs should be shown or possibly sold....because it is too hard to judge their qualities until they are adults. On the subject of shows. You really should see a big sheep show. There are all these sheep big enough to saddle....and they are all sheared before they are shown. Why? Because these people want big meaty sheep. If they have a structural flaw....they shear them with more fleece left at that place to hide the flaw during the show. If they have the wrong color on their legs...the breeders spray paint their legs to the right color. Good grief!...Shetlands are the only REAL sheep at these big shows. Yes, they are small, and it's hard to judge how they may change. If you aren't sure who to buy to take home ask a couple of other breeders. Get some advise....we may not all be wrong. A sheep is a sheep is a sheep. There are those breeders who like to go around and find fault with other breeders' sheep. There are those breeders who like to claim their sheep are perfect....everyone of them. Don't believe everything you hear. If you find the "perfect" sheep....it might die in a month. Was it worthwhile finding the perfect sheep? If the goal is the search, yes. If the goal is in the breeding, no. The challenge in this field is to breed a better sheep. So go ahead and fall in love with a little cuddly lamb. Maybe you won't like the lamb when it grows up....but maybe you will love that lamb's grandchild. If you are looking for a saleable sheep, study marketing. Any sheep could be sold with the right marketing. If you need help with marketing....I know someone who might help for a price. No, not that breeder....a different one. And I have a lot to learn too, but every once in a while I just want to keep all my sheep. I bred them....they're mine. Then my husband starts talking about hay and grain and fencing....and I run to the computer.
Sheep for sale.....darn....I like them too.


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