Sunday, July 15, 2007

line-breeding and out-crossing

As long as I am writing about breeding, let's discuss out-crossing.
I will wager that 60 or 70 percent of small spinning flocks use out-crossing.
To out-cross means....and I'll bet if I get any of this wrong there will be several folks who correct go ahead and read....we might learn something.
To out-cross, you use a ram that is not related to any of your ewes. If you bought all your breeding stock from one went to the next town and bought a ram from someone else.
How closely do you have to look at pedigrees? Well I believe the relationships must be five generations apart. So if you go back five generations on your ram....there should be no matches to your ewes.
Why out-cross? Maybe you have a bad trait in your flock. Bad tails, close horns, coarse fleece, conformation issues you don't know how to correct....and really are tired of trying. Rather than shipping everyone to the butchers, you out-cross. The ram represents 50 percent of your new crop of lambs. Maybe HE can do are at your wit's end.
Maybe your crop of ewes is really as close to perfection as you could wish for....they are as perfect as you, the breeder, are....but you want a different ram anyway.
Your ram broke the fencepost...hit your knee....ate the flowers....or dropped dead of fatigue.
I don't see any way around it....if you don't have an up-and-coming replacement ram HAVE to go out and search for a new ram. While you are at it....I'll bet you find a ewe or two.
Why line-breed at all? After all, you could just order some A-I expert to give you the best ram straw money can buy. Money is no object for your perfect flock of sheep. That ram straw can give you a boost over all your competition....their mortal rams couldn't compete with your "head-ram-straw". Yours has been judged perfect, that's why they made straws from him. How true. Money talks....but it can't replace hard work and the satisfaction of a job well done. After your perfect lambs have been born, they are out of someone elses hard work and ram.....aren't they?
Well, I always say there are choices for every breeder, and I am happy to support their free choice to do their own thing.
Back to our mere mortal rams.
It could come down to money. The breeder across town has sheep not related to yours....and the breeder with the fabulous web page and fame has a ram that isn't related too. The one down the road costs....let's say 100 dollars. That's cheap! The ram in the next state with the famous breeder who says that ram is perfect.....he will take 400 dollars, but you better act fast......that's expensive! Which one do you want?
If you started with sheep not knowing anything....and bought better go with someone who knows something. It's a grab-bag out there. The breeder down the street may wind up having worse fleece than you do. I'm assuming the fancy famous perfect breeder has sold a few outragious prices....and if no one is bad-mouthing them by now....then you can assume they know more than you. Go ahead pay the that perfect ram.
Expect that ram is mortal too. Hopefully he won't catch cold before he breeds all 10 of your girls. Hopefully he has a long genetic history backing up his short tail. Hopefully his dam didn't have fleece made out of brillo-pads.
You can buy can breed perfection....but remember , you already have less than perfect girls to work with.....don't be disappointed if your first lamb crop is not altogether perfect. Yes, if your perfect ram develops an extra tooth from the horn tip in his can go back and expect a perfect replacement.... but that's it. Your expensive famous breeder only has time to talk to people with money chenched in their fist. They are not going to solve your problems with the bad horns on half your ram lambs.
Who is going to solve your problems? Should you go out and find another ram for 600 dollars next year? is where your work begins. You are the are supposed to learn how to best breed your sheep so that they come close to your idea of perfect. Your idea....and my idea....could be a long ways apart! It's OK....we are different....our sheep are different....our locations are different. Our goals could well be different too.
Now you have a chance to learn how to line-breed. Line breeding is using related genetic lines....but not too closely related. If you get too close and you wind up with less desirable traits...that's called in-breeding. The trick is to use sheep related to each other who have a similar trait that is highly desirable. Take a really short tail. Now you already know that you breed a sheep with a longer tail to one with a shorter tail and hope the shorter tail wins. But how about breeding several generations of shorter tails together so that you know the shorter tails WILL win. If you have a ram with a nice might breed him to a ewe with a bad fleece and hope the fleece will turn out better on the lambs. However....did you know that in several generations of line-breeding you could turn out a perfect fleece? You could! Your own hard work....and your talents in breeding selectivly.....and you could have the fleece that makes you famous too. Sit down with a pen...or at you computer....and see where your strengths lie in your own flock....maybe you don't need to out-cross yet....maybe you just need to think.


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