Thursday, May 15, 2008

hooked on lambs

Yes, every breeder of shetlands is hooked on lambs. They are the ultimate fun livestock baby. Just born they leap-frog towards that wonderful milk's that is. A half hour later they find they can jump. Jump, jump....jump again....just like a dick and jane book. Oh look! Look at me...I can jump. I can run....I can kick up my heels and race with other lambs. Who can watch the lambs or fifty, without smiling or out-right laughing?

How do you breed for lambs? Do you put the closest ram into a pen with the closest ewes and see what comes out? Are you an elitist? Fumbling with hormones and frozen semen, making designer lambs? What is your market for lambs? Do you sell lambs? Do you ship them for meat? Do you wether all your boys and raise them for fleece? What is your market for fleece? Can you sell your ewe lambs? Why? Why not? Who is out in your pasture right now? Can you move them on to some other shepherd?

If you plan what to do with your lambs after they arrive on the are too old-fashioned to last as a breeder in the 21st century. This all boils down to marketing. Marketing starts with a plan....and that means before you stick a sponge you-know-where. Or grab a horn to capture a ram. Your ram is 50% of your crop. However many ewes and rams you use in the fall, you need to know your ram is salable. What is the sign of a great salable ram? Horns....well, horns are the former sign...until so many breeders became frustrated by close horns, and puny horns that a whole new field of breeding started in shetlands the polled...or horn-less ram. This epidemic has been encouraged by designer semen that came with polled genes. So now, you get to choose wheather your rams have horns or "snails" whatever those are. I suppose you can already tell....I am a horn snob. I like horns on my rams. I prefer wide horns on my breeding ram, because the ram lambs he produces will likely have good horns even if their mother carries bad horn genes. I also prefer to use a live ram as opposed to spending bags of money on designer frozen semen that may or may-not "take" ....and lambs that may or may not have flaws. I'm a cheap type breeder. The old-fashioned way to breed is fine. I have been known to spend bags of money on buying a ewe or ram that seems to be good for my breeding program.

What I am getting ....if you bred lambs this year without knowing why they were salable. You made a mistake. Don't do it again! This farming-business if far too expensive right now to waste your crop because you didn't have a plan.

Get a book on marketing. Read it. Make charts about why you can sell your next lambs locally or why not. Decide on a plan for selling lambs period. Do some research on what is selling. Look to see what is not selling....and where. When I first started breeding I started a web page. If you don't have shouldn't be breeding. It is required for professionalism. To that end....I have just dropped my web presence, so if you are looking for me...I'm not there..... Even if you just tell how to email you, the breeder, and show photos of your need a web page. You also NEED a blog. Maybe you need to chart out things to say in your blog....maybe you talk too me...anyway. It is expected...and it is necessary. Go look at other's blogs. The best thing to do on blogs is show pictures of your sheep for sale with fabulous supurlative words about them. Study those words...and always use, friendliest, show-quality, rare....unusual....Then make sure they are also expensive. I see folks now having two blogs....they are free. One for everyday salesmanship...and one for super-duper-salesmanship. You better do that too, if you want to sell lambs this year.

I may start one too. "Super-duper surprise ewes and lambs, get-em while they are still here!"

It will help if your lamb has some salable quality. Some breeders show at livestock shows. We put one on at Jefferson, Wisconsin. If you haven't shown before, come to see what goes on...bring a sheep...we will show you what to do....and when you have seen what wins prizes then you will know if you want to show your sheep at livestock shows too. There are qualities favored at shows. Big shetlands, close horns on rams that are already curled once for lambs, and twice for adults. Big wide back ends....kind of like saw-horses. Long bodies and long legs will help. Most judges have no clue what is good fleece...but it seems the longer the better, unless it already looks and feels like a rug. It is a specialized field. You will like it if you can bring sheep for sale....because real people actually come thinking they can buy sheep. The "win" of a prize qualifies you are a "show" breeder. Then you advertise that your sheep won prizes at a show...and it causes people to think your sheep are better. Maybe they are...maybe they arem't...but it is another marketing tool.

Yes, I am hooked at lambs. I am looking at those cute little ewe lambs, who although they didn't come with flashy spots....had flashy rams as sires. You know the type of ewe lamb, the one that follows you at a couple of feet, and when you turn around and talk to them they back up, but still look at you with those "bedroom eyes". I have to thank Garrett for that phrase, but I have heard Robin talk of choosing lambs to keep based on those expressive eyes. I wiggle my fingers at that shy ewe lamb...and she comes close to smell my fingers then backs up again. Just out of reach, in case I have my own ideas of catching her, and giving her a hug, and a kiss, and a pet under the chin. No....those moments are days in the future. Polka has a little bag now, and she has taken to following me and snuggling me for a pet. I give her kisses too. She doesn't seem to mind. Perhaps she already know she is scheduled for a new home. This may be her way of saying good-bye. It sure doesn't make it any easier for her shepherd. I remember her birth. Third in a bevy of triplets. The best looking too. Mom didn't have any milk, so I watched for a ewe to foster took two days. Plum was a yearling hiding under a tarp for her first lambing. I crawled under the tarp, talking quietly to the new mom, Holding poor little wet Polka under a towel, Gripping her little legs under her, so she wouldn't stand and scare her foster mom. Both lambs side by side, finally....Plum licked them both as her own lambs, and the natural ewe learned to suck...finally it was Polka's turn...she leaped at the chance to taste her foster mom's milk. The two grew up as sisters. But Polka paid me back the next year, as she walked into the pen with her new-born ewe lamb, di-si-do....and let a new orphan lamb suck on the other side. Polka looked from one to the other as if she knew she had needed that help once herself.

It's pouring rain outside my window. I still have two fat ewes, but the barn is too crowded with lambs and moms to bother them in the downpour....looking for a ewe making little lamb-sounds. I'm expecting plain little lambs, now. But I see breeders who think those lambs are still salable. Maybe if they are ewes...but rams that are plain need a boost these days. What will be the next big sale in shetlands? I would think that after selling all those broken patterns as spotted kats and spotted guls...that someone should come up with a well patterned katmoget....and gulmoget. Show them what the pattern really is. Provide the best. Specialize. Charge a lot too. Your lambs are worth it!


At 10:13 AM, Blogger Rayna said...

Awww...that story of my Polka almost made me cry! I think body spots on a gul or kat would be nice, but when they have too many spots on the head, it takes away from their beautiful natural markings. I can't wait to see what Likei produces :)

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Kara said...

Okay, I took your advice and started a blog. I put fliers around my local feed stores, sent a few to spinning guilds, put an ad on craigslist, joined the shetland sheep forum, put an ad on NASSA. I am getting replies and interest. Hopefully I will have all my lambs sold by the time my beautiful spotted sheep arrive. I am really pleased what my ram threw. The fleece on the lambs is awesome and they have his perfect tail! Can't want to mix it up a bit with the fall breeding groups. I am going to keep one ram lamb because he is my favorite and he may carry his mom's spots and put him in the mix too. As always, thanks for the advice!


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