Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quantity vs. Quality

I've been keeping busy, and the summer is flying by before my eyes. Other than sneaking off for a few hours of fishing now and then, or share a few drinks with neighbors around the bonfire, I really haven't done anything recreational or "fun" this year. No day trips, no hikes, and of course no vacations.
Summer will be gone (again) before I know it.
I'm just now losing my spring momentum that had built up between lambing and gardening. My fruit trees all look healthy, but very little fruit coming in. My garden isn't growing very well.
I mowed the 4.5 acres of back pasture and I've noticed that the invasion of horse nettle and other weeds are growing worse. We are giving the pastures a break by rotating them, then closing them off and feeding hay for a few weeks in between. I'll have to rent a tank of weed n' seed from FS to fight the weeds and make my poor pastures healthy again.

We were fortunate to buy and put up 360 square bales at only $3.50 a bale. That's more than we usually pay for first cutting, but I've heard of other people paying a lot more so I'm thankful. I'll try to get another 150 of second cutting and then, we should be set for winter. I'm also thinking of experimenting with round bales if I can find someone to deliver them. Having hay put up is always a relief.

This is our newest aquisition. I've trying to collect some older polled Dailley lines to cross with the Holly & Dillon poll lines. This guy, Twin Springs Bearclaw, has Z6399 waaaay back on the dame's side. Smaller scurs, set in a depression on the skull. And Sandy's rare caped genetics. Even if I cannot get the caping pattern to reproduce itself, I'll still love having another spottie. Plus he's brown based, and some fresh genetics from outside the Midwest.

Bearclaw has a nice hind end, and a better tail than I've seen on a lot of spotted shetlands. We'll play around with him and have some fun. :)

Btw, Sandy Truckner is an absolute delight, she and I could have talked sheep for HOURS when we met up in Indiana.

I don't know what Bearclaw's scurs will do in the future, so we'll use him fast. He's an Ag, so I think I'll put him over some of my non-Ag self colored ewes and see what happens. My goal is to get at least one full poll from each half poll ram, for fresh and far related bloodlines.

This is Babybee, one of my moorits and home bred. I'm happy to have at least a few nice ewes by Gallifrey before I got tired of fighting with him and shipped him.

We sheared our own sheep this year, which is why some of the sheep look a little patchy. It was tedious work that tested my patience, but...we did it! Some of the sheep had to be cleaned up a little after the rise, so I'm hoping they look halfway presentable by show season. Next year, I think I'll wait until late May to even start.

I have spent the last few weeks sitting in the pasture with a notebook, taking notes of the strengths and weaknesses of each individual sheep. Reflecting on the successes in my breedings, and the failures. What worked, what didn't, and how much time am I willing to spend experimenting with a line before scrapping it?

Nine sheep went to market a few weeks ago, and it felt good. Ewes that a few years ago I would have paid hundreds of dollars for. Cowhocks, heavy tails, narrow hips, weedy. The twin to the ewe who died from worms, and her lamb. Larger scurs on a few good ram lambs that I thought no one would buy. A gorgeous, smooth polled mioget smirslet ram lamb with a nice, wide hip that was a keeper until I discovered that he was a one nutter, our first ever.

We'll be making another market run in a few weeks, and re-evaluate again.

We over-did things this year, I can see that now. I wanted to badly to be "one of the big breeders", and I want despertely to further the poll carriers and improve their quality as quickly as possible. I will try to discipline myself to be content being a small-potatos breeder, until I can retire onto a nice, big, 80 acres parcel somewhere. :)

I just don't have the pasture, unless I want to feed hay year 'round. Overstocking is not good for the sheep, and I've lost that "one on one" connection with the sheep as individuals.

Like many shepherds this year, we have to cut back. It is the smart thing to do. I bred 24 ewes last year, and lambing was no fun. We had some new challenges, and lost our first ewe ever (to parasites), and our first lamb ever. Shepherding had become more work, less fun. I have a sense of urgency about getting everything done NOW that has taken the relaxation out of it. Maybe these are signs.

To keep less sheep means I have to "up my game" and keep just the very best polled sheep I can, in the patterns and colors that I've come to enjoy so much. No more high quantity, but higher quality instead.

Many breeders are having flock reductions or dispersals. Some are dumping lots of sheep at very low prices. It is not for me to judge these people, I'm not in their shoes. I'm chosing to send the lower end sheep to market rather then sell them cheaply to another breeder. The sheep that I am selling as breeding stock are better animals that were good enough for me to use, and that I believe they will be an asset to another flock. They are worth my asking price, and I hope that my individual flock will retain some worth as a whole by doing so.

So here I go....I plan on breeding 14 shetland ewes next fall, plus my two Cluns. I will hold over some keeper ewe lambs. I will keep as many rams as I need to keep diverse bloodlines and patterns, also sale rams, but I won't be keeping non-useful extras. I hope my lambs next year will be better than ever. Wish me luck!

THE END of this entry...

I'll end this with a butt-shot of one of my favorite ewes. This is North Wind Netty. She is the only Shakespeare daughter left out there in the big world. One of my first poll carrying ewes, and has withstood the test of time here. She is seven years old and has very little age greying. She has produced some very nice lambs for me when paired with the right ram. Babybee is one of her daughters.

Netty is short at the wither, and she has a nice cobby build when not lactating for twins. She is a small ewe, proof that a shetland can be smaller framed and refined, and still be well conformed.


Jen and Rich Johnson said...

Hey Julianne - such a great blog entry - I was nodding my head through a lot of it. And I think Baybee looks fine, not as scraggly as you describe. We had a professional come out to our farm and we had a few that look way worse than her.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts so honestly

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Wow, I finally got to see a photo of a caped flecket! Congratulations on your acquisition. You are doing such a fantastic job with the polled lines, and to me you will always be one of the "big guys" because of your focus and commitment. I sure like Netty, too. Keep up the great work!

stephen rouse said...

Great blog Juliann. I agree with you completely. I am selling off some of my great girls at reduced prices, but it's because I can't bear to have them slaughtered. If they had faults I'd ship them to market, but these are great girls. Thus I'm trying to find homes for them at reduced prices. Your Netty's hind end is perfect. Wonderful ewe. Your plan sounds great. You'll enjoy shepherding next year! Guaranteed. :-)

Juliann said...

I apologise in advance for any hurt feelings for my last comment, which I deleted after someone thought I was taking a poke at one person in particular.
I thank this individual for having the maturity to clarify my intent via e-mail, rather than jumping to conclusions and taking offense.
Nothing wrong with anyone taking advantage of a good deal, if it's a good sheep. Just....know that your getting a good sheep and not cheap trash. Does that sound better? ;)
I never mean to hurt anyone's feelings, ever. The tone of a person's on-line comment can't always come across accurately. Nature of the internet.

Nancy K. said...

I find myself in a similar situation this year, Juliann. I will be sending several very nice girls and rams to market rather than sell them off at discount prices. This will be a first for me and I'm dreading it but there are already plenty of bargain sheep to be had. I'm hoping that by sending them to 'market' they will have a chance to go on to non-registered Flocks and still have a good life. If that's not the reality of the situation, I don't want to know about it! :-(

The good news for both of us is that we will have some very nice animals to continue our breeding programs!

Your new ram is a real looker! What a striking difference between his moorit and his white fleece. That should be easy to separate should you want to keep the two colors separate for spinning.

Can't wait to see you at Jefferson!

Juliann said...

Hi Nancy! Thanks. I've seen the fleece differences on other spotted lambs. It's odd. But it seems to even out that second year.
I can't wait to see you and the rest of the Minn gang at J.! It should be a lot of fun this year.

Alaska Shetland Shepherd said...

Juliann - wonderful post and I'm glad I stopped by to read! Do what you enjoy and enjoy doing what you love...and congrats on your beautiful caped boy from Sandra!


Karen B. said...

Juliann, Bearclaw is beautiful. I've never seen one before, thanks for posting the picture. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on sending your sheep to market. Best of luck with your flock plans!

Carol Bator said...

It is always a challenge to keep a flock at a manageable number. There are so many nice sheep out there, and the temptation is to collect them. The other challenge is to evaluate the sheep you have and decide who you need to keep, and who you should part with to meet the goal of having the right size flock. But you still want to have the genetics to meet the goals of your breeding program. I think that as a small breeder, I have to accept the fact that I cannot have a closed flock. I will never have a broad enough genetic base to breed all the replacements I will need to keep my flock going over the long term. The more we can work together in a cooperative manner to produce good sheep from diverse blood lines, the better off we will all be. Good luck with your plans to combine the genetics of so many beautiful sheep with polled genetics. Lambing will always be full of interesting surprises.