Saturday, August 09, 2008

It's showtime! I've been getting ready for the upcoming show season. This morning, 20 sheep were trailered out to our vet's office in Peotone, IL, for health papers for the Michigan Fiber Fest, and the Wisconship Sheep & Wool Fest. Afterwards, the group was sorted into a Michigan group, and a Wisconsin group. The Wisconsin group was turned back out into pasture with the brood ewe flock, while the Michigan group was turned out "in-by" so I can spend the next week getting them cleaned up and presentable. Since we sheared our own sheep this year, this will be no small task.

I never show a lot of classes, only a few. I'm there to have a good time, not kill myself.

This year, I'm only showing ram lamb and ram lamb pair at MFF. My show boys are are Lil'Country Nightcap, pictured above, and Lil'Country Sand Storm, a pretty darn nice katmoget. Sand Storm seems a quick learner at halter so far, but I will keep working him. Lambs always seem to progress by doing well at first, then getting bad again, then improving again, then getting REALLY BAD, then they seem to resign themselves to their fate and humor me a little by pretending to be show sheep.

Nightcap, the little demon, will give me a run for my money. I don't know who worked who harder today. See that glowing eye? He's Hellboy in disguise, I tell you. :)

Our little bottle baby, named "Q", came along for the ride to the vet today. Q is Servilia's orphan. For several reasons, he is not good enough to be a breeding ram, but my husband has grown very attached to the little fellow. Tom spent many a night with little Q curled up contentedly on his lap. I have no need for a wether, but I'm hoping that keeping Q will give my husband an interest in my "boring" sheep, and keep his mind off getting the pet draft horse he keeps threatening to come home with. So the vet deftly banded Q, and I gave poor little Q a handful of grain to make him (and I) feel better.

My introspective post for the month.

I ramble sometimes, I muse, of conformation, quality issues, and the successes and failures of breeding a pedigreed breed of livestock. I am concerned sometimes that I come across as being "high falutin", or judgemental of other breeders, I'm not. If you knew me, you'd know that. I love seeing what other people are breeding for, what they're breeding with, and their lamb crops. I'm nosy as hell, but I won't be losing sleep over what you are doing with your sheep. Trust me on that! :)

I think we should be encouraging each other and learning from each other, not putting each other down. If I had to throw darts at someone else in order to "look good" as a breeder or to sell sheep, that wouldn't speak very highly of me or my sheep, now would it?

Here is why I have these thoughts of breeding better sheep as a journey that I'm on....I guess it starts with the beginnings of my journey, and along the way I've learned that succumbing to a little old fashioned peer pressure isn't necessarily a bad thing.

This is a photo of my first shetland sheep ever, a mature ewe I purchased in June of 2002 for $275. She has her good points...wool on the poll, not an unattractive head, neck ties in well on the chest, nice pasterns. She had a real loving personality. Hmmm. Well, that's about it. I can't say much else flattering about her.

She is also very large and unrefined in build, larger than I've discovered I like. Her fleece wasn't exactly soft or pleasant to the touch. Her hind leg set was poor. Sickle hocked and cow hocked. Not a good shetland tail at all. She also had a lumpy bag and had trouble lambing for the several years I owned her.

I "loved" this ewe and would have been very upset if anybody had said anything negative about her. I probably would have said they were being "elitest" or conceited. I probably would have told them to go "pound sand" with my infamous potty mouth. I would have taken this very personally, and defended my sweet girl.

Six years of shepherding has taught me a lot. As I started visiting other people's flocks, pouring over their websites, and going to shows, I saw other types of shetland sheep that appealed to me more. I learned more about conformation and fleece, I discussed the breed standard with other breeders, and listened to other people's comments about not only their stock, but my stock as well. Some of it was hard medicine, but I tried not to get upset when someone would say to me "Sorry I can't use your ram, but he has a weak hind end". Or make a face and say "eeewwwwe, she's really coarse."

It is never easy to take criticism, I'm no better than anybody else at that. I could have allowed my feelings to be hurt beyond repair, or thought poorly of the people making these comments. I could have screamed and raved online about how horrid the person was in an attempt to stir up sympathy for my poor pathetic self. I tried very hard to put my ego aside and learn from them, instead. Most of them really didn't mean to be hurtful. They were just being painfully honest.

Here was are some photos from my first lamb crops. So you can see why I rejoice when I get a nice, typy lamb.

I found a good pet home for my first ewe after I realised that some shetland sheep are better off being somebodies spoiled pet. We don't have to register and breed everything that hits the ground. The world needs sweet sheep to simply hug and kiss on. These sheep can also be used for crossbreeding, for fiber providers, or for meat. There are a lot of uses for all types of sheep. Having culls doesn't mean we are failures as pedigreed breeders, it means we are trying to do better as pedigreed breeders. And I guess that's what it's all about.

So I cull, I "breed up", I cut my losses here, I repeat a breeding there. I've learned that most of the time you get what you pay for, but there are exceptions to that rule. You can also pay a lot of money for a crappy animal, and you can find an inexpensive "diamond in the rough" who will pay for herself many times over when paired with the right ram. So as time goes on , I make improvements in some areas, and have set backs in other areas. I celebrate the little steps forward and scratch my head over the steps back. Each fall, pairing are carefully planned, and I hold my breath through that long, five month wait for the outcome.

You know what? I propose a toast! I toast the good shetland people out there. Both online friends I've never "met", and the people I see every year at the shows. Most of you have been kind and helpful as you've gently pushed me to be a better steward of the breed. You've looked out for me, you've watched my back. You've helped me select breeding stock, you've advised me on who to cull even when culling hurt. You've opened your homes to me, broke bread with me, had "a few too many" with me over a bonfire, and shared many a good laugh with me.

I love you guys, you all know who you are!

See everyone at Michigan this weekend. We're gonna tear it up. ;)


Nancy K. said...

How I miss going to MFF and seeing everyone! I know you'll have a grand time.

As always, your honesty and clarity of thought impress me. You are truly one of the nicest people and most thoughtful Shetland breeders that I know.

May God Bless You

See ya next month!!

Becky Utecht said...

I'm going to miss MFF this year too. I hope you guys have a great time!
I've always been impressed with your comments regarding conformation in your sheep Juliann and the way you cull mercilessly. You have a good eye, I would love for you to visit and tell me what you see in my flock. It's hard to be objective about our own stock. I did sell my favorite ewe this summer. She was one of the first lambs born here, she was a good producer and I just loved her. But she was getting older and my goals are changing as the years go by. So I was happy to find a good home for her.

Carol Bator said...

This was a very good introspective post. I think many of us who have been breeding Shetlands for a few years can totally understand where you are coming from. I think it is also a little easier to be critical of other people's sheep and blind to the faults in our own sheep. In fact, it may be beneficial to have friends objectively evaluate individual sheep in each other's flocks. We will see things differently without the bias of having raised that lamb and grown attached to it. And different shepherds have different priorities. One might rank a broad chest higher than soft wool and another may see the soft wool as more important. It is good to consider both opinions and then make your own decision. In some ways, that is what showing sheep is about for me. A way to get other people's opinions about individual sheep, and then to decide what I might want to work toward improving in my flock. I do look forward to seeing you at MFF tomorrow.

Kathy said...

This was a great post to read, Juliann. I think you hit the nail square on the head. So often we can be critical of others comments only to be blind at what is in front of our eyes. As breeders, we strive to have those "perfect" sheep, but in reality, few breedings result in those sheep. And it's hard to do the "heartless" thing and cull. We feel it hard in a very small flcok. WE don't have the space to keep all the animals we breed and one of the hardest facts of animal farming is culling. There are those who don't make the cut, nor should they. We all have ewes we love dearly but when you try a few breedings from a ewe and don't get what you want, you either have to find a different ram to try or come to the realization that it may be the ewe.
So many times I have heard people talk about either the ram or the ewe as carrying faults. So many of us don't want to admit that genetics is a 50/50 deal. It's not just one side of the coin. I have heard many a breeder say it was a ewes fault, or a rams fault not wanting to admit that the union they place hopes on just didn't work out.
So thank you for your eloquent post.

Juliann said...

Hi gals,

Kathy, thank you for your comments. Boy, I've been too heavy lately, I need to lighten up!
Carol, it was great seeing you. Easter is tucked in with the rest of the show bunch and doing well.
Nancy & Beck, missed you two, wish you could have kicked your heels up with us. :)