Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Polled or Horned? What was the question?

I've received a few e-mails asking about what happens when one brings a polled (or half polled) ram into a flock of ewes that all carry the typical horn genes that the vast majority of Shetland ewes have tucked within their chromosomes.

Here is my reply to one recent e-mail:

"To answer your question, if you were to add a genetic half poll to your flock of hornless ewes, you'll be doing exactly what I did in 2004. That's where I started.
That first year, I didn't get any polled ram lambs. I do believe I did get one scurred ram lamb.
Second year, I got one polled ram lamb. The next year, I got a few more polled, some scurred, just a few full horns. The last few years I started getting about half smooth polled, half large scurs. Maybe 1 or 2 horns.
So you'll get scurs on your ram lambs. You'll get lots of scurs, and you'll be getting them for a while. :)

How will those scurs grow? Any way and every way. They can be tiny or large, narrow or thick, long or short & stubby. They can grow fast, or grow slow. They can break off and bleed, they can break off and not bleed. They can break off and grow back, or break off never to be seen again. Some are more pleasing to the eye than others, and yes some will grow fatal (ahem...just like horns).
I'm 5 years into it, and I fully expect to get some scurs this year, but it seems every year I get less and less of them, as I select and retain poll carrier ewes.
It takes years to breed your own bloodline. It does not happen overnight. Anything worthwhile takes work, time, and a lot of patience.

I expect it to take perhaps a decade to get my flock full polled, maybe longer. So it's something you have to want, and you have to be willing to work at it. You have to be willing to cull if you are breeding sheep anyway.

The way I see it, only 10% of one's ram crop, horned or polled, is worthy of being a flock sire. The rest of that ram crop, that 90%, have to be pet wethers or go to market. So it doesn't bother me to ship rams to market, I'm used to it. I even ship ewes to market!
I've been keeping a yearly log of my work towards a polled flock here:

That will give you an idea of the work and thought that's going into doing what I'm doing. :)
Good news is, if are person starts breeding for polled and changes his/her mind, one simply has to buy a horned ram and reverse the process. Cull ewes producing scurred ram lambs, keep using horned rams for each subsequent generation, breed the poll gene out. So far, everyone I know of who's "gone polled" hasn't gone back to horned stock.
The decision to go polled is something each person needs to think about, and go into it with the knowledge you have to cull some of your ram lambs.
Are you on the yahoo group for polled Shetlands? I've got photo albums that show each years lamb crop and their scur growth."

I'm sharing this because I think it's important. There is a bit of "opinion evidence", mis-information, bias, rumor, and unfortunately a lie or two spread about polled Shetland rams. It has been that way since Tami Mulder dared to think outside the box and use the polled Bramble Dixen as a flock sire.

If getting flamed builds character, then Tami has lots of character. :)

If a fellow breeder wants to "go polled", I want them armed with the knowledge to make an informed, intelligent decision. If anyone has any questions, I welcome your e-mail. I'm not a "know it all", I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'll help you if I can.

And if you happen to love a majectic set of horns on your rams, I'll be here on the sidelines to cheer you on and "oh" and "ahh" over your lovely lamb photos. We're all in this together. :)


Jen and Rich Johnson said...

Well said. I hope this puts to rest the notion that scurred rams are somehow defective. They may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're going polled, that may be a good way to get started (unless you can find really nice fully polled sheep - like you might find right here on this blog...hint hint).

I've come to really like the idea of using a scurred ram because it allows you to breed for both fully polled and fully horned rams (depending on the ewe you use). I respect different opinions and tastes on the subject, but we all need to understand genetics before we get firmly set in our beliefs. I know my views have changed since I've taken the time to learn how all of this works.

Kudos to Juliann for trying to educate us. I'll never tell anyone what they should breed for, but this is pretty fascinating stuff. God has blessed us with a pretty neat breed of sheep.


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Juliann, you KNOW (I hope!) you're my hero for both your breeding program and your forthrightness. I hope I can make similar progress way out west here, and am so thankful to have you as a trailblazer and mentor! My biggest wish at this point is to have a good way to evaluate a ewe lamb's skull shape for polled genetics, so I can keep the most likely poll-carrier to further my goals. And if I "hit the jackpot" with what looks like a smooth-poll ram lamb from one of my two girls left to lamb, I will be thrilled!

kristi said...

thank you so is so much to process and genetics was NOT one of my better classes in school, hence why I have a BA/MA in history:) I am 100% behind polled Shetlands, I will never turn back. I just need to understand it more and learn how to use it within my herd. I think using Jed and Jasper, the smooth polled, are the right direction. I am a wimp on the culling thing. I will wether Jammer and pray for the horn growth to stop. You are my inspiration and thank you for being you:)

Kara said...

Okay I guess Rich has led me to my REAL question. Could one use a polled ram for their flock sire for personal preferences but not intend to develop a fully polled line? Could I have a "mixed bag" of ewes that I like and want to keep but breed to a polled or half polled ram? What would that look like? I realize you would get mixed results in the rams, but what about the ewes? How do you prevent it from deterring people from purchasing the ewe lambs, ie. Tammy's concern over Michelle's lambs as an option for her. I want to make responsible decisions in my breeding program that is good for the Shetland breed, or at the very least not do any harm. Are half polled ewes desirable for people breeding for polled OR horned, both, or neither? I will check out the yahoo list and see what I can learn there too. I want to gather as much info I can so I can make an informed decision when it comes to what kind of ram I want to use in the future. Thanks so much for your help. :)

Juliann said...

Thanks you guys for the nice comments.

Hi Kristi,

I'm still learning. I'm also a wimp, too. :) I cried the first time I took a ram to market. But like anything, the first time is the hardest....

Hi Kara,
Well, you can certainly have a mixed bag, some people do, it all depends on how you feel about it. This is actually a pretty complex questions.
They are your sheep, you can do what you want BUT I think it's a good idea to either choose one or the other, or if you want to keep your pp ewes, try to keep a seperate polled line and outcross just to keep your own replacement ewes.
Some people don't mind a poll carrying ewe, they like the ewe and they will buy her regardless of her possibly carrying polled and will deal with the offspring on a case by case basis. Other's do not polled at all in their flock. So you have to tell your buyers that there is a possiblility the ewe lamb may carry the poll gene, and explain to them what can happen with the ram lambs. You want happy buyers and it is the right thing to do.
If you are concerned with sales, if I were you, I'd just stick with horned rams. If you don't want to deal with the property damage, etc., just buy the nicest horned ram lamb you can find, use him to breed with, then ship him for Christmas market. That way, you won't have to deal with mature horned rams. There are people who do this every year, there is really nothing wrong with it. And you won't have to "turn over" your ewe flock, you can keep your favorites forever. :)