Monday, May 18, 2009

Conformation Clinic- Titus Pullo

In between the rains, I've been very busy spraying our fields for weeds. I went from a hand held 2 gallon sprayer, to a 4 gallon backpack sprayer, to a 15 gallon pull behind. I'm using a heribicide called Pasture Pro, that kills broadleaf weeds but doesn't kill the grass. Amazing stuff. I knocked down a bunch of stands of juvenile sandbur. Our pastures are looking great!

We had our flock sheared yesterday, and I took lots of photos of the sheep. So I'll have TONS of photos to share in the near future!

I'd like to do some online conformation clinics. I tried to get these started on the yahoo groups several years ago, very few people seemed interested in participating. Now that everyone is blogging, I think they are a perfect forum for this sort of thing. Please comment away.

Perhaps I'm shooting myself in the foot by drawing attention to some of the flaws in some my sheep, but if we are honest with ourselves, I'm sure mine is not the only flock out there with some less than perfect sheep in it. I also acknowledge that in seeking out poll carrying sheep over the last five years, I've limited myself to some less than perfect specimens to get that poll gene.

And although my flock isn't perfect, every sheep currently out there has his or her strengths as well that I'm trying to retain, while eliminating undesirable traits that still haunt me.
In other words, if I wasn't breeding for polled Shetlands, I think I could have a flock of much better quality sheep as I could choose from a larger pool of Shetlands.
I'll only be showcasing sheep of my own breeding for these conformation clinics.

I'll start with Titus Pullo, a two year old half poll ram. There are a lot of things I like about Pullo. He is very soft for a black, solidly built, no cowhocks, good tail, no iset. But there is something about him I don't like and it is bothering me. See if you can't spot it as well.

Cule: It isn't his ear set, or his bulbous head. I think the shape of the half poll skull forces the ears onto a horizontal plane, and makes them look heavier.


Laura said...

His back is weak and dips?

Juliann said...

Hi Laura, thanks for participating. I actually think he has a good, level back. Keep looking. :)

Jen and Rich Johnson said...

He's a very solid ram for the reasons you pointed out. As I looked at him, the thing that jumped out at me was that he is very long. Normally, I value that highly, but it doesn't look quite right on him. Maybe it's the proportions. For my money, I'd take Eragon's conformation in a minute! That guy is something else!

You mentioned the head. That struck me as well. It's not the classic shetland head in my mind. Not as much a flaw as something I don't like. That's a lot of criticism for a very nice animal!

Hey, you asked...LOL.

all the best,


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Can I just have the ewe in your new header? She's gorgeous!

Personally, I don't like the dip behind (or in front of) Titus' withers. He does look really long, but I think the dip behind his withers accentuates that. And hard to tell from these photos, but he doesn't look as wide as Braveheart (who needs more length to his back).

We have a lot of clover in our pastures, so I can't use a broadleaf herbicide without killing it. That leaves me to hand-dig the thistles....

Angela Rountree said...

Okay...this is my first try and I may be way off...
I see a dip where his neck blends into his shoulders, and another behind his shoulders, and a sloping rump area. Is he also "over at the knee"?

Juliann said...

Rich, I didn't even think about his body length. He is long, and I agree he doesn't have an attractive head. I also prefer a shorter, more compact body. I think a long (or short) body is one of those things where personal prefernce plays in. Some people want more loin, some like their sheep more compact. Thanks for pointing that out.

Michelle, that is one of my favorite ewes, BabyBee. My last Gallifrey daughter. She's a little hocked, but she really got the best of both parents. She's produced some incredible lambs for me. She didn't settle this year and I'm pretty disappointed in that.

Here is a tidbit that may be of interest to a lot of people. "A fellow breeder" brought back a Breed Standard Clarification from his recent trip to the UK. It's called "SHETLAND FLOCK-BOOK SOCIETY APPENDIX A" and it is an utterly fascinating document. The SSS agreed to adopt it back in 2000.
I do hope NASSA adopts it as a guideline.
I have a copy. It actually calls for a pronounced hump over the wither. I quote
"A sheep must have withers to enable it to move freely. 'Well set' means not too narrow, but set properly between neck and back, showing a promontory (slight hump) thus defining the neck which would otherwise be lost in the back."
It is a fascinating document.
So my view is if the neck ties in high (and a lot of Shetlands do have a neck that ties in lower on the chest), a modest hump and dip isn't something I'm personally going to sweat over. Look at Linda W & Scott's photos in the NASSA News. The elite show sheep over there have humps and dips!
I would like to see more width on Pullo, expecially in his shoulders.

Pullo is my largest ram, the shearer estimated his weight at 125 lbs. I would have guessed him at 150, so I'm relieved he is within the guidelines for weight, anyways.

Angela, interesting that you point that out about "over at the knee". I don't believe I've seen a Shetland yet that isn't over at the knee. At this point, I almost believe it to be a breed characteristic. Anybody have any that arn't over at the knee?

How about that rump? Would an ideal rump be more round?

Okay, here's what was bothering me about him. He has a very modest sickle to his rear hocks. I actually looked at a lot of blogs recently to see if it was just some of my sheep, but I see that some Shetlands so have a slight sickle, and some don't.

Maybe just something else to be aware of, kinda like the toeing out we see in a lot of them...
Thanks to everyone who participated so far, I've learned a thing or two more to look for. :)

Jen and Rich Johnson said...

I saw those pictures and I didn't like them. So, my thinking is that I'm not aligned with the standard in that regard. I would never in a million years breed sheep that look like the pictures in the Newsletter. That's just me. That appendix is something I'd love to see. How do I get a copy? I will say that most sheep breeds treat that dip as a serious flaw. The ones that have nicely drawn standards anyway. I certainly haven't seen all of them.

I have to be honest, I don't see him as being over at the knee. It is clearly a problem with shetlands as are splayed toes and sickle/cow hocks. I suppose there's a slight sickle going on there, but not that bad. I've seen a lot worse.

After looking at the pictures again, I think it's the area starting behind the withers that I noticed. I don't care for that dip, and the area behind it is quite long. I think that makes his overall length appear longer than it is. It's almost as if two different sheep are glued together at that point. Again, I'm being overly critical of a nice ram. Many don't have his good points.

I agree with Michelle about the ewe at the top. I was comparing him to her. Her head is very nice as is her topline and leg set. She's not as wide as some, but a lot better than most!

I've said more than enough.


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

He doesn't look over at the knee to me. And I'd take a SLIGHT "overage" over the opposite, which is far weaker in structure (just like in horses).

I can see what you mean by the sickle hocks, especially as compared to BabyBee. But that can vary so much by their stance at any given moment so I wasn't sure.

I'm with Rich; that topline is what I don't care for, and if that is what the standard becomes, I'm still not going to try to breed for it!

Juliann said...

Rich you didn't like the show sheep from Linda & Scott's photos? (The show sheep, not Chastain's sheep.)
Hey guys, this is very cool! I'm learning a lot. I asked for this, remember? :) I want him picked apart!
Rick I'll e-mail you the appendix. From reading the whole appendix, it sounds like the authors are trying to mark differences between "primatives" and the average meat sheep.
I actually think this is kind of important, as the Flock Book is really leaning towards commercial big whites. Those things look like if they walked 10 feet they'd drop dead of a heart attack, not to mention trying to climb up a hill. Definetely "improved", not primative.
I recall Robin saying that the standard is all about mobility, the Shetland being able to move great distances and climb over rocks and such. So maybe that's why we don't see the Shetland appendix being written as if the Shetland were a "big white" with an Oxford topline, etc. Just a thought.
So Michelle, I don't know a lot about horse conformation. Over at the knee is better than being back at the knee?
BabyBee has an awesome topline. But she's cowhocked. I swear I don't have anything out there just perfect, darn it. Some days I feel just like culling everything and starting from scratch.
I notice if it's even a little bit cold out, the sheep tend to hunch and that throws off their entire conformation. I tried to get photos of how he is relaxed and at liberty.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Yes, in horses being a little over at the knee is not considered a problem, but being at all under at the knee is a conformational weakness and horses with that tend to break down faster and easier. If you look at high-speed photos of jumping horses or racehorses, you will often see an alarming degree of hyperflexion backwards from the strain of landing the jump or fatigue at the end of a race. Imagine how much worse it would be if a horse is already built that way! Disaster!

Angela Rountree said...

Wow, I'm learning a lot! I really appreciate the comments. And yes, all my sheep are "over at the knee" too.

Franna said...

Well, I noticed the hock area, but it might be more lack of muscle in the thigh? Then the first photos doesn't show it at all, and the second to last shows it worse.

I have to agree that I like a stronger topline, but that's easier for me to assess as the sheep are walking around. They tend to stand every which way on their own!

Nice rams, all, and I'd take Baby Bee in a minute. To me, slightly hocky isn't a bad conformation fault.

Thanks, Juliann, this is fun!

Juliann said...

Hi Franna,

This IS fun!
Franna I agree on slight hocks. Even if the hind feet toe out a little bit, if the hocks are parallel to each other and the hind end isn't pinched, I've never seen this affect the mobility of the sheep, even in aged ones.
I wanted to note and forgot that BabyBee and Pullo are half-sibs. They are out of the same dame. Goes to show how a sire can really put a stamp on a lamb.
Another thing I wanted to note was that Pullo was a very cute lamb. Unless someone has been line breeding for years, you just don't know what that cute lamb is going to look like as a flock sire in 2 or 3 years. I noticed in some of the early NASSA News that a lot of breeders wouldn't sell ram lambs, only as yearlings. They held everything over a year before offering them for sale. I don't know if any of us want to go to such an extreme, although I know of several breeders who still continue this practice, but I think anytime any of us buy a ram lamb as a potential flock sire, it's always a roll of the dice and you gotta be prepared for a little heartbreak if he turns out less than what we expect.

Jen and Rich Johnson said...

No, I didn't care for the show pictures. That makes me think I'm off base here. If those sheep are show winners, they must be paying closer attention to fleece and leg set, than topline. From a health and production standpoint, that makes sense, but I don't like it. Imagine breeding horses that are swaybacked. No one would do that. And what standard allows the rear end of a sheep to be higher than the shoulders? The standard says level. Of course, all of us are juggling multiple priorities here, because there are very few perfect shetlands (and Stephen has all of them...LOL).


Juliann said...

Okay, next question. Should I cull him for these faults, or continue to offer him for sale?
I'm trying to build a base of brown based flock sires, so I have no interest in using a black myself.
I am very appreciative of everyone's honesty so far. I don't live in an area where I can get other breeders out to help me evaluate my flock, so I'm going to use and abuse you guys, lol.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Unless his fleece is coarse and he's "only" a half-poll, I certainly wouldn't cull him for what we've discussed!

On ram lambs, I really do think the responsible thing to do is to not breed them. If we all kept ram lambs until they are yearlings (whether we breed or buy them) before using them as flock sires, I think some of the breed's persistent problems -- be they horns, conformation, temperament or fleece -- would disappear MUCH faster. To that end, I think it is a disservice to our breed to show ram lambs. I have seen winning ram lambs sold for high prices, only to be culled a year or so later because of bad horns (AFTER being used as a flock sire, of course).

Theresa said...

Hi everyone!
This is Tori, Theresa's teen daughter, if you don't know. Ok, I've never commented on a blog before, and I sure am jumping in late on this discussion! But it is very interesting so far! Just a note- I like judging a lot, and frequently tear apart my own sheep:) Anyway, I mostly agree with comments already stated; I'd just like to say that many 'over-at-the-knee' sheep just have a big joint compared to the smaller cannon bone, which is supposed to be smaller in Shetlands anyway(standard calls for fine bones). Plus, some sheep stand improperly and throw their weight on shoulders, like some horses do, which can hurt the joints as the sheep age. Joints get bigger with age anyway,right?
Oh, Pullo's shoulders look more pointy, which would cause the neck to make a bump, because it's lower than the normal joining point. Flatter shoulders provide a wider topline, which increases body width and capacity. I especially agree with what Franna said- he has no rump muscling, which Shetlands, as a dual purpose breed, should have moderate muscle. His size looks fine to me. Whew! Really long comment for my first,sorry!

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

This morning I took photos of Braveheart and his wethered son Browning. Shall I post them on my blog so ya'll can come over and critique my only (at this point) ram?

Juliann said...

Tori, let's discuss muscling. Are you talking about breeding larger carcass (more meat) into the Shetland? Or exercising them like the club lamb people do?
I don't do much with my rams to make them move. They do a lot of laying around. I do want a rectagular build to them, but I don't want "meat sheep". I don't want to turn a primative breed into just another meat breed.
Shoulders: I have seen flater shoulders (withers) and I do like that trait! I have taken to placing a hand on the shoulder to feel the width. That just looks good on a sheep.

Juliann said...

Michelle, as long as Beryl doesn't find out, I don't know how she'd feel about people picking apart a sheep of her breeding online, although I thought she was getting out of sheep so it may not matter.
That's why I thought I'd stick to doing conformation clinics on only sheep of my own breeding, so there are no hurt feelings. But that's up to you.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Ooops. I've already posted photos of Braveheart. The comments have been very positive, though, so I don't think she could possibly feel bad about breeding such a handsome fellow. :-)

Theresa said...

Tori - No, Juliann, I don't want a meat sheep either - no commercial big whites for me! The standard calls for a 'light, but very fine in quality' leg of mutton. As a dual purpose breed, Shetlands should have good muscling naturally-without exercising/graining them
(I was definitly not suggesting doing the outrageous things club lamb people do!! They're nuts!). The rounder the rump, the more muscle, which means more meat. This was important to the people of the Shetland Isles, as sheep were a source of meat for them. A good example of a well-muscled rump is Eragon. Notice the curve of the leg? It is a round, bulging curve, not an inward-curving, sickle-shaped, angular one. This is a great indicator of muscling, as is the width of the rump muscle as seen from behind. A highly sloped, angular rump can go with an imperfect conformation, and it is an indicator (usually) of poor muscling. Of course, this is being extremely picky, but good muscle on top of good bone makes for an attractive, well-balanced sheep.

Juliann said...

Theresa & Tori,

You're going to have to show me the curve of the leg thing when I come down to visit. :)
I can comprehend the rump dialogue, we used to use the term "bullet butt" for a nicely rounded butt over the tailhead, like the curve on a bullet as opposed to a flat rump. Cool, I can see it! I'm learning so much from all of you, thanks so much for participating in these conformation clinics!

Juliann said...

Oh, bullet butt was a term from back when I used to breed miniature donkeys.

Theresa said...

Hi Juliann,
This is Theresa this time. What Tori means is if you follow Eragon's black patterning from his tail on down to the back of the stifle, this part is "curved" instead of angular. Actually, he is curved all the way from the hip bones on down - kind of like a ? mark. Damascus, on the other hand, is totally angular, not rounded. Think of an old fashioned Quarter horse - big curvy rear end. Obviously, you want the biggest rear end you possibly can but I sincerely doubt any of us will ever see a Shetland with a Texel rump. Shetlands simply aren't built that way. But, you still want roundness, not angularity. This is one of two top cuts on the carcass - the other is the loin. Damascus also fails in this area as he is too short bodied. You want a long loin - not only for the cut but also for producing ewes that have enough room in the loin area to carry lambs easily. Short-bodied ewes have more difficulty in breathing and eating simply because there isn't enough room in their body to accomodate everything. Pompey and Eragorn both have nicely proportioned bodies, as does Silvio.

Sheared bodies makes a world of difference when you are evaluating your sheep. Over the years, I have taken quite a few pictures of both the ewes and the rams when they were sheared to fix in my mind which had the best bodies and what exactly they looked like. To compare with, the best places online were of the Icelandics as I saw lots of sheared pictures of them. Shetlands are very similar in structure to Icelandics so it was easy to mentally fix "proper" meat structure on our breed without imposing a "meat" sheep breed structure on them.

Lots to think about when we put our eye to the conformation of our sheep!