Sunday, June 14, 2009

A visit to Under The Son....

Yesterday, I paid a visit Theresa Gygi's Under The Son farm to see her flock again, and discuss sheep conformation and Shetland characteristics. Gail Former accompanied me, and of course a shepherd cannot help but soak up tons of information around such knowledgable and experienced fellow Shetland shepherds.

After breakfast, we started off with a hands on examination of Theresa's rams. Theresa's daughter Tori is training to be a judge, and Theresa encouraged her to help answer my many questions, and articulate why certain traits are important. I received a very in-depth lesson on shoulders, muscling, and body capacity.
I learned how to probe my finger's deep into a Shetland to feel the underlying bone structure, and muscle layers. I felt shoulder blades in relation to the spine, pin bones, and finally learned what a "twist" was. I have read about such things, but didn't really "get it" until I got a hands-on lesson. Then it clicked!

I was suprised that Theresa's white ram wasn't any bigger than her other rams, which were not any larger than my larger rams. I have been very leery of "Big White" genetics, which certainly have a different look than a lot of the colored Shetlands that I have seen. I was expecting to see this huge monster of a ram, but I found him to be quite reasonably sized.
Theresa explained that on Shetland and a lot of the UK, colors are kept seperate. Kats are bred to kats, whites to whites, moorits to moorits, for so long that each line of sheep carrying a certain color or pattern began, over decades and decades, to take on slightly seperate characteristics. That certainly makes sense.
I suppose a more appropriate term than "big white" would be a "commercial" strain of Shetland sheep. They are more dual-purpose than what I am used to seeing, having a fleece suitable for a wool pool, and a meatier carcass.
They arn't for everybody...but neither is polled. Chalk it up to Shetland diversity. Anyway, I promised Theresa I would quit using the term Big White, lol!

Gorgeous Bramble ram. The white ram is behind the kat ram.
Of course, after seeing Theresa's sheep, I joked that I was going home and culling half my flock, lol. Theresa and Gail both stressed what I already knew, that no sheep is perfect, and the strengths and weaknesses of each individual animal should be carefully evaluated before making culling decisions. Both of these breeders use the ram and ewe assessment forms provided by NASSA, and encouraged me to start using them. Not by just looking at the sheep in the pasture, but by catching each one up and really going over them hands-on.
That head gate is going to continue to be real handy.
Theresa and Tori showing me shoulder structure. One wants a wider shoulder (not pinched) for mobility, but not so wide the we start having lambing problems in our primative breed. This is a breed that should be able to climb steep hills and gullies, over long distances. I could get one or two fingers in between the spine and shoulder blade of most of Therea's stock that I felt, it was relayed to me that this is ideal.
Looks can be decieving.
The ram lamb on the left looks like he has a wider shoulder than the ram lamb on the right, but once I dug my finger's in, the opposite is true! The lamb on the right actually has a wider shoulder, with the shoulder blades slightly further from the spine than the fellow on the left.

Theresa said this is important when watching Shetland judge's in the ring. We may not agree with their findings, but we are not feeling what they are feeling underneath the fleece. A very double coated, long stapled Shetland fleece can cover up a lot of conformation flaws. But even single coats can. One really has to get their hands on the sheep to evaluate it.
Beautiful, high UK% spotted ewe lamb. Before you contact Theresa, she isn't for sale, lol!

The structure of a mature Under The Son brood ewe. She is holding up well after years of lambing due to her strong back and legs, and deep heartgirth. Theresa also stressed that you have to offer some lee way when judging conformation on older ewes who have been bred every year, lambing is very stressful on the bones and muscles.

Nice rear and and tail on this lamb.

POLLED ram lamb! And an very, VERY nice one at that.

Gorgeous, soft and crimpy fleeces that make me swoon! Theresa uses the coarser britch wool when she wants to knit a durable product, such as socks.

If I were breeding for horned stock, I would have certainly been driving home with a truck full of sheep last night. Theresa has stock for sale. If you are sheep shopping, check out Under The Son.
Fellowship is important. Let's support each other, not tear each other down. Visit some flocks, get your hands on people's sheep, talk talk talk. Don't be afraid to learn, don't be afraid to change your mind sometimes. We all don't always have to agree, but at least let's open our minds and listen.
To be a true student of the breed means we must never stop learning.


Cynthia said...

Thank you Juliann for the absolutely wonderful post. What an incredibly even-handed and professional farm-visit report! I love the points you make about evaluation and variations. I don't think there is enough discussion, often enough anyway, on proper methods of evaluating one's stock.

Sounds like you all had a wonderful time. Thanks to you all -Theresa and Tori as well!- for sharing such a great experience.

Nancy K. said...

Excellent, informative and educational! Great post Juliann ~ I wish I could have gone with you!

kristi said...

Heck, this was the best post I have read on Shetland need to write for SHEEP! magazine Juliann! And you are so right, supporting each other and being honest will help improve and preserve this wonderful sheep and getting me to get all my stock registered too! LOL

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Thanks for sharing your educational trip! Now I'm going to go feel my sheep's shoulders.... I have never heard of "twist," so please elaborate.

Carol B. said...

I didn't know you were coming to visit Theresa. I really wish I could have joined you. You probably headed for home before I got off of work though. But it would have really been fun to join you and Gail at Theresa's place to talk sheep.

Laura said...

Great post! It looks like you had a good time.

Becky Utecht said...

Thanks Juliann, for sharing what you learned at Theresa's and encouraging all of us to get out there and learn from each other too. Those fleece shots have me drooling!

Kara said...

Hi Juliann,
Great post, thanks for sharing. Is the gul/kat turn out to be half polled?

Theresa said...

Thanks Juliann, for the great post and kind comments. It was a lot of fun!

Kara - we don't know yet about the gul/kat boy.

Sabrina Wille Erickson said...

This is a super post. Thanks for writing it.

BTW, I'm prizing you with Honest Weblog. Details are at my blog.

Juliann said...

Thank you for your comments, everyone. And thank you Theresa for opening your home to me.
Carol, I assumed you were working, I did think of you, especially as I drove right past your place. I apologize, I should have asked anyway.
Michelle, the twist is a muscle on the outside of the haunch, hard to explain other than its part of what you eat on a leg o'lamb.
Sabrina, I'll check out your blog. Thank you! :)

Franna said...

Oh, I'm so jealous! Thank you for sharing, and thanks to Theresa and Gail for providing the opportunity. I reread your post multiple times and try not to drool on my keyboard. ;-)