Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shetlands on my mind.

I'm not very good at making small talk, not a highly developed talent of mine. I have lots of thoughts, many I should and do keep to myself. Or I think of something worth posting about, then get busy with other things, and the moment has passed. I had a cute little ram lamb story how I was gathering culls for market, and my DH picked out delightful little fellow to keep as a wether, until I came back from MFF and found he had caught up his neck and horns in the woven wire fence and died. Ah, I so miss those horns (not!) I very rarely have dead sheep, each one stings and stabs so. So now it's not such a cute fluffy tale, but shepherding isn't always "sunshine and butterflies".

I've been sitting quietly back, watching lambs grow, culling ram lambs, ewe lambs, yearling ewes, two year old ewes, and a few mature rams.
I haven't begun to plan my breeding groups yet (yikes, can it only be 2 1/2 months away already?) I know I'll change my mind a million times.

Michigan Fiber Fest was a weekend of ups and downs, but altogether I had a really good time seeing friends, seeing lots of sheep, and feeling lots of fiber.
Due to a vacation the weekend before the show, I did not prepare a show string, and in retrospect I'm glad I didn't bother. My sheep would not have done well in the ring under this judge, and it was nice to be able to wander around at will and not have to deal with the training and prepping of displaying sheep.

I simply dumped a trailer of sheep at Stephens. I had some sold sheep to deliver, and I sold my last sale ewe, SP Niobe, out of the trailer, which was nice. I'm now sold out of ewes. A lot of experienced breeders went over my stock with critical and constructive eyes and offered helpful comments, which is always welcome. I'm unfortunately in an area of Illinois where there are not a lot of Shetland breeders, and I don't get a lot of farm visits. I'd love to have some experienced Shetland breeders stop by and help me evaluate my breeding stock. But bringing the trailer to Stephen's place was just as good.

I'm such a dummy when it comes to modified colors. I had no idea that Hickory's dame, SP Leila, was mioget! I had thought that Hickory was simply light moorit, but he is fawn! This doubles his value in my eyes, and I am just thrilled to have a brown based, non-patterned, modified ram of his quality. Thank you again Carol!

I also got Lil'Country Nightcap back from Karen , and once I sunk my hands into his fleece I nearly swooned. Soft soft soft and crimpy as a yearling, non-patterned, and brown based on top of it. I think he is going to do wonderful things here on my farm.

I brought my sale black gulmoget ram lamb, smooth polled, by Hickory and out of Zephyr Easter Day. He will have an intermediate fleece, but it is coming in a bluish color. He's modified! I'll probably be showing him at Jefferson in ram lamb class.
I plan on showing my Blues X Arabesque daughter in ewe lamb, and in best fleece on the hoof. I'm saying "probably" and "I plan on doing this" because Jefferson might be my last show. I have been feeling lately that my sheep cannot compete with "show sheep", and I'm tired of fretting about that fact and wondering what the judge will like when I evaluate sheep.

Last night on Facebook, someone posted a few photos from the Shetland Museum. I started looking through these old photos of Shetland Sheep in their native environment, and I couldn't help but think "What on earth are we doing to these sheep"? Do we really, really need to turn them into "show animals"?
The sheep in the photos were obviously small and stunted looking, the bones are delicate and flinty, the fleeces looked fine and soft. Some of them were conformational trainwrecks...
But... they were very good at being Shetland Sheep, and doing what Shetland sheep were supposed to do... living on scrub and seaweed, climbing rocky hill and slopes, producing lambs that could keep up in a harsh environment, providing meat and fiber to their shepherds.
I do believe we should make every attempt to breed these animals into sound bodies for health, longevity, and mobility, and of course we want our sheep to have the best nutrition we can offer. But at some point I just feel like yelling "They arn't club lambs, darn it!" These animals in the photos would come in last place at a Shetland sheep show. We would snicker at the cow hocks and uneven top lines.

But how many of our sheep could climb that bluff in search of food!

Anyway, I'm not trying to rant or rave or make a statement, honest. Just sharing something on my mind. And I've got sheep on my mind so much lately. I'm so behind on my reading and neglecting my workout regimen.


Carol B. said...

It really is amazing to see those Shetlands on those steep hills.

I am so glad that you like Hickory. I do hope you bring his smooth polled son to Jefferson so I can see him.

I know how you feel about showing sheep that are smaller, or simply not the type that a judge(s) favors. I just wrote about my thoughts on showing natural colored lambs at the ISF next year. If I do it, I will have to have reasons other than the actual competition in mind. Learning something new, and educating other people are two good reasons to enter a sheep show.

Kara said...

I showed my horse a few years ago in a show and had a judge that didn't like her type. She was flawless class after class. Other horses in the ribbons were naughty, kicking at each other etc. My mare didn't make one mistake, but she didn't have the "look" that he liked coming from CA. It was so frustrating. I have dealt so long with the politics of horse shows, I am sort of relieved that showing sheep isn't really a possibility for me unless I want to make a very long trek somewhere. At this point in my life it is not really feasible. All I know is that Champ who is your breeding, is the softest Shetland I have ever layed hands on. I look forward to his influence on my flock.

Sue said...

Fortunately for you Juliann there are many folks who don't want to show their sheep...just want the fiber and hardiness of the Shetland for their flocks. Perhaps next year we should all just park our trailers at Stephen's and just play sheep for the weekend when we aren't out eating absolutely outrageous desserts.

Sabrina Wille Erickson said...

Thanks for sharing the old photos.

Michelle said...

I always enjoy reading your thoughts and can do so hearing your voice and inflection now that we've talked on the phone a few times. Congrats on selling all your available ewes! Sounds like you are getting some lovely fleeces; I need to find some finer polled stock.

Rayna said...

Unfortunately, there are those politics in any show environment...even poultry! Beautiful old photos Juliann...Can't wait to see you at Jefferson :)

Laura said...

I agree with you on the show business. Thanks for sharing the Shetland pictures!

They don't always need horns to get stuck though! I had a ewe lamb get stuck in the fence and her dam stood over her and did not leave her even though the rest of the flock was gone until I rescued her lamb.

Sounds like you had a good time at MFF!

Kathy said...

Juliann-You have put into printed word something I have been thinking also. While AI know that when any living thing (sheep, man, cattle, etc.) get good and sufficient food, they tend to grow larger than early generations of the same species. I try to remind myself of this every day when I feed the sheep. :) They do fine on less and I tend to "overfeed". But I always ask myself if I do a disservice to the breed. One large ewe I have has large offspring. Is this the "new" Shetland coming through?
And I have never, ever known a judge to be totally objective. They are human and try as they might, they will always be a bit subjective in their choices, whether they want to be or not. And politics does come into it in some, but not all, cases.
None of those sheep pictured in the Shetland Museum would ever make any show here, but there they are - tough as nails and worth their weight in gold with those skin-soft fleeces.
Just know - you're not alone in your thinking. :)

Theresa said...

Nice post, Juliann. I do notice one thing - some of those sheep on the side of the cliffs are white and one in particular looks "chunkier" than the rest. If you blow that picture up, you also notice different fleece types as well as a horned ewe!

Ours is a diverse breed and we should celebrate it. Unfortunately, showing is usually detrimental to a breed. Knowing you have good sheep, as judged in a show, is a good thing. But when animals are judged contrary to the breed standard, that is a whole different ball game. Either you stick with showing what you believe is "true type" or you cease showing. Either case is usually a gut burner, though showing is the worse.

As was pointed out by my daughter, just mentally block out the "wrong type" and how does the class place? It gives me a much better feeling. If all of us with "true type" would do that, showing would be a lot more fun.


Donna said...

Amen to all of the above long did the Border Collie people fight being admitted into AKC? Need I say more? As a breeder of Newfs for 20+ years...(and now 15 years OUT of it!),I'm glad I smartened up and I'm glad that I stuck to my guns when I WAS breeding and didn't fall into the "cookie cutter" mentality!! I won't fall into that trap with my shetlands either....the ARE a tough, hardy breed and should remain that way! Glad to hear all of your comments...thank you, too, Juliann for putting a voice to what alot of us feel!

Sabrina Wille Erickson said...

I'm glad of this topic and all the comments. I personally do not show because of the time, money, and distance involved. But I also feel that Shetlands should not become just bigger and bigger meat sheep types with the sacrifice of fine fleece and hardiness.

When non-sheep people ask me questions about my flock, I usually end up describing their food preferences and behavior as more similar to the white tailed deer than to the large meat breeds that take a lot of grain and shelter and mature very quickly.

Once, not too long after I had mentioned that to someone, some deer were in the yard long enough for me to really observe them...and guess what?...the average white tail is incredibly cow-hocked!(at least they are not wide and straight like the BFL's I've seen) Not that I'm in favor of poor conformation. But sometimes primitive/unrefined looks a little different than we think it does. Just a slightly off-topic observation.

Lael said...

One of my favorite ewes in my flock is cow hocked and looks downright dumpy - but her fleece always sells, she twins every year, including her lamb year and she is calm and friendly. I agree totally that we have to avoid breeding only for the show ring!