What a wonderful, hectic year it has been for this Shetland shepherd, and now I can finally slow down and think about what I have accomplished, assess where I am at, and what I would like to accomplish with my flock in 2010.
Really, not much has changed. I really wanted to work on fleece quality, tails, and conformation, and I feel I've inched forward. I kept back six decent keeper ewe lambs and one ram lamb who I plan on using to breed with next year. (Yes, I'm thinking that far ahead!)
My mantra of the last few years has been quality over quantity, so although I'm not breeding as many ewes as I used to, I feel that I'm using better animals and carefully paired them in the hopes of the best lamb crop ever. Through the cold and the wet, I keep thinking spring...and lambs! Only 3 months to go!
Several waves of hard culling over the last two years have removed the more extreme cow hocks, unlevel toplines, and harsher, coarser fleeces from my flock. Tails for the most part are pretty acceptable, although many are not textbook perfect. I still have a lot of slight toe-ing out in the back, but looking at photos of UK sheep I'm not stressing it.
I am more and more pleased with the handle of my fiber although I still have a lot work to do in that regard as well. Most of my flock is microning in the 20's where I want them. I'll continue to work on uniformity and fineness. I want scarf quality fiber. Gotta keep culling out anything that prickles.
Although I said I wasn't going to buy any new sheep this year (ha!) I did end up purchasing an absoultely gorgeous moorit ram, Fox Meadow Sheamus, from Maryland. A homegrown ram, Lil'Country Nightcap, has also come home to roost so I'm going into 2010 with 10 rams, 7 of which are mature. I also brought in a few new Underhill ewes that I thought would compliment the lines I have here.
I'm still breeding for polled. Each year I get fewer scurs and smaller scurs. I need to start retaining suspect full polls and moving out the half polls. I'm working towards non-patterned brown based rams so I won't have patterns overtaking my flock. And I'd like a side helping of spots with that self pattern, please!
And after being deprived of my precious spots for so long, and getting teased just a little this spring, I'm hoping for loud and glorious bling-bling color in our spring green pastures next year! Hopefully Bearclaw and Eragon came through, and there are little shiny chrome buns growing in the Shetland ovens, waiting to delight me when I see all that WHITE sliding out. I'm still a shameless spotaholic.
I have been very on-the-fence about showing this upcoming year. I never wanted the show ring or a judge's opinion to influence my perception of my flock. I would much rather rely on my research of the breed's history and the opinions of reputable breeders to help me evaluate my sheep.
I'm also not exactly thrilled with some of the negative energy out there, and I think it's a shame. I always thought Shetland people were different. Maybe I've been a poor judge of character and I've been wrong all along. I always thought of my fellow breeders as friends, not competition to be stamped out.
After 5 years of being involved in MSSBA, and 3 years with NASSA, I am very much looking forward to just being a normal Shetland shepherd again, remembering why I got into Shetlands in the first place, relaxing with the flock, enjoying the challenge of meeting my breeding goals, celebrating the accomplishments of my fellow shepherds, and learning from my disappointments. Most of all, I look forward to hanging around with good Shetland people, the good friends I've made over the last 8 years. You all know who you are. And so many more of you that I'd love to meet in person someday!
I hope everyone has a wonderful New Years, plenty of hay for the winter, healthy and strong lambs, milky ewes, green lush pastures, and good, supportive Shetland fellowship in 2010.
Peace be with you.