Monday, January 26, 2009

Narrow Focus

Lyneth shows off her wide, straight hindquarters.
I wish I had ten ewes just like this one. Hopefully I will someday. As I've been pondering my goals and looking back at old sheep photos, some of my own priorities have become apparent. I guess I was vaguely aware of these tendencies, but I was surprised to realize how strongly I really felt about my flock. The following is a list of preferences I have developed over the past 4.5 years of raising Shetlands.
1. I don't like having a big flock. Right now I have 10 ewes and 4 rams. Only 5 ewes are bred for spring lambs, but still-the very thought of that many sheep makes me nervous. What if it's a dry summer? What if the hay gets rained on like it did last year? What if I see mineral deficiency again? The more sheep I have the more work it is. Electronet has to be moved every day. More water buckets to carry...more hooves to trim...more fleeces to skirt. This type of work is very satisfying. But I have minimal resources in the way of time, money, shelter, energy, strength, and attention span. A dozen sheep keep me plenty busy. When I started out I wanted to grow my flock to about 30. Now I know I would rather be closer to 10 animals than 20.
2. I'd rather eat my sheep than sell them. Sounds horrible, I'm sure. But I sold my beloved pony a few years ago and then I lost track of her. She's out there somewhere and I can only pray for her. It is a very hard thing for me to accept. If I eat a sheep, I know exactly what kind of life and death it had. I'm not haunted by "what ifs."
3. I'd rather have 4 white sheep with incredible fleece and conformation than a dozen colorful sheep with varying fleece type and conformation. Believe me, I'm not there yet. But every year I get more fanatical about this point. And it's getting a bit uncomfortable because I have some intermediate/double-coated girls that I'm now willing to let go of. I've had them for a long time, and they are dear to me. They are especially hardy and their lambs thrive here better than the rest. I don't really want to put them in the freezer. But refer back to point 2... It's a rock and a hard place.
4. I like pale fleeces more than dark fleeces. I like white sheep more than moorits. I like Katmogets more than Gulmogets. I like grey sheep best of all.
5. I used to have multiple goals: meat crosses, polled, horned, larger carcass for meat sales, wide product variety...this point goes back to the work issue. I thought I could juggle multiple goals. I can't. I just can't. I'm not wired that way. I only read one book at a time, I can't cook unless the kitchen is clean, the tiniest amount of talking during a good movie drives me crazy (even during one I've seen a dozen times), and it is too hard for me to have my flock diverge into two or more different things. This was the second year I used two good rams for two separate purposes. Unicorn is extra-large, horned, and throws a fast growing lamb with soft white crimpy fleece. Bombarde is half-polled, fine boned, and fine fleeced. If I intended to cross daughters to these two rams that might justify the keeping of both of them. But I have totally different plans for bringing forward the maximum potential of each ram's offspring. That makes two distinct directions and I'm finding that stressful. I want to have only one plan.
6. Polled is nice. But it may take me a while because I continue to place conformation and fleece at a higher value in my own mind. This is not commentary on the polled rams out in the marketplace. It is commentary on my own four rams. I thought I wanted to convert to polled quickly. But now I feel OK about it taking a while, because time and time again I favor conformation and fleece type above the polled. So I have accepted that it will take me a little longer to start seeing polled lambs consistently in my crop. I surprised myself a bit on this point.
Well, I think I'm done talking out loud. As ever, these are my thoughts relating to my sheep. They are not opinions on others' choices, values, goals, or flocks. Goodnight.


Karen B. said...

Really interesting, Sabrina. Sheep like your Dolce are actually my favorites. If you ever sell her and can't eat her, please let me know!

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I'm there with you on #1, but then again I always knew I would only have a small flock - even smaller than yours - for all those reasons plus a resistant husband.

Terri D. said...

I appreciate your thoughts on your "Narrow Focus." I have had sheep and llamas only two years now and find my goals heading in several directions. I have been thinking a narrow focus would be good. I find that the more time I spend in the barnyard, the less I have for the fiber. I love my animals but the true joy is in playing with the fiber. Thank you for your thoughts!