Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Goal

Little Red Oak Ash
smooth polled ram
1 year old
Boston Lake Clennam
scurred ram lamb
13 weeks old
Considering the fact that both the rams I used last fall had huge horns, it is rather amazing that the scurs I got in ram lambs this spring are as small as they are. But scurs are not smooth polls. And smooth polls are what I want.
Setting up breeding groups for this fall will be a major challenge for me. I have several ewes that carry polled. Some may even be full polls. I have two rams with good potential. Ash is a smooth poll and Courante has snail scurs. The challenge for me will be to try to emphasize polled breedings even though my tendency is to breed for the best conformation possible.
Perhaps every shepherd favors a certain approach to creating breeding pairs. When push comes to shove, I favor creating a lamb with improved conformation...straighter legs, a shorter tail, a more correct ear set, a prettier head, etc. I am always trying to get softer fleeces with at least a 4 inch length. And now I am really trying to get polled lambs. But my brain has a very hard time considering a pairing for fleece or polled if I feel the resulting lamb may loose ground in the area of conformation. I cringe at the thought and end up rearranging breeding pairs until my mind is relieved. So a fleece goal may have to wait another year...Maybe the lambs might be half-polls. I tolerate the time lapsed for these goals to satisfy the conformation goals. It's just the way I'm hard wired.
So is this good or bad? Better or worse than another shepherd's goals?
I believe it is a good thing. But it is not better than anyone else, and certainly it is no worse.
If I have any kind of eye at all relating to sheep, it is to discern a well-put-together animal. By no means am I the best at this. What I still need to learn is infinite. But I have a passion for it and so I shall try to humbly consider it one of my talents.
However, every shepherd has some talent of discernment. Whether it is a discernment for fine fleece, lustre, silky handle, rare color, spot patterns, productivity, hardiness, polled genetics, friendliness, thriftiness, size, or any of the other traits Shetlands are noted for. If I can't help the way my eye is drawn to a specific type of sheep, there is a good chance other shepherds can't help it either. Their talents lead them in a certain direction.
This can be a wonderful thing assuming each breeder is still aiming for Shetlands that meet the breed standard. If Shepherd A has been focusing on fine fleece for several years than there is a good chance that trait is rather "set" in his flock. I introduce that trait to my flock by choosing to buy sheep from Shepherd A. Shepherd B may have been focusing on polled genetics or thriftiness with her flock. She would be the person to turn to for more of those traits. As long as each one of us is breeding to the Standard, we are free to focus our flocks according to our talents and resources.
I didn't set out to write about the 1927 Standard. I intended to say "I can't wait till my ram lambs are as polled as LRO Ash." But in writing out my thoughts, I realized I CAN wait. I would have to morph into a different person to rearrange my strategies for reaching flock goals. That led me to ponder why I am like that, thereby realizing that everyone has their tendencies. But what makes it possible for me to benefit from the introduction of other flock's genetics, is the Shetland Breed Standard. If that is the measure we are all holding against our sheep, one person's flock goal can be utilized by another shepherd to create a more well-rounded sheep. If the Standard has not been applied, then a specific trait may be introduced, but the identity of the breed will be compromised.
When I critique my own lambs, it is easy to see the good. They are cute, after all, and much longed for. Each one is a fulfillment of a dream. But then, as a breeder, it is my job to go back and look at each one with a harsh eye. What parts of the Standard does each lamb fall short of? If I still think the lamb is worthy of breeding - for no lamb is absolutely perfect - do I have the integrity to point out the weaknesses and faults of the animal in my advertising? There might be a buyer out there whose flock is strong where my lamb is weak, and that flock can thereby absorb the weakness while still benefiting from my lamb's strengths. There are a whole lot more buyers out there that might not yet be able to notice my lamb's fault, and unwittingly pair him with animals that will only exaggerate the fault. The only guards we have against the eventual unraveling of our breed is to use the Standard and exercise our integrity.
Even though I support the wording of Appendix A and it being a part of our Standard, I can understand how some people might be uncomfortable with it. One thing that I haven't been able to understand, though, is how some breeders have voiced that they never really paid attention to, or gave much weight to, the Standard in the first place. Those sentiments surprise me. So I guess it is fair to be open about my vision as a breeder of Shetlands. I do take the Standard seriously. I do try to use it as the final measure against which all of my stock is judged. For better or worse, that is how I look at my flock.
Blessings to all as we journey through this life together.


Gail V said...

I love that you have LittleRedOak Ash, and that you love a lot of things about him-- I've read your high praises of his fleece.
This breeding for polledness is so new-- it is hard to get it all, so we'll be making those decisions as we go along, and of course, do our best to follow the breed standard. I wish you luck next fall. I was thrilled to get two more smooth pollies this year, one out of White Pines Parker and Ash's twin, Linden!

Becky Utecht said...

Sabrina, I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on my sheep. I always second guess myself when it comes to conformation. If I have to get ram lambs, I want smooth pollies too.

Michelle said...

Excellent post, Sabrina; we are on the same page!

Another thing to throw into the the process: the process of maturing. As you know, Blake was a STUNNING little lamb. Now he is not quite so stunning. I know horses better than I know sheep, and horses go through a lot of growth stages and phases and one would be rash to judge too quickly. So I am waiting patiently to see how Blake matures. I can afford patience, since I plan to use FirthofFifth Barish on all my girls this fall. If Blake matures into the ram his early days promised, he will be the perfect outcross on any female on the place, since nothing around here is remotely related to him. Of course, I also hope he is a full-poll, not just a smooth-poll!

Sabrina Wille Erickson said...

Gail-I'm so glad you got a pollie from Parker. By the way, did Niav give you anything remotely polled?

Becky-I second guess my own thoughts on conformation a lot too. But I have been lucky to have Clancy to always bounce my thoughts off of. He has so much experience with sheep and will point out things I am missing in my assessments. I can't wait to see your flock...but you must believe I hardly consider myself an expert. It is just that if I have any talent at all...it is leaning toward noticing the conformation end of things. And there are many talents out there...I've always wished I had the talent of healing animals. :)

Michelle- Thank you for reminding me about the growth stages. It is definitely a factor in evaluating sheep.

Theresa said...

Thanks for posting this Sabrina. It really does all boil down to whether or not you follow the breed standard. I don't mean that in a mean way or finger pointing way because all of us, including myself, are learning what the breed standard REALLY calls for the more we learn about these sheep.

Angela brought up a few nuances of the breed on the fine wool list the other day such as nose shape, and fleece luster. Just how much should a "proper" Shetland have of those traits? This is what it is about - exactly WHAT is meant by each little nuance and how flexible can you be without crossing over into breed characteristics that are outside the standard? What constitutes crossbred traits or just general impureness? Many questions - few answers. It is good that more and more of us are asking these questions and seeking these answers.