Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles
Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The telling of a tail
Wheely Wooly Splash's tail
A tail can tell you a lot about a Shetland. From the very first purchases of sheep we made, tails have always been important to us. We believe that sheep with improper tails should not be selected for breeding stock, no matter how good the rest of their attributes may be. In Shetland sheep, tails tell a tale.
Our Wooly Bear, the foundation ram on our farm and a cornerstone in our flock, throws beautiful tails. His first year offspring produced really nice tails, some of which are pictured on blogs past. This tail photo is of this year's offspring. This is Splashy, a ram lamb of very high quality. He has outstanding horns, a soft, bright expression, an excellent temperment, smart gait, he's lively, has a WONDERFUL longish wavy fleece that just might be the softest our farm has produced yet, and he has good legs. His tail is a great example of the breed standard.
Our standard says "fluke tail. Wool at root forming the broad rounded part, and tapering suddenly to barely covered fine point." Splashy's tail is rounder on top, with a nice covering of wool poofing out, as you can see. Then, it transitions to hair. (Remember, if someone ever says they have no hair on their Shetland farms, then they don't have Shetlands!!!) Yes, EVERY good Shetland should have hair on the ends of their tails. If wool grows to the point, don't breed that sheep. Anyhow, Splash's tail begins to taper where the hair starts, and comes to a finer point at the end...covering about an inch in distance from wool to tip. The tip is harder to see, since the hair is growing down there. In this area of hair, his tail gets FLAT. That was something I heard the UK judges talk about, and I was SOOOOO relieved to hear it! FLAT tips are important in a good breeding Shetland. It's what we've selected for since the purchase of our first two sheep, and it's what we continue to pay attention to as we build up our flock.
I always recommend people get to the shows to learn. It's at the shows you can see so much variance, and really train your eye on what is correct, and what isn't . If you want to breed for high quality stock, you have to know what these differences are. At a show, you can see many sheep in a small space, and make comparisons. I have found it very beneficial in learning how to select for really good sheep.
Last, I think the UK judges did give some outstanding advice, and they were emphasizing it with a sense of frustration....and that is that the Shetland sheep is a WHOLE PACKAGE! You cannot work for one attribute, get it, then say Bam! I have a great sheep that everyone should breed to! (and then try to force the rest of us to breed to that) Instead, you should strive to really LEARN the standard, select appropriately by taking into account ALL the attributes, and be sure to most definitely secure the most important attributes in the breeding stock. I just cannot stress enough that your copy of your breed standard needs to be HANDY and carried out to the flock with you FREQUENTLY! That simple document can help you improve your flock and make better decisions. And most importantly, to avoid farm embarrassment, please, halter train your sheep before the show, and have a friend or family member help you assess that sheep with your standard in your hand before deciding whether to bring that sheep to the show!! No sheep is perfect, but it's a great way to really understand what you have, and whether or not it should be exhibited.
In my experience, I've discovered that striving to adhere to exactly what the standard clearly says, yields amazing results of bright-eyed, friendly little sheep with absolutely awesome fiber that I not only never tire of spinning, knitting, or wearing, but of brightly colored wool that sells itself! The standard, in it's amazing simplicity, works! I know of many people who are breeding for appendix sheep, and are having all kinds of trouble. I know which one we're sticking with!