Midwinter is a good time to look forward to new fleeces, lambing, pasture planning, flock goals, as well as reviewing past plans in addition to spinning, crocheting, and other projects.
Since getting my first two Shetland ewes in 2002 I have changed my goals and plans a lot! When I got my first two ewes I did not know what I was doing and had to learn all the basics of feeding, etc. and I also spent time reading all the info I got from NASSA (Shetland 2000, etc.) and learned about the breed (I also read about and researched other breeds.)
I originally wrongly thought that all the lambs born would have beautiful soft fleeces that the Shetland were famous for and that I could sell all the extra rams as wethers for pets and in other words have a 'no slaughter/pet' flock. After my first lambs were born and grew up their second fleeces were harsh and I was very disappointed. That year I also went to WI Sheep and Wool Festival/ Jefferson and saw some of Karen Valley's sheep. Oh did they have soft fleece! I could not believe how she could have such nice fleeces while mine (and most other Shetlands that I had seen) were coarse and not very soft. I remember asking her how she got such nice fleeces and she said that she culled really hard. I still did not like the idea of having to cull, but that did start me thinking.
After my first two ewes were shorn I learned to spin on a drop spindle after seeing some friends demonstrate how. I didn't get my first wheel until I was spinning for about 2 years. There are a lot of things I need to improve in my spinning as I don't know how to spin fine or lace weight and I need to learn more about different kinds of drafting.
I had a short adventure with Alpine and Toggenburg dairy goats, but after 5 1/2 years I was sick of them jumping fences so I sold them! I also tried out Katahdin and Dorper hair sheep as I thought "well even if I can't bring myself to eating one of my Shetlands I can eat one of these" and I did. I was not happy to take one of those lambs to the butcher, but I realized that the only bad day that animal had was the day it went to market and for some animals (raised on mega farms) their life is so horrible that the only good day is the day they go to market. I still don't like sending animals especially the cull ewes and goats to market (well except the mean steer), but it is a part of farming. I sold those hair sheep after having them for 2 years as the lambs did not grow as well as they were promoted to grow. I also sold them because I decided that if I am going to have a sheep it has to have lambs and wool! (My Shetland cross lambs grow bigger and better than the hair lambs did.)
In 2005 I read an article in NASSA News about AIing Shetlands with UK semen and I looked at Martin Dally's website and knew that that was what I wanted! That same year my dad took me to the UK to see relatives and he also took my to Rena Douglas'es farm and the Haddington Show where Mr. Watson was the judge. The Shetlands that I saw in the UK all had soft fleeces-some were very fine and crimpy and others were longer more "intermediate." All of those sheep did have much better tails than the ones in my flock at that time and they also did not look any bigger. After seeing those Shetlands (and bringing home 3 Shetland fleeces) I knew for sure that I wanted to AI some of my sheep to improve both the tails and fleeces. (The reason I chose AI over buying an F1 or 2 is logistics ,there is a breeder out west, and the local breeder who had done AI did not have any for sale!) Oh I also jacketed my flock that fall for the first time. I'll never go back to not jacketing! (Unless I could graze year round!) The jacketed fleeces are so nice! (I see a lot of fleeces that are ruined from the VM.) The other benefit from jackets is the fleeces are so easy to skirt as there is a line where the coat was and you just rip that chunk off and set it aside (I use my skirtings for roving and rug roving.)
I was so excited when my fist AI lambs were born! I had AI'ed 3 ewes, 1 each to Skeld, Orion and Jericho. The resulting lambs were a ram and a ewe lamb from each ewe! Two of the rams (PS23 Craigrothie and PS23 Campbell) have gone a long way to improving my flocks fleeces and tails. (The other ram was culled as I did not like his fleece.) That year I also, after thinking about it for a couple years, bought my first Angora doe. She was a black doe and was bred. She ended up having quads 3 bucks and a doe!
In 2007 I decided that I would crossbreed a portion of my Shetland ewes. The reasons were 1. it was a good way to use ewes who were not good enough to use for purebreeding any more, 2. I needed a lamb that was more marketable in the commercial system as I realized that even if all my lambs were good enough for purebreeding that I probably could not sell all my lambs as breeding stock. So I looked at several different breeds: CVM Romaldale, NC Cheviot, Bluefaced Leicesters, Coopworths, ect. I ended up getting a BFL ram even though I had originally leaned toward a Coopworth.
I also had one AI lamb born (PS23 Drummond) from 3 ewes that were AI'ed. That was a disappointment, but that is how it works with AIing! (I have talked to other people and one breeder had 100% the first year and only 2 ewes out of about 10 or 12 ewes AI'ed lambed the next time.)
My first BFL/Shetlands were born in 2008 and I liked how they grew and I also liked the quality of their fleeces, but was disappointed with the fleece weights. I then bought a NC Cheviot ram for comparison and last year I had both kinds of cross lambs born. The interesting thing is the NCC crosses seemed to be hardier at birth and grew faster than the BFL lambs. Now that I a feeding them out the BFL lambs caught up and surpassed the NCC crosses. Interesting. I did not like the NCC cross fleeces as almost all had kemp.
Last spring I also had a huge disaster as I lost 15 ewes (and their unborn lambs) after they broke into grain and then got acidosis. It was very sad. I also bought 3 Angora does and a buck from Texas. Unfortunately I lost two of the does, one to supposed heat stroke (the vet thought that was what she had) , and the other to pneumonia even though she was on antibiotics (I got her necropsied.)
The good thing about last year is I had some very nice AI lambs born(from Jings, Orion and Gordon) as well as some nice lambs out of a ram, WalnutRise Trevor F1 Greyling, that I borrowed from Maureen K.
So looking forward ...
I am really, really looking forward to my Angora kids out of my Texas buck-his mohair at 2 is so soft! It is as soft as if not softer than my colored kids' mohair! (I also hope they have DOE kids as in the past I and some fellow Angora breeder friends' herds tend to be buck heavy.)
I am looking forward to my purebred lambs, each year they are a little nicer.
I am also looking forward to the Coopworth and Corriedale x Shetlands! Both rams have very nice fleeces for their breeds and both should have heavy fleeces and put their stamp on their lambs! (Oh and the Coopworths do make good market lambs. Paul the Coopworth breeder had some that reached 140#. I don't know about the Corriedale as that breeder does not finish their lambs.)
I am going keep several of the crossbred ewe lambs to slowly build up a flock of crossbred ewes. I plan on running about 50 cross ewes in addition to my Shetlands and Angora does. I still have to decide on what breed to use as a terminal sire.
I guess that is enough for now.
I'll put some of my spinning/corcheting project in another post as this is getting too long!