NOT JUST BLACK OR WHITE: by Grace Hatton



When I bought my first Finnsheep in 1985, some folks advertized that they had black in addition to white Finnsheep. With the recent popularity of Shetland and Icelandic sheep in an array of colors, Finns are turning up in all sorts of colors as well. The FBA some years back allowed registration of piebald sheep with large spots of a different color from the body color so now it's no holds barred. Genetically, Finnsheep are related to both Shetland and Icelandic sheep and probably have all the same potential for the color variations of those breeds.



In addition to white, Shetland breeders make a distinction on their registration forms of four shades of grey: light grey, grey, bluish grey (emsket), and a dark steely grey (shaela), resembling black frost. Then there is black, of course.



There are the beige to brown colors: light greyish brown (musket), fawn which is off white to beige with brown fiber, the "golden fleece" or light yellow-brown (mioget), shades between fawn and dark reddish brown (moorit) and finally dark brown.



Then the Shetland breeders make distinctions between thirty different markings such as having a blazed face, a circle of a different color from the body around the neck or the entire neck a different color from the body or stockings or white spot on the top of the head. They list eight distinct types of variegated body coloring ranging from roaning to patterns that would suggest brindle or merle coloration. They recognize ten different patterns of color on the face compared to the body. There are six body patterns that vary between the mouflon coloration and darker or lighter brisket or darker or lighter belly. There is a further general pattern of fading at the outside of the wool.



For Icelandic breeders, white can range from the whitest white through creams and tans. Blacks include blue-black, inky black, silvery black and brown black. Browns (also called moorit in Iceland) range from pale beige, orange-apricot, taffy, milk chocolate, chestnut, dark brown, mocha and silvering browns. Badger-faced includes a wide range of fleece colors, from buff and champagne through oatmeal also parts of the fleece may have gray or silver bases to the fiber. Grays range from blue gray, lilac, medium silver, dark gray, and brown grays. Finally what are considered mixed colors are fleeces that have an undercoat that is a different color than the outer coat which produces a true tweed yarn.

Where do all the colors come from? They are buried in the genes of your sheep - - even the white ones. The gene interactions are pretty complex. If you want more info on color inheritance, join the sheep-color-genetics mailing list on onelist.com or if you want all the really heavy duty technical mendelian stuff, check out the website at http://www.angis.org.au/bin/Databases/BIRX/birx_doc?mis+13 which even shows dominant black as possiblity in northern short tailed sheep. Substituting mis+1, or +2, or +3, etc in the above address will bring up other inheritances for colors and patterns.