COLORFUL FINN FLOCKS ACROSS THE US
Leanne Mason of Triple L Finnsheep, WA, says, she picked up her first black finn from Max LaRosh at the '87 Finn sale, crossed him with her white ewes with black genes - that she didn't know they had - and went from there. She has lots of colored finns, mostly black, gray and some roans. Some have white faces and stockings; occassionally a white stocking, especially in the rear, that goes up onto the rump a ways, but that is rare. The grays have black faces and legs. When the grays are sheared, they look very uniformly gray. She says, " I've found that while all the lambs start black, the gray ones turn at about a year old. I have a line of rams that are almost all gray after age two. I have total black fleeces, and then a "salt and pepper" type of fleece that combines black, white and gray in an all over combo. Almost all of my blacks have white on their face and legs.
There is a lot of variation in the wool quality, just as there is in the white fleeces. While my first black finns tended to have very coarse, large curled wool, I now have finns with a very fine crimp and high luster. This is as fine a fleece as I produce with my white ones. On the other side of the scale though, I have finns with absolutely no crimp at all in the blacks. It just varies highly with breeding. I have found that breeding my blacks to a high quality white animal has produced excellent fleeces."
Linda Witt says her Misty Mountain Farm, VA, is the largest supplier of Finn fleece, white and colored, to the fiberarts community. We have also provided foundation breeding stock to most of the farms now breeding colored Finns. IWe have been breeding colored Finnsheep for over ten years. At this point, our flock is predominantly colored and we market raw fleece, as well as processed rovings and felting batts, to a diverse group of fiberartists, through our retail division of Misty Mountain Farm. We have been breeding predominantly for fleece production and overall fleece quality. Most of our breeding stock is mature and the flock has supported a 400-450% average lamb production.
In viewing the color genetics, the black gene is a true recessive in the Finnsheep as a breed. Other colors, such as the moorits and grays are recessive to the black. We have encountered a significant diversity in our color range, from light and dark browns to charcoal and pale grays. Most of the color variation, however, is inconsistant and unpredictable.
While we have sold a few rams to commercial sheep breeders, our market is predominately to handspinners and felters. These purchasers appreciate the fine, soft wool, as well as the winning personalities, prolificacy, and easy maintainence of the breed.
White and colored wool both sell equally well and we can never produce enough to meet our demand. Spinners will pay more for colored fleeces, however, since it is not as available. White fiber can be dyed to meet artists' needs, and therefore from a sales stand point, beautifully dyed fleece becomes even more atractive because of the versatility.
From our experience, Colored Finns have been more marketable. There are fewer colored animals available and those raising them have usually had more interest in the fiberarts, putting more emphasis on fleece characteristics. As a group, I would say that the colored Finns tend to be a bit smaller animal, but carry a much heavier and much more consistant fleece.
Clifford Hatch of Upinngil Farm, MA, says, " I have brown/black Finns that fade to brown/red and black/perhaps spotted that fade to gray depending on age and weathering. They are seldom pure black in the purebred although some of the crosses have been black all over. The purebreds seem to always have a star on their forehead or a white sock at least. Sometimes we get a blaze of white or gray along the neck but usually the white or gray color occurs on the head and legs and feet. I don't believe that my black sheep that fade to brown are true moorit. And I have doubts whether some of my black animals are truly black. I think it might be more correct to say that some of the colored animals in my flock are spotted. That is, a white animal with a huge black spot covering almost its entire body with a blaze of white on the neck or head. If we followed a classification system similar to the one used by Icelandics this would certainly be the designation.
The fleeces sell well and we generally sell more colored fleeces than white to the homecraft types since I guess there is generally a lack of nice colored fleeces. I charge $7.00 lb for white or black clean, high quality fleece for handspinning. If something has been particulary fine I have charged as much as $8 lb. Average, good quality fleeces free from trash but from older animals are generally in the $5 lb range. We have some customers that take all those wonderful fleeces that have felted on the animal for $3 lb. They continue the felting and turn them into rugs and I am generally glad to be rid of them otherwise they would be on the compost heap (felted fleeces - - not the customer) .
As for animals I sell no breeding rams white or colored for less than $300, I ask a minimum of $150 for white ewe lambs (5mos) and colored ewe lambs $200 this is probably the only area where I mark up the colored stock. I generally find that buyers who want several animals buy white, and customers buying a single animal buy colored. Occassionally someone will buy several colored but it is not the normal sale. They generally want to add a colored animal to their white flock. Sorry that I have been out of touch with the FBA lately, but I had a serious accident on the farm and am only now catching up with things."
Carol Winchell, of Stoe Creek Farm, NJ, sent gorgeous wool samples to show the actual colors in her Finn flock which even includes a musket or fawn fleece. She has a brown/silver shade, a couple of silver/browns, charcoal/blues or shaelas as well as warm brown and black. In addition she has ewes with panda eye-spots and piebalds. She sent photos of her piebald ewe with her offspring including a piebald lamb. The ewe is mostly black with white head/neck and panda eyespots and white spots on her body, over the back and rump.
Bobby Bayne, of Bittersweet Hollow, IL, has about 20 ewes, of which half are colored. The colors range from dark to light grey and include some with a brownish hue mixed with the dark. She says Finn wool is softer than Shetland wool and has a silk-like feel and luster. She says that what sells best for her is what she seems to have the least of at any given time!
Shawna Valenzuela, Finnlandia Farm says she currently has about 30 head of purebred Finns of which about half are various shades of black, chocolate and grey. You can view some of Shawnas Finns at her website: www.angelfire.com/ca/finnlandiafarms/