OUTCROSSING

TO BUILD FLOCK QUALITY

by Elizabeth K. Luke

Fascination with fleece character has led quite a number of individuals into the shepherding lifestyle. Though color variety is available in several established breeds, the docile nature and friendliness of Finnsheep makes them an excellent choice for the small flock setting. In our own experience, if a lamb is frequently handled during it's first weeks of life, it will learn to trust rather than fear. Of course this can be somewhat overwhelming when more than 10 sheep at a time want personal attention! An important factor to consider in the establishment of any flock is genetic diversity. This is especially true when beginning a natural colored flock due to fewer sources. Our flock of 52 purebreds at Stillmeadow Finnsheep has been developed out of nine distinct bloodlines acquired from six source flocks. Pedigree information on the seedstock has proved useful for breeding decisions.

At this time we have fourteen colored ewes which range from solid black to silver grey. Ten of them have a variety of white markings on face, legs, and tail. A favorite is the "panda bear" look - black body with white head and throat, black ears and black circular eye patches. This comes directlyfrom their dark sire whose white head shows grey freckles and a single black eye patch.

Another sixteen ewes are white, but carry genes for color. All of them result from using our elder colored sire on pure white outcross ewes. These Finns will produce either white or colored progeny depending upon breeding ram choice.

The remaining group of seventeen ewes are from our carefully preserved pure white lineage. We feel it's as important to retain a distinctly unpigmented line as well as to develop color. The white wools are generally soft, lustrous, and consistant in each generation. Handspinners have discovered the silky handle and the demand is strong. Well kept, skirted fleeces sell for $5 to $6 a pound.

With the blacks, consistancy of fleece type in a flock takes longer to establish. Due to the recessive nature of color in wool, variety of texture also can surface. We have experienced the entire range from finely crimped all the way to the Icelandic style straight coat. One dark ewe with very soft, gently wavy fleece exhibits a mane on the back of her neck. Her daughter appeared to have lustrous straight "fur" as a young lamb. It fell out at two months and was replaced by soft, wavy ringlets of wool. A set of black quadruplets produced two entirely different fleece types. The two solid color lambs grew open wavy fleeces which became grey at six weeks. The pair showing facial spots grew close, well crimped fleeces which are still black at seven months of age. For the ever increasing group of fiber enthusiasts, the handspinners & felters, this variety of wool pigment and texture is a world of inspiration limited only by their own imaginations.

The challenge to the Finn purebreeder is to insure quality in our colored Finns equivalent to the quality found in the best white flocks. We must accentuate the strengths of this breed; prolificacy, maternalism, and multiseason lambing. Naturally, fleece quality, micron count, and luster in colored Finnsheep are also important selection criteria. As we achieve these goals, our strong lambs will join new flocks and "speak for themselves".

 

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