Monday, January 21, 2008

Breeding program

Why the long upgrade process to shedding sheep?

When we decided to breed the wool off our flock in 1999 (I had some back problems and couldn't shear my own sheep anymore) our flock was primarily a commercial Coopworth flock at that time. Not the best choice to turn into shedding sheep if you're in a hurry perhaps, but with over 25 years of production records running on a grass based, low nutritional plane, about the best low maintenance flock we could have made I think. During those 25+ years, we've seen many fads come and go in the sheep business, the latest, greatest purebreds that are going to revolutionize the sheep industry etc. While most of those fads and the people promoting them have come and gone, we were always open to experimenting with a little of everything that looked promising to our commercial operation during that period. Most importantly though, we scored the results of those experiments on the basis of solid production records. Consequently, it simply was not realistic to expect that we could bring any group of purebred shedding sheep into our environment and management system and expect them to perform as well as our existing flock. The old Irish saying that "You raise horses for courses" holds true and we had been raising sheep for our particular "course" for many generations by then. I'm still bought into the general Coopworth philosophy. It's a breed that was developed on the premise that a man should be able to shepherd a thousand sheep by himself and only need outside help for shearing. We simply wanted to eliminate the shearing. We lamb in the field, dont routinely trim feet and provide just a little supplemental feed to our grass based pasture during the last trimester of pregnancy.



The process

Our practices and philosophy are very much the same as those of the European Nolana project. i.e. Start with the best of the wool sheep that have traditionally performed well in your area, set clear, measurable objectives and utilize rams of the best shedding breeds available. (see the Nolana link for more information on their project)

To that end we initially brought in some high percentage black headed Dorper rams, played with some Katahdins a little bit and followed those up with some high percentage White Dorper rams in an effort to get back to a white flock. We would probably be producing all shedding sheep by now if we hadn't made some back crosses to our best foot bloodlines in an attempt to salvage our feet. Even in our wet environment, we haven't routinely trimmed feet in over 20 years and had no intention of trading one backbreaking chore(shearing) for another (foot trimming). We did our first A.I. breedings in 2004, breeding the best of our 2nd and 3rd generation shedding crosses to the Dorper ram "CCD0001E", the White Dorper ram "Spargo" and the Wiltshire Horn ram "Meadowvale Valour". (you can see pictures of these rams by following the Super Sire link) The ram lambs produced in that A.I. breeding have had a major impact on our flock the last few years. We have been especially impressed with the Wiltshire Horn crosses and were able to acquire Wiltshire Poll semen from New Zealand and Australia which we used this year.