Friday, April 25, 2008

Sort of Purebred Sheep

Yesterday, we turned the sheep our for the first time this Spring. This was a little later than usual, but they stayed on the pasture until December last Year. When My lovely wife returned from her travels, she remarked what a unremarkable bunch of lambs we had this year. Unfortunately, I had to agree. They are not really crummy, but they are just not nice examples of the breed.

We used to have a much bigger flock of sheep-about 60-70 ewes. Some were registered, some were grades of definitive type, and some were crossbreds. Over the years we had Shropshires, Finnsheep, A Border Leicester, a couple of Highland Blackface crosses, Grade Suffolks, Lincolns and grade Cotswolds, and many Cheviots. Over the last few years, nearly every Ewe was exposed to a Cheviot Buck, and the flock evolved from mostly black face or broken faced ewes to grade cheviots.

Five years ago, We sold all our sheep after I had a viral infection of the heart. The Winter before last, I returned to full health and we decided to get a few real nice purebred sheep. We decided again on Cheviots, which are very pretty, and normally pretty maintenance free. The downside of the breed is slow growth on the lambs to reach market size. We decided if we were only going to keep a few to keep them registered and breed for good type. I have one non-Cheviot Pet Ewe, a Suffolk named Big Girl.

We went to an honest local breeder, and bought registered ewe lambs. We went to a well established local breeding stock sale and bought a good registered young ram.
Hence the problem. We are seeing black spots, pink noses, and wool on the head between the ears. All of these are major faults in the Cheviot Breed-in some cases actually rendering them disqualified to be registered. I spoke to the breeder of the ewes about this. They had the same problem this year.

Because the show ring emphasizes height and size, some Cheviot breeders are slipping a little Montadale into their programs. The Montadale is a breed created though a cross of Cheviot and Columbia. WE are seeing the Colombia breeding in the pink noses, and wooly head. I have nothing against either Columbias or Montadales, but I would rather not see them in our little Cheviot breeding program.

There is a lot of dishonesty in the big time sheep show circuit, but eventually, the genes will tell the truth about an animal's origin. This is a bit of a disappointment, but not a disaster for us. We have three choices:

1. Try a different registered ram in the hope the genes "nick" better with our ewes.
2. Try the same cross again and hope for the best.
3. Take the best of our "MontaCheviot" ram lambs and use him on some ewes, and breed for performance, thereby saving money on registration.

I think we will probably end up choosing number three. Sometimes you just need to ride the horse the direction he wants to go.

1 comment:

uglydog75 said...

VERY true! is good to hear someone else complaining about the "modern" cheviots (and other breeds)... I raise Cheviots in Michigan and have had to look long and hard for sheep that still look the part. It is unfortunate what showing has done to our agricultural diversity... Luckily there seems to be a growing number of people who are non-showing purebred breeders looking to maintain true breed character and breed diversity. Good luck in your sheep endeavors!