Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Small-Hold Sheep Breeding in a Nutshell
I got an email from a reader who was really interested in how we are breeding our sheep so I promised I would do a post about it.
Several years ago after I had basically got most of the garden plans and tree layout completed it was time to begin thinking on what type of livestock we would begin raising. I really had my heart set on Dexter cattle if you want to know the truth but the useless old nag horses I am stuck with kinda killed that idea because there wouldn't be enough hay or pasture for any Dexters and the Nags at the same time. I also promised I would allow the Nags to continue to live so my hands were basically tied there.
I also had this small flock of sheep that my Mother had been raising. At the time she had a couple of ewes and one mutt of a ram. The ewes she had picked out for their wool color more than anything else and they ranged in breed from Chevoits, What I was pretty sure was a mixed Clun Forest ewe of some type and a few others that resembled various upland British Island breeds.
So I started researching it a bit and discovered the English Mule method for breeding prolific mixed breed mothers that produced heavy meat lambs and increased overall lamb births. It is reported that as much as 70% of English market sheep are raised using this method.
Basically what you do is you start with any of a number of the various hardy breeds of Island upland ewes and you breed them to a Bluefaced Leicester ram (Pictured at the top). The Bluefaced Leicester is a very prolific Lowland variety of sheep with that blue/gray head and distinctive up curve on the nose. This breed passes on the good lambing traits of the BFL along with the hardiness and foraging skills of the upland varieties creating what they call Mule Ewes. These Mule ewes are then bred to a terminal ram that can be one of several different breeds to create the offspring most often bred for the meat market.
This breeding scheme seemed the most efficient and adaptable to begin using since I had a core flock of the breeds traditionally used for crossing with the BFL.
Now the search was on for a suitable Bluefaced Leicester Ram. We found one and he remains the only registered breed Sheep we have on the place and has sired a good number of Mule Ewes over the last couple of years. Finding a pure bred terminal ram proved impossible within a reasonable distance so I settled on a mule type Mutt ram for that slot. I figured it no longer mattered since pure breeding was out of the question anyway and might just keep the advantages of the hybrid vigor going another generation or two.
The scheme appears to be working even though we are only on our fourth year of having the entire set up in place. This years lambs produced nothing but twins or triplets with only one still born and one infant loss. All I am really interested in is bottom line sales or overall meat production the wool is a sideline at best and most of that just goes to my Mother who spins and knits and does all that artsy stuff with it anyway.
The only issue we been seeing is that the Bluefaced Ram is starting to throw out a number of Black and Brown offspring. Supposedly this happens only when both parents have the recessive gene. I suppose I could go back and find out which ewe(s) combined with the BFL is throwing out all the blacks but generally speaking the darker colored sheep are topping the scales out higher for market weight than the Whites. The terminal Ram obviously has some color in his heritage as well because he has been kicking out more than his share of dark wooled offspring too which is only natural since they are all the BFL's daughters.
Since the overall meat weight is much more important to my bottom line than retaining white wool for resale I am alright with the darker colored offspring.
Two years ago my Mother then tossed a monkey wrench in my perfect Mule breeding program by purchasing two Rambouillet ewes because she wanted wool suitable for batting (Whatever the hell that is I think it is the fuzzy stuff she puts inside quilts). Rambouillet sheep are a French breed not normally used in the English Mule breeding method so it looks like I got a few true mutts mixed in now. One of these new ewes has grown into a good sized girl so I might actually get some increased market weight out of her lambs as well.
So in a nutshell that's the type of breeding program we are using. It has increased lamb births per ewe almost eliminating singles and has raised the average weight of market feeder lambs by about 10 pounds so far.
Let's face it in a collapse situation meat production is going to be the main goal I would imagine although wool might very well be coming back into local demand as well.
Keep Prepping Everyone!!!