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!!!


10 comments:

  1. Very interesting, I know little about sheep and don't see many around here but I know we have some old breed at work. In a collapse we will need animals that don't need sacks of store bought food. Your sheep sound like they could survive pretty good. Chickens take a lot of grain and were at one time not used for meat all that much. Oxen require less grain than horses so they would be better draft animals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sf - I wonder what breed they are running at your museum. If they are the type that were there at the time they are trying to portray or not. You should find out and let me know I would like to look the breed up.

      Yes the Mule breeding is designed to allow normally less prolific but very hardy types to become more prolific. It seems to breed well in the Island sheep. When I read about the method I figured some much smarter and more experienced men than me figured out so it had to work.

      Delete
  2. They get used occasionally on solar farms. They stick a mule or donkey in with them to guard over them. The wool/protean combo seems like a good idea to me. Seems like the shepherds historically were on marginal farm land most of the time anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Russ - Yes they do stick donkeys in with sheep flocks especially is tamed or feral dogs are a problem. All Donkeys seem to hate dogs that I have met :)

      Delete
  3. If I could have livestock it would be sheep. Thanks for sharing Preppy. Am I silly in that I don't know what a "terminal" ram is?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. TB - Well the shearing costs do turn some people off to sheep. It can get expensive quick as most professional shearers charge about 10 bucks a head. Although I haven't really looked into what happens if you just don't shear em. I mean American wool is really worthless to be honest there isn't much of a market for it in the US anymore.

      A Terminal Ram is one that closes the breeding loop you have created. Technically to do it the English way I should have a second breed of pure bred Ram that closes the system and then breeds the offspring of the first Ram. I don't think line breeding is done in Sheep like it is done with cattle so the Terminal Ram is the final one you choose to kinda seal the deal and compliment the genetics. Ideally anyway.

      Delete
  4. Food is food, as long as you can grill it. How does it taste?? I don't think i have ever had any.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rob - Ya know to me it doesn't taste that much different than Beef really. My wife dearly loves it, I mean craves it but at $20.00 + a pound at the store she never bought it much. We have three or four butchered a year now. My grandparents really loved mutton but I am not as big a fan of it as I am lamb.

      Delete
  5. Other than what they look like, I know very little about sheep. Interesting info...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Izzy - One thing about sheep I found out is there is literally centuries of research and work done on them, which makes sense. I suppose if I wanted to try and be some breed snob I could go the single breed rout but I suspect that takes you to the same general financial boat as keeping horses in the long run. Of course I have never met a horse breeder who admitted to losing money, at least not until the place was sold and even then they are in denial.

      Delete

Leave a comment. We like comments. Sometimes we have even been known to feed Trolls.