It’s been over a year since our last post and we have had a lot going on since then!
We did a few poultry shows last year, our biggest were the Ohio State Fair and the Ohio National Poultry Show. Both are always a great experience, and Chris even brought home a State Champion Turkey banner! A new and exciting opportunity at the Ohio National was to show unrecognized breeds. This gave me a chance to show off the Shetland Hens I have.
The Dominiques also attended both shows. Their gentle demeanor allowed our niece to give a go at poultry showing at the Ohio National! Isn't she precious?!
We had a truck load of birds at the Ohio State Fair again this year, hauling chickens (Dominique & Java) and geese (Toulouse & Pilgrim)! Everyone did very well at the show, even receiving a few 1st places! Chris now has his own breed of chicken he plans to exhibit, called Javas! The Dominiques and Javas will be attending the Ohio National Poultry Show this November!
Last Fall, Chris and I drove out to Pennsylvania to pick up a ram (Ranger) and ewe (Esther) lamb from New Hampshire. Looking at pedigrees, the ram was likely to carry the horned ewe gene that I have been focusing my flock on. The ewe was a horned ewe as well as my favorite color pattern called black gulmoget. They were very exciting additions to our farm and sheep program. Ranger did an excellent job in the fall breeding all nine mature ewes. We did blood work on the ladies to ensure Ranger had done his job. It can be a gamble getting a ram lamb as they aren’t proven to produce offspring.
Another exciting venture last year was the option of purchasing semen straws from Heritage Sheep Reproduction, LLC and Foggy Hollow Farm. Both operations offered Shetland straws for purchase from Shetland sheep residing in the UK. Shetlands are native to the UK and were originally imported to the United States in the 1980s. Due to various diseases and the risks of introducing these diseases to the US, no live sheep imports can be made. Most Shetland sheep residing in the US are related to one another, and to diversify the gene pool semen imports are extremely important. Since Shetlands are heritage breeds and listed on the Livestock Conservation list, it’s crucial to introduce new genetics to US Shetlands to avoid inbreeding and genetic mutations from occurring. We were fortunate enough to be able to order some straws from five of the sheep being imported. I don’t plan to use these straws anytime soon as I would like to continue working on my flock goals of fine fleeced horned ewes. Per A Greener World’s Animal Welfare Approved certification, Laparoscopic AI is prohibited, so in order to use these straws I will have to write an derogation and hope that our request is granted. It’s a risky gamble but it is extremely important for the preservation of the breed.
We didn’t just order Shetland straws either. If you haven’t heard of or looked at Herdwick sheep, you need to do so right away! Herdwicks are probably the cutest sheep breed and are known for their smile. Beatrix Potter (the creator of Peter Rabbit) made these sheep famous through her preservation goals. Herdwicks are a meat breed with a unique fleece consisting of three different types of fiber. Herdwick fleeces are excellent for rugs, but the finer fibers can be separated out to make a softer yarn for outerwear. To use these straws, we needed Herdwick-bred sheep for our farm, of course! In September 2022 we will be driving to New York to pick up two Herdwick-bred ewes for our Herdwick program. I write “Herdwick-bred” as the Herdwicks in the US are not purebred. In 2008, a farmer in Oregon imported Herdwick semen for a breed up program after UK Herdwicks were nearly decimated in 2001 due to hoof and mouth disease. There are very few flocks in the US who raise Herdwick-bred sheep, but Helder~Herdwyck has been doing a phenomenal job, which is where we are going for our two ewes. We will also be asking permission for the use of these semen straws to help continue the preservation of this breed. Even more important that importing new genetics for Shetlands is the importation of Herdwick semen. There was only one semen import to the US, making all Herdwick-bred sheep related and extremely inbred. Inbreeding can result in many genetic mutations including stunted growth, cryptorchidism, and deformities.
In late winter, we had to make a tough choice and say goodbye to our dearest ewe, Honey. I found Honey on Facebook and brought her home because I have a fondness for Cheviot sheep. Honey was as sweet as her name implied. She made friends with all the new Shetlands we brought home in 2020 and she took it upon herself to be president of the Welcoming Committee on our farm. Honey battled with arthritis and now amount of medication could make her comfortable. She passed away knowing she was so loved and cherished.
In the Spring of 2022, we welcomed 14 lambs from our nine ladies. We ended the lambing season with eight rams and six ewes which was a pretty even split down the middle. I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of fawn katmoget lambs, as our herd sire is a grey katmoget and our ladies are grey, black, and morrit (brown)! Watching the lambs run alongside of their mothers is such a special experience. Shetlands have excellent maternal instincts, and it is crucial to maintain these traits. Shetland sheep are seasonal breeders, meaning they can be bred from fall to early spring. This allows us to keep our rams with the ewes from late spring to late summer without the risk of unplanned breeding. Something we both learned this year is that when you leave a ram in with your ewes year-round, the ladies don’t all synchronize their heat cycles. This spring we were watching for lambs for nearly two months straight (beginning of March through the end of April). What we plan to do this fall is separate our herd sire from the ladies in August, which should help to synchronize the ladies’ heat cycles. They will share a fence, but won’t be able to breed. If all goes well, we should have a tighter lambing time frame of two weeks rather than two months!
I can’t forget to mention one of the most frustrating and sad things we experienced during the bliss of lambing season. Sweet Fyvie, who likes to be a hot mess every now and then, attempted to birth a little ewe lamb. Unfortunately, this lamb was massive and got stuck on the way out. When I say massive, this lamb weighed in at 12lbs (average size is 3-5lbs for Shetland sheep). I was on my way home from picking up chicks when Chris called to tell me Fyvie was lambing and the lamb didn’t look great. He had to go in and pull the lamb out, who was unfortunately stillborn. I still am appalled and impressed Fyvie managed to get the lamb out of her naturally. Fyvie had trouble walking after her lamb was pulled, which we suspected was nerve damage when we discussed the issue with our veterinarian. I milked the poor girl to collect the colostrum for any future lambs that might need it (milking a Shetland is a challenge, they have such small teats!) Thankfully, Fyvie is thriving and will be taking a break from breeding this season.
In the mix of lambing we also welcomed five goat kids to the herd! Sassy (Toggenburg) brought to the world on April 4 twin boys whom we named Thing 1 and Thing 2 for their hilarious (yet frustrating) antics. Fawn (French Alpine) introduced Romeo to us on April 25 and Shearra (French Alpine) let me help bring twin boys Casanova and Valentino to our farm. Casanova was an easy delivery, but little Valentino didn’t come out so straight, with his tiny nose tipped town into Shearra’s pelvis. I had to go in there and help pop his nose into position before pulling him out. It was so nerve wracking since I’ve never helped intervene with a birth before. Thankfully I have learned so much from livestock Facebook groups on proper birthing position and what to do if something is amiss, but it’s one thing reading it versus actually doing it! Pappa Tucker was a proud dad and has bonded so well with his boys (yes… all boys!). Sadly, we lost our sweet Fawn to a freak accident when she became stuck. It was heart wrenching having raised her from a kid into an adult.
We did a bit of demonstrating this summer as well. Slate Run Historical Farm invited my mother and I to demonstrate spinning wool to the visitors. I always love visiting the farm, which is like stepping back into the 1880s. Chris, my father, and I also attended the Ostrander Medieval Faire at the Ostrander Library. I was able to show the process of turning raw wool into yarn and had so many interested and fascinated kids! We plan to participate next year.
In July we unexpectedly welcomed a gorgeous black ram lamb from Ranger and Esther. Thankfully Esther was over the 12 month minimum age for lambing when she presented her little boy! We had put our younger ewes back in with the main flock in March thinking that it would be past breeding season. Yet another lesson learned! This little guy was such a happy surprise, a late lamb, but a cute one! We don’t breed our ewe lambs and wait until they are at least two years old before they lamb. The logic behind it is that the ewes are fully mature and they get to witness the mature ewes lamb and mother their children. I always have to laugh when I think of one of our ewes, Bitsy. She wasn’t bred in the fall of 2020 since she was still a lamb, but in the Spring of 2021 she would steal babies from the other ewes (an excellent sign of a great mother!) Bitsy loves babies, and it was warming feeling when witnessing her with her own lamb this year.
Our last adventure planned for the year is to show our sheep at the Wisconsin Wool Festival in Jefferson, Wisconsin. The wool show is the home of the Mid-America Shetland Sheep Show, the largest Shetland show in the nation. We are bringing a total of seven sheep (three rams and four ewes). Not only is this a chance to show off what our flock consists of, but it is a valuable learning experience! I’m most looking forward to talking with seasoned breeders, viewing the best representative sheep, and gaining an “eye” for this lovely breed. I’ve blocked the week of September 3 through September 11 in my calendar and dubbed it “The Sheep Extravaganza”. On September 3 we will be driving from our farm in Ohio out to Bennington, Vermont to pick up two Shetland sheep for an amazing breeder. We plan to camp in East Berne, New York for the night at Thompson’s Lake Campground. In the morning of September 4, we will pick up two Herdwick ewes from Helder~Herdwick and head home! Fortunately, we will have a short rest period from September 5-7 and then we will head to Wisconsin on September 8 for the show. Ranger (sire), Doug & Buchanan (ram lambs), Airlie & Scarlett (ewes) and Corra & Kennedy (ewe lambs) will be heading to the show. At the time of writing this we have yet to halter train this group! I did order Shetland halters which are supposed to be easier to halter train in as the regular sheep halters have a tightening mechanism that can get uncomfortable when you’re trying to teach sheep to walk on a lead. The Sheep Extravaganza was certainly a fitting name for this crazy idea, don’t you think?
The inspiration for this blog post was from last night, when Chris and I were invited to speak to the Pickaway County Sportsman Club about our little farm. We do so much for several different breeds on our farm, and it felt so wonderful to be listened to and interacted with in terms of my biggest passion! We brought our Angora goat, Sam, and his Alpine buddy Romeo, who were both huge hits with the kids and adults! I brought a raw Shetland fleece, roving, hand cards, hand combs, a drop spindle and my Louet spinning wheel to demonstrate how to hand-process sheep’s wool from start to finish. I received a lot of really great questions and was so thrilled with the interactions! Many of the members were extremely interested in trying Shetland lamb when we have the rams processed next year. I am so excited for the future of our farm!