June 3, 2009

What's a shepherd to do?

In my opinion, the process of selection and culling is perhaps one of the most important, albeit difficult, tasks for a shepherd.

It would be rather easy if every case was black or white, unfortunately most are a murky mixture of the two.

This is particularly true when there are multiple objectives in the breeding program, which is my situation!

In a nutshell, my objectives can be summarized in three words :
confirmation, color, fleece.

  • Confirmation : First, I want to stay well within the official standard for ouessant sheep. Not only does this mean a strict control of height, but also general structure and type of each animal.
  • Color : Additionally, I want a “colorful” spinner’s flock of ouessant sheep. Of course I want black and white ouessants, but I also want moorit, fawn, grey, shaela, emsket, charcoal-pewter, etc...
  • Fleece Quality : Finally, I’m breeding for wool quality. Staple length, texture, condition, style.
Now all of that sounds good enough on paper .... but let’s face it, the “perfect” animal doesn’t exist ... or if they do they are VERY rare. Breeding is always a matter of selection. You have to carefully look at what each individual animal can eventually bring to the flock : both good and bad. Of course every breeder deals with this differently. For example, I know of a number of breeders who rigorously cull based solely on height. And fair enough. Their sheep are all within the standard for height ... BUT structurally the sheep are not always well put together : wobbly rear legs, fine-boned , poor top-line, etc ...

From my point of view, as important as height is (and YES, it is VERY important), this is just one of the criteria. The real problem is this : “where do you draw the line?”

Take Dagobert for example. I had more than a few reservations about him. But he is a grey ouessant, which is a relatively “rare” (recessive) color that I very much want to introduce to my flock.

So where do you draw the line? At what point do the risks (disadvantages) outweigh the advantages?

I did measure him before I bought him. And he was under 49 cm. But, looking at him in the field after having brought him home, he seemed too big ... I kept telling myself that it must be all that fleece.

Well, shearing day came ... and with it the “toise”. My fears were confirmed. 51 cm tall! And keep in mind that I personally like to see a ram at no more than 46 cm!

If he had been 49 or less I would have considered using him on 1 or 2 of my smallest ewes ... but 51! No! that's just too big, even if he is a grey ouessant!

How could have I been so far off when I measured him before? Maybe he was standing in a slight dip in the pasture? Arrrrgggghhhhh!

I’ve had to give this a lot of thought. It would be so tempting to use him on one or two ewes. I mean, after all, he is a grey ouessant! But after much consideration I came to the conclusion that I would not/could not use Dagobert for breeding. Despite his beautiful color, his height excludes him from being used. At the some time, I didn’t feel as though I could “honestly” sell him as a breeding ram either, as I don’t want to encourage the breeding of over-sized ouessant sheep (God only knows that there are already too many of “those” being bred and sold!).

So Dagobert had a rendez-vous chez le veto.
My husband protested : “...and you would do that to him just for a couple of centimeters ...”

Dago is now back at home minus a few of his dangly bits and recovering without any problems.

No, it’s not an easy decision to make ... but that’s what selection is all about.


Anonymous said...

At least he went to the vet and not the butcher!

Diane said...

Hi Jayne!
Tell that to my husband. Men have this thing about castration!!! He was quite opposed to the whole idea.
By the way, I haven't forgotten about you ... I'll be sending you an email in the next few days.

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