By Ross Manson Note: This article first appeared…
Stuart Albrey, Fine Fibre Farms, www.fffnz.com
So where is this going? Well, when someone purchases a fleece from you for handcraft purposes you can be guaranteed that they will handle every bit of it. So if anything is not up to standard they will find it.
The ability to produce a quality fleece is twofold. First you must have a sheep that is genetically capable of producing that fleece and second you have to manage the sheep and the fleece to ensure that quality is maintained. In this post I will talk about the first point. The second point is for another day.
If you look through the flock book of the Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders’ Association you will see that most of the flocks are small in number. There are two ways of trying to improve your flock. You can buy in or you can breed up. Buying in ewes is a quick way to improve your genetic base. However you need to ensure that what you are buying is better than what you already have or progress is not being made. You may find our Members’ Products and Services page useful if you are looking to buy new stock.
It does not matter which path you take, at some stage you will need to use outside rams. This then becomes a little more difficult. Good rams are not cheap (and neither should they be) and with only a few sheep the question of economic viability is raised. There are options here. Perhaps you can share a ram, or make enquiries with larger breeders to see if they will lease you something. This way you don’t have to worry about having a ram all year round.
If you wish to improve your flock then there is no place for sentiment. Naming your ewes is often your first mistake as this creates some emotional attachment. This then impairs your judgement when it is time to cull sheep. If you really want to improve then you must make decisions with your head and not your heart. (Interestingly this is the same advice I often give to parents). These decisions must be based around age, conformation and performance.
I am always trying to improve my flock with outside genetics and so regularly go to white studs for a ram. The cost for these rams is significantly higher than we pay for coloured rams, and this is a slower process as it takes two generations to produce a coloured lamb. but the wait has always been worth it.
Note that I have mentioned nothing about specific sheep breeds as that is a personal choice. Perhaps that is a third topic for a later post.