What we’ve got to show for it
Would you believe that this is the same little guy featured in a gallery of photos I posted just a month ago? Lambs surely grow fast, especially when they’re on their mothers, but this fellow has changed so much. Now he sports horns, a bit of a beard, and an attitude to match his testosterone-stoked bulk. Some folks will allow several rams to run with the ewes through fall breeding. Because our breed stock is registered (with NASSA) we impose strict management practices to ensure that we know the parentage of every lamb born here at the farm. To simply let the animals run amuck would preclude using any of the resulting offspring for breeding. As it turns out, little #1430 here is a pure shetland ram. He’ll remain intact until midsummer and then be measured against the other boys as well as our current flock sires, Woodruff and Seigfreid. When the dust settles we’ll hold on to two or perhaps three boys and the others will be wethered, well before the ewes begin to cycle. We take the selective breeding and culling of our flock very seriously and this has worked wonders, for the quality of our animals has improved dramatically over the years and they now conform to breed standards established by the Shetland Flock Book Society in 1927 (known today as the Shetland Sheep Society). The colors of our naturally colored fleeces range from the white, to gray, to brown, to black (including shades in between). Moreover our fleeces are crimpy, lustrous, soft, and of nice staple. We purchased our first sheep back in 1993. Lamb #436 was born on the farm this past April representing, along with his cohort of twenty-six others, the fruit of twenty-one years of hard work. Joanna and I are not well-known for having raised sheep for this long, and we are certainly not rich for having done so (much to the contrary, for we have lost our shirts in this business they call sheep (or fiber) farming). So what, you may ask, do we have to show for our efforts? Surely, if both of us had been investment bankers, or doctors, or lawyers, we’d have something more tangible to show for our successes (happy investors, healthy patients, or exonerated clients, perhaps). But instead, we made the decision, long ago, to live a somewhat simpler life and to care for a menagerie of animals, including sheep. So, I repeat, what do we have to show for this decision? What we’ve got is satisfaction and that is all. We’ve had the satisfaction of working with a sheep breed that is currently listed by The Livestock Conservancy as recovering, which means that although the breed is no longer classified as either threatened or endangered, it is still in need of monitoring. We have worked to preserve a unique assemblage of genes in four-legged vessels we call sheep. These genes differ from those found in vessels known as cows, horses, pigs, chickens, or turkeys, and the particular assemblage of genes we find in Shetland sheep differs from that found in the many hundreds of breeds of sheep which exist around the world. So, in what way can this have been satisfying? Well, what if no one cared to preserve this particular genetic reservoir? What would happen? Consider that, eventually, the Shetland would go the way of the Dodo, the Passenger Pigeon, and the Elephant Bird, it would go extinct … that’s what if. And no matter what scientists will tell you about current advances in genetic engineering, sheep genes cannot be re-engineered once lost. Joanna and I see ourselves as having acted as stewards of a particular assemblage of genes which manifest as the Shetland sheep. And why have we done this? Because we see it as having been our way of paying forward the good fortunes this planet has brought our way.