Friday, January 13, 2006

Sheep!

I looked up info about sheep breeds... (This is what I do, people... research random topics that pop into my head.) Why share the info here? 'Cause it's my blog...

All of these sheep are attractive breeds (none of those sheep that look more like goats or have oddly football-shaped heads). A lot of them have something to do with the Vikings... as in, they owe their existence to them... (I love the Vikings... as if I need to mention that.) The Vikings preferred animals that could pretty much take care of themselves in a cold climate with generally rocky terrain and that did not require shelter for most of the year. This is one of the reasons they never bothered with pigs or chickens. They considered it too much trouble to keep them from turning into pigcicles and chickencicles to be worth keeping. Most of the breeds descended from their domestic animals are fairly independent, self-sufficient, stocky, winter-hardy animals that need little supplementary food and are very easy-care.

Icelandics
- easy to care for, does well on sparse pasture where other breeds would not do well
- very little herding instinct, will wander in small groups
- good mothers
- can be aggressive toward other breeds, will usually dominate
- milk, meat and wool!
- wool very long and low grease
- oldest, purest breed of sheep in the world, unchanged & undiluted for 1100 years (that's when the importation of livestock was cut off.)
- horned (both females and males usually)
- females can lamb as young as 12 months old, and continue until as old as 14
- generally produce 1 - 2 lambs at a time, rarely they can produce as many as 3 - 4 lambs at a time
- males can sire offspring as young as 7 months old
- not a docile breed, can be nervous until acclimated to people and herding animals, but then usually become quite friendly
- seasonal breeding - November to April

Cotswolds
- need extra care while fleece is growing in order to get good fleeces
- wool is less fine than the Leicaster, but finer than the Lincoln
- developed in the 1820s and 1830s to present breed standard (traditional breed completely replaced by an original Cotswold/Lincoln cross to result in better meat production.)

Dartmoors
- produces more wool and eats less for its weight than any other breed
- produce twins 70% of the time
- wool used in tweed fabrics, blankets and carpets
- post-17th cent. breed
- developed from the native Heath or Cornish Sheep, native to Devon
- very winter hardy
- rare breed - currently level 4 of Endangered Breeds on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust List... whatever that means...

Faeroes - not really bred for wool anymore, due to comparatively low yield of fleece and the commercially low price of wool
- primarily bred for meat nowadays
- descended from the Old Norwegian, related to the Icelandic, Shetland and other Scandinavian breeds

Finnsheep
- surprisingly young breed considering it is native to such an isolated country, only going back a few hundred years
- good fleece producers
- few in NA
- currently undergoing "improvement" in Finland through selective breeding (not interbreeding with other breeds to preserve bloodlines)
- from the pics I saw, rather delicate looking... like a ballerina...

Gulf Coasts (aka "Florida Natives")
- native to Florida
- related to Spanish sheep - arrived in 1500s
- naturally developed a degree of resistance to internal parasites
- perfectly adapted to the hot & humid conditions of the Southeast, very hardy in Florida
- medium to long staple length (2.5" - 4") wool quality variable, averaging 26 - 32 micron, grade 48 - 58
- horned and polled (without horns) in males and females
- critically endangered
- because they lived wild for several centuries, were never wormed, had no assistance lambing, and were never shorn, these sheep have developed in such a way that they need no assistance lambing, have very few internal parasitic problems and have relatively light, compact fleeces, open faces and bare legs.
- can be used for dairy
- I want some of these!

Hebridean
- old, but now rare & used most commonly as a decoration on estates
- small
- solid black face and legs
- fleece black, grays with age
- both sexes horned, curled, and they usually have 4!
- wool quality in the 44s - 50s, medium length staple
- browses and forages
- low fat content in their meat

Leicester Longwool
- 18th century breed
- used in "the Colonies" and UK
- very heavy fleeces, sometimes 20+ lbs
- wool 32 - 38 microns
- very rare and endangered - global pop est. at 2,000 animals w/ fewer than 200 new registrations in NA each year
- a favorite of George Washington

Old Norwegian
- one of the oldest domestic breeds in Europe
- closely related to Bronze Age "Soay" breed
- cute with short legs and snout
- pop #s around 10,000 animals
- remains of the breed have been found at Bergen that date to ca 1000 BCE
- all males and 10% of females have horns (although females' horns are small)
- very fine wool, long staple - good for hand knitting and felting
- very strong flocking instinct, can keep flocks as small as 5 - 7 animals without problems
- do not do well with herding dogs - the weak will hide while the strong of the heard will lead the dog away, resulting from their natural reaction to predators; little if any loss of the herd to predators and have practically no need for a dog
- very excellent mothers and lambs will be defended fiercely by the herd
- lambs begin grazing at around 14 days old
- need little if any surplus feeding as long as grazing is present
- love to eat heather
- right now there is a shortage of animals for meat production, so prices are high

Orkney
- eats exclusively seaweed most of the year
- evolved to deal with the harsh conditions of the N. Atlantic
- small, fine boned
- almost entirely open-faced and bare legged
- rams are horned
- wool quality 50 - 56

Rambouillet
- late 18th century/early 19th century breed
- mix of Spanish Merinos and native French stock, with some German
- very fine wool at 18.5 - 24.5 microns, quality range of 60 - 80
- staple length 2" - 4"

Romney
- from Kent, predates 19th century
- quality 40 - 48, 38 - 31 microns
- considered dual use (meat & wool)

Shetland
- date to ca. 850 CE
- smallest British breed, rams weigh 90 - 125 lbs, ewes 75 - 100 lbs
- considered one of the "primitive" or "unimproved" breeds (personally, with wool like this, I don't know why it would need to be "improved"... any breeding with meat stock would probably significantly reduce the quality of the wool... That's what happened with the original Cotswolds when they were crossed with Lincolns.)
- rams are horned
- fine-boned, very short-tailed
- fiber 20 - 25 microns, quality 58 - 62-ish, staple 2" - 4.5"
- very hardy, good mothers, easy lambers, high milk production
- meat is very good, but difficult to produce in quantity
- numbers are slowly rising, there are now approx 2000 breeding ewes in the UK
- calm, docile and easy to manage
- slow growing & long lived
- price ranges from $100 - $300 per animal in US
- I think I'd like a small flock... would be most useful...
- http://www.shetland-sheep.org/

2 comments:

sophronia_ said...

one more --not that you need it but was a bit surprised that you hadn't included it as it is probably the oldest and most very coolest sheep breed in the british isles: Soays, originally from the island of Hirta, now part of the St. Kilda Nature Preserve. these will be MY sheep one day. they were also imported to the americas in the 1970s & over here have developed somewhat differently --the history is very interesting --but are still very nice sheep to have. read all about them here:
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=soay+%2B+sheep&btnG=Google+Search

Rachael said...

Yeah, I read about those... It said they dated back to the Bronze Age, I think, and are related to practically all Scandinavian and British Isles sheep breeds. They sound pretty cool and I'll check out the link. I somehow overlooked them when compiling my list...