Sustainable Sheep Breeding

Last year I wrote a post about how we hoped to modify our livestock management to avoid feeding GM feed. At that time we had just added two Shetland ewes to breed to our Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) ram. We also retained a few of our large commercial ewes in case this experiment did not work as expected.
We are quite pleased with the results and have now eliminated the last of the big ewes and added four more Shetlands. I will briefly explain our rationale in switching to these diminutive sheep.
Shetlands are a small, primitive breed that is parasite resistant, grows a quality fleece, are excellent dams and can do it all on grass hay and not so great pasture. Now we won’t be feeding GM alfalfa, corn or soy to the sheep. These ewes are a better choice for our sandy, weedy land. The ewes weigh in at 75-100#s and eat about 1/2 of what our 200# ewes ate. The fleece is softer, easier to spin and felts better than the wool of our commercial ewes. The downside is that these Shetlands are much flightier than the larger ewes and so more difficult to handle. I also miss the pretty faces of my big ewes. The picture below is the BFL ram and three Shetland ewes.

BFL rams are used in their native land as crossing sires to Hill breeds of sheep. Even though the BFL is not a small breed of sheep, they have narrow heads and shoulders. This makes it possible for the much smaller Shetland ewes, to which they are bred, to give birth to crossbred lambs without difficulty. The fast-growing lambs are soon taller than their mothers and will reach butchering weight within 7-9 months. We have two BFL x Shetland ram lambs this year that appear to fall between the BFL x Suffolk lambs and the purebred Shetland rams. They have finer bones like Shetlands and are considerably bigger. Butchering is scheduled for next week and we will be able to compare hanging weights.

Ram lambs left to right: Suffolk x BFL, Shetland x BFL, Shetland x BFL, purebred Shetland
One of my main concerns is if the Shetland x lambs will make sufficient weight to keep my lamb customers happy. I will be very surprised if flavor is an issue since Shetlands are known for mild, sweetness. We will be conducting a taste test to compare all three: the commercial and Shetland crosses and the purebred Shetland. 

 What sustainable livestock breeds have you found that work for you? Did you have to make compromises (flavor, size etc) when incorporating them into your farm?sustainable livestock

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Sustainable Sheep Breeding — 3 Comments

  1. I have a flock of registered BFLs, and sell the extra ram lambs and ewe lambs at a local farmers market. I’d been using Katahdins for the market, but found that the BFLs had much larger, leaner chops and such lovely pink meat that is so much more attractive in the package. The flavor is mild and sweet and my customers rave about it. Hope you are still happy with your Shetland mules. :^)

  2. Hi Somerhill,
    I see we also have French angoras in common;)You have much more experience with them than I, however. Going kind of a different direction with the sheep for the time being. I kept my Shetland ewes & they are in with a Shetland x BFL ram.