Genetics and Buying Sheep

When we started looking for Icelandic sheep, we were surprised at how little information was available on individual animals.

You may have already started shopping for a ewe or ram. If one personally checks out the lamb, sire and dam,  one gets a basic idea of what the lamb might grow into. What if the lamb is 500 miles or more away, and this is often the case. Then one has to rely on pictures, the breeder, and the extended pedigree. Lets start with a look at an extended pedigree:

Lil' Darling  
But that is only a small part of the picture. It does not tell what the disposition, finer points of color, wool quality, or growth rates. Additionally the inheritability of traits is a major concern. Some extremely fine sires and dams do not pass their traits to their offspring, and some mediocre ones have produced consistently exceptional offspring. There was a highly rated ram named Bambi that was used heavily through AI. His traits were not inheritable. You will him far back in just about every pedigree. Bambi is a name many breeders would like to forget.

If one goes to the breed registry, and draws the dam's progeny.
What one expects to see is:

But what one often finds is:

At that point one starts to wonder what created the holes in the progeny list. Did the missing lambs become fiber pets? Were they culled for a major defect? One just does not know.  They definitely were not registered. When the sire's progeny is reviewed, the same type of holes show up. However, if no lambs from a single breeding were registered, there is no visible hole. This makes the assessment of a sire more difficult. Add to this the fact that a sire may move from farm to farm as his services are no longer needed. One has to ask the questions to get the answers. Have these two been matched before, and what was the results? What about each parent's and grandparent's progeny.  Are their traits inheritable?

If you ask a good reputable breeder, they will give you all of the information they have, and one can start to fill in the blanks.  We found that some breeders found our questions on the proven inheritability of traits, progeny ratios, and ultimate disposition of progeny a little odd. While most all were forthcoming with information. The fact that some did not expect to be asked these questions, showed they might not have considered them important. To us these things are very important, and you can't be afraid to ask.

However, regardless of how reputable a breeder is, they have their own values that they look for in their sheep, and they may be more or less critical of their own lambs.  It is hard to cull a lamb one has raised, and one always wants their own lambs to be perfect. This is true of any group of breeders. I think my lambs are the best thing since sliced bread, but it is up to you to decide if they are right for you. When I go out looking for outside genetics to bring into my flock, I am very picky. I have a goal in mind and will look for a lamb that will strengthen those qualities to my flock. We personally check out the lambs before making any decision. There are hundreds of little things that go into this evaluation. Watch them for a while. Then get your hands on them.  I hold a ewe lamb in my arms for about 10 minutes or so, just to get a feel for her temperament. She is not tame at this point, but does she relax, and accept the situation? How plump is she, has mama been feeding her well? What is her wool like? Does she have the required 2 teats? Then observe her mother, and her mother's reactions,  is she relaxed? Protective? What is mama's wool like? How's papa? What is his wool like? How does he handle himself in the ram flock? Was he kind to the ladies? and the whole time talk to the breeder. You want to know them, their goals, and their methods.

If even after all this you decide that a lamb is not right. Do not be afraid to let the breeder know. Be polite, and leave the door open. You may want a lamb from next years crop, or who knows, they may want one of yours. We look at our purchases like arranging marriages, we are match makers. By creating these matches we are creating connections between one flock and another, and we hope to bring the best traits of both together. When we consider a lamb, we are already planning who we are going to match them up with, and what we are expecting of their lambs. Being a good breeder is like being a chess master, one is looking a couple of generations in the future to decide what to do now.

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