Early research - selecting breeds

mimstrel

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Hello! This is my first post here and I'm looking for some guidance. Bear with me; there's going to be a significant amount of information in hopes that those with more experience can direct me to the best resources.

I'm interested in eventually starting a small herd - it's quite a ways off, as I don't currently own land, but I'm a thorough-research kind of person. The sheep will basically be intended as pets with the added bonus of small-scale wool production, although I also love sheep cheese so at least one decent dairy producer would be good too.

I'd like to have a mixed-breed flock, likely starting with about three or four animals. I know that I want at least one Shetland ewe, because they have some of my favorite fibers. I'm interested in less common, heritage breeds and if I decide to breed or to expand my flock, I would likely want to focus on one or two rare breeds.

I'm not completely inexperienced with livestock (horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas/alpacas, pigs, and even a couple of reindeer), and I have a number of relatives and friends who are farmers and can provide guidance. I am aware that this will be my first time managing livestock on my own rather than following directions, and I want to take that into consideration... but at the same time, I'm not afraid to take on a more delicate breed if its something that really interests me and I can find a good resource in case I have questions.

I live in eastern Iowa, so I need breeds which are tolerant of a variety of weather conditions. I prefer smaller breeds. I have no particular preference regarding horns. After some initial reading, I am drawn to Karakul and Soay sheep, and I'm kind of in love with the Racka's spiral horns. But there's so much information to get through! And the nearest sheep and wool festival always falls over chaos week, when we have my brother's birthday, my dad's birthday, and Father's Day - not a time when I can easily run off and spend a weekend exploring the fairgrounds - so I haven't managed to get there yet.

Does anyone have particular breeds that they recommend I should investigate, or a favorite resource to help narrow things down?

Thanks!
 

purplequeenvt

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I love my Shetlands! I have 7 ewes, but only 1 is bred to a Shetland this year (due any minute actually!). The rest are bred for spring lambs to either a white Border Leicester or a black BL/BFL.

I've never owned Soays, but I have friends who have them and they are basically feral. Super flighty little buggers.

We also have Border Leciesters which are a nice dual-purpose breed. Their wool is very popular with handspinners and other fiber artists.
 

mimstrel

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Hi pupurplequeen! Thank you for your input. Flighty animals are not necessarily a deal-breaker, particularly in a mixed flock, but it's something to consider/keep in mind. Any chance your friends would have some fiber I could purchase to try out? I've got a few samples of Shetland and some Leciester, Corriedale, and Romney; as well as various crosses.
 

Latestarter

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Welcome to BYH! there's a wealth of info on the boards for you to peruse. Make yourself at home! If you have questions, we have a great group of Sheeple here who will help if they can. I believe we have some Sheeple who are spinners as well @Roving Jacobs @norseofcourse @luvmypets and probably others I can't remember... This has been around for a while, and I don't know if it will help, but many have said it worked for them. http://www.selectsmart.com/plus/select.php?url=sheepbreed
 

TAH

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Welcome from alaska
 

norseofcourse

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Welcome from Ohio! I have Icelandic sheep, and use mine for wool, meat and milk. It's a breed to check into if you haven't yet.

Any sheep breed will give you milk, it's just a question of how much, and how hard or easy it is to milk. The higher-producing milking breeds tend to be higher-input and more care, but some people have been experimenting with crosses, @mysunwolf has posted about that. See this thread:
http://www.backyardherds.com/threads/new-to-shepherding.34738/

For rare breed info, check out the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, if you haven't already. http://livestockconservancy.org/

Have you checked out what breeds are in your area? You might find some breeds that interest you, as well as a mentor to help you learn. Check with 4-H clubs, livestock vets, or feed stores to find out what sheep might be around.

I had not heard of Racka sheep, so I checked them out. Such interesting horns! I think they would make me a bit nervous, though...

Good luck!
 

Sheepshape

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Blue Faced Leicesters have divine fleeces, but they are huge, WAY too tender (mine are currently shivering out in our nasty November rain/sleet/wind.....may need to be let into the shed) and very greedy. They produce huge amounts of milk, though.Border Leicesters are tougher and still have good fleeces......probably the better option (like purplequeenvt said).

Soays are tough as old boots,very primitive sheep, but they won't let you handle/milk them and probably don't even make that much milk.

Often it's a good idea (as norseofcourse says) to find out what sheep are being kept nearby.....they are probably appropriate to your area. The majority of my sheep are Beulah Speckled Face, tough, pretty, medium sized sheep who are good mothers and have thick, waterproof fleeces suited to outdoor lambing. Beulah is less than 20 miles away and so these locally-developed sheep are ideally suited to our unpleasant climate.

By the way.....Welcome to BYH.
 
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mimstrel

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Hello and thanks for the welcome!

Icelandics are definitely on my list.

The one farm locally that I know which has sheep primarily for fiber (as opposed to primarily for meat - there's a number of those around, as well as a number of llama and alpaca farms) has corriedales and BF leicester. I'm looking at a further and further radius, so I'm sure I'll come up with more options. I know there's a farm about two and a half hours northeast that has Shetlands, Lincoln Longwool, and Dorset/Hampshire crosses (because the shepherd was nice enough to send me some samples when I first got interested in spinning). Of the three, I like the Shetland best, but I haven't used much of the longwool because I only have a little bit and I haven't found a good use for it yet. But the dorset/hampshire is just SO springy. I swear it's going to felt if I look at it too roughly.

When it comes to horns... my philosophy is the same as with horse hooves, eagle talons, macaw beaks, and reindeer antlers (among various other potentially hazardous animal parts that I have worked with). Respect them, but they're not scary. If you pay attention to the way the animal communicates and respect what it's "saying," you can generally keep yourself pretty safe. If you act like an idiot, you're definitely going to get kicked, footed, bitten, or head-butted. Don't be an idiot.
 

Baymule

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Welcome to the forum. You are smart to start your research before you get sheep. I lurked here, finally joined and was a member for 5 years before I got sheep. I got Dorper/Katahdin crosses, for meat. Have you looks at Jacob sheep? They are spotted and have those fantastic looking horns.
 

The Old Ram-Australia

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G'day and welcome and as Baymule said research before you buy is the best path to a successful entry into sheep farming.

Many years ago (and I mean many) when we were on our first little farm (5 acre's) both Jenny and my daughters were into spinning and so we ended up with Naturally Colored Corriedales,this breed produces quite a 'nice' lamb for the freezer and spinners used to travel many hours to buy a 'freshly' shorn fleece from our flock.Jenny used to card and spin it raw and then create the yarn "before" washing the wool,our flock was all pasture fed and so there was little in the way of contamination by grass and straw.I think the 'carding process' was the way to exclude most of the dirt and junk before putting it to the wheel.

Anyway see if you can find any Naturally Colored Corriedales up there be fore you finally decide.....T.O.R.
 
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