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shetland/icelandic sheep - experience and advice  RSS feed

 
stephen lowe
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I've been dreamin of getting some sheep for the last year and I think that I finally have a pasture that will work, about 2 acres near my house (literally a stone's throw) of mixed grass in coastal California. I think that I want to get some Shetlands because they are supposed to be very hardy, versatile, gentle critters with a variety of types of wool coming off the same animal. We also have an award winning breeder nearish (4 or 5 hours away, close by norcal standards) as well as 2 more registered flocks a bit closer. I'd love to hear people's real world experience with them. I plan to raise them primarily for lamb and to explore the demand for fiber as a side benefit (I have no problem using all of their hair as mulch if I can't find a local fiber worker). Thanks in advance for your experience.
 
Kris schulenburg
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I have Icelandic crosses. If you hang out with them as young lambs they are usually very friendly. They don't like the heat and need shade. The fall clip from lambs can be sold for $100 or more depending on quality, color, cleanlyness and quality of sheer. Familiarize with parasites especially Barber Pole worms. Sheep 101 website is a good place to start. Pat Coleby's Natural Sheep Care has a lot of good info especially about the importance of minerals.
Icelandic's are smart and have a lot of personality. They are a fare amount of work but are worth it.
 
stephen lowe
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Thanks for the tips on resources about sheep, I will definitely check out the site and book. When you say they take a fare amount of work how do you mean? Are there things about them that they require that other sheep don't?
 
David Livingston
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I think the clue is in the name both breeds are quite hardy and from cold climes how they will cope with sunny cal not so sure
Icelandic sheep have a good ratio of twins and triplets so it's not uncommon for a herd average to be over two lambs per ewe however both breeds are quite small

David
 
stephen lowe
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Thanks for the reply david. I am in far far northern coastal cali, sunshine ain't exactly our speciality. We are probably looking at average daily highs between 55 and 65F year round with some fog/drizzle/cloud cover every single day. 
 
Travis Johnson
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What is your primary purpose for them? If they are for your own consumption they may be a good fit, but for sales to other people their small carcass size makes them very undesirable.

With sheep you make your money by the chops, the most prized part of the lamb, and the carcass size of the animal is where you make or break yourself in farm profits.
 
Kris schulenburg
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No more than other wool sheep except they need to be sheared in the spring and fall usually. Need their feet trimmed 3-4 x.
 
stephen lowe
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Travis, they would be primarily for my own consumption as well as my own introduction to working with livestock that's not birds. That's where the appeal of the smaller size and the supposedly smarter and more personable nature appeals. I would like to explore marketing their fiber but not as a financially necessary endeavor. Do you or anyone have any experience with marketing sheep sausage?

Kris, I was given to understand that these sheep didn't need to be sheered but could be rooed or basically plucked as they naturally shed. Is this not the case?
 
Kris schulenburg
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Rooing  has not been my experience. You may ask on the Icelandic Owners Facebook page. Most people have them sheared. Which you can do with a good pair of sissors if you don't have too many.
 
Travis Johnson
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Sausage is a pretty big ticket item and a hot seller if you can work it in under the "Buy Local" movement that is occurring now. It works well because you can take old ewes which do not have that succulent lamb flavor, but are teeming with water and mix it 50/50 with lamb. That gives a person the best of both worlds. It is a bit sad to take really good lamb and grind it all up, as I like Leg of Lamb and even shank lamb, but you market what you got.

I had never heard of rooing either, but did not want to say anything because I was not 100% sure. Thanks Kris for verifying what I thought as well.


I am just appalled at the number of people though who shy away from wooled breeds of sheep thinking shearing is a big deal when really it is not. Wool for me means carcass size, and carcass size means money. I tried Katadins onetime, and like everyone else, quickly got out of them realizing you would have to raise 500 of the little buggers to equate to 250 real sheep. The worst part of having Katadins though...is explaining to kids why those goat looking things are really sheep, but don't have wool!

 
kadence blevins
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stephen lowe wrote:
Kris, I was given to understand that these sheep didn't need to be sheered but could be rooed or basically plucked as they naturally shed. Is this not the case?


Not all sheep of any breed will roo. Generally it is more common in certain breeds than in others, but even within the breed it is highly variable. Some people breed for animals that do roo, some people breed for animals that do not roo. You will have to be able to go out many times in the spring and pull wool from them if they roo. It almost never all comes off without help from all that I have seen and read. And some animals will only roo partially and still need shorn the rest of it. No matter what I would definitely suggest having some phone numbers on hand for someone that can come shear them if needed anyways.

I would highly suggest having a look at fibershed. They started in California. I will link the producer directory but the whole site is great. http://www.fibershed.com/producer-directory/

Shetlands and Icelandics are great heritage breeds. They aren't great for everyone. They aren't great for all purposes. They are smaller and generally more lanky in build than most modern breeds. You will not be able to compete with pound of gain against other breeds. However these breeds do generally need less help lambing, less fuss over the year, and will do great on pasture alone (if you can support it with your land and number of animals).

I follow several breed specific facebook groups and one of the Icelandic sheep groups a while back was talking about using rams over commercial breed flocks for terminal meat lambs. One person had a picture of a Suffolk x Icelandic that was 140lbs at 4 months old with no grain. Something like this seems like it will be more to your goals.

I would suggest seeing if you can make farm visits to the places you found near you. Have a list of questions. Ask about when they breed and lamb,.. when they shear,.. what traits they breed for,.. what they feed through different times of the year (pasture, grains/mix, minerals, hay,..)....
I have found lovely animals that I really wanted to come home with and did not because the animals were raised in a very "coddled" fashion and would not add well to my standards of hardiness.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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We used to have neighbors who raised Shetlands (very small) and Merinos.  They showed, and made custom rovings and yarns for sale.  They found that the Shetland rams could, and would, jump any fence on the place to get to the Merino ewes when they were in heat, resulting in a lot of unintended cross-bred lambs which basically had worthless fleeces (the crosses had a lot of kemp in their fleeces).  So that might be something to keep in mind, although if you stick to just one breed you should be okay.

Shetlands do have small carcasses, but the lamb is better-flavored than most.

Kathleen
 
kadence blevins
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None of my sheep will lift their feet off the ground any higher than what it takes to walk lol. But yes some sheep are a lot more jump-happy but it tends to depend on where you get them. I know someone who has 3 strand electric for her sheep and mostly they are shetlands.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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LOL!  Hopefully they will stay where they are supposed to for you!  I wouldn't count on it, though, if there's a female in heat that they aren't *supposed* to be with! 

Kathleen
 
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