When it comes to AI breeding sheep there is a lot of focus put on the rams. Do they have good type, are they fertile, do they freeze etc. After spending so much time selecting, testing, collecting and holding your breath while samples are thawed and tested for motility, its easy to forget that there are two sides to this genetic equation and the one that is much more likely to spell the success or death of any upgrading program is the foundation ewes.
Decision made here – good and bad – will follow you for generations. They affect your lamb crops, rearing success, the fertility of future daughters, AI settling rates, etc, etc etc. This list goes on and on and on…… and on and on and on.
A very common mistake is underestimating the need for ewe power, and making sure that your ewes are properly suited not just to your desired phenotypic outcome, but also to your rearing and management environment. Shipping sheep across the country comes with an inherent set of risks, they are more susceptible to parasites, as parasite resistance is dependent on their immune function, as well as disease, changes in food, differences in minerals and so on. There is an adjustment period – and it isn’t a four week quarantine either. Its possible with careful management you can make that work, but Im basically lazy, and I prefer to stack the evolutionary deck in my favor and let the critters do most of the work for me – hence my commitment to foundation breeding.
So what should a good looking foundation ewe look like? All experienced AI folks will tell you it needs to be an experienced ewe that raised her lambs without help, Ill take that a little further and borrow off a post from Joy Dally, who, along with her husband Martin, operate Super Sire Ltd and have been involved in a number of upgrading programs
Upgrading programs need long term vision as to selection for important maternal traits that will carry forward. We have learned from years of previous experience that the maternal side of the equation is very important to the final outcome. That is one of the reasons we chose high quality Gotlands as foundation stock in our breeding program.
These are stout, prolific, high milk producing ewes that will impart many of their positive maternal traits on to their offspring. They are amazing sheep in so ways, personality being one of them…very friendly…but that aside, with our Gotlands we can count on high AI take rates, and multiple, healthy, vigorous lambs that will be well nourished. Of course Martin feeds them well, as you can see!
I have posted a couple pictures of them yet to Lamb so you can see they are serious about their business…producing lambs. The two ewes I have shared pics of below are carrying triplets ( Queen Bee) and I believe a set of quads (good ol 465 ). The color patterning of the Valais Blacknose is inevitable in the F-2s and F-3 progeny of these ewes so is not as important a consideration when creating a sound maternal foundation to build upon.
We first saw this cross in Sweden some years back and were impressed not only by the vigor of them, but the striking resemblance to the VBS in the F-2s. – Joy Dally
the results seem to be speaking for themselves with the Gotland/Valais, and there are certainly enough of the fuzzy little beasts –
and then there are these Teeswater/Valais crosses, with an amazing nose and ear set. Hes got all the hallmarks of growing up into a very dignified little fellow, with an incredible fleece.
Which brings us full circle, there are lots of options out there for foundation ewes. Each come with positives and negatives, but careful consideration and evaluation needs to be given to all of them to make sure they are outstanding representations of their breed and represent a high quality, functional and productive ewe. Anything less would be a disservice to all the time, effort and energy that have gone into getting these first crosses and subsequent generations on the ground.