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Extract from Home Farm Magazine

No 80 Feb/March 1989            Copyright   Pam Shaw

 

The Shetland Cross Ewe by Pam Shaw

 

The usual crossing sire for a Shetland is a Cheviot and the Shetland cross Cheviot ewe has many enthusiastic supporters, especially in and around Aberdeenshire. Since I was more interested in a possible dairy animal I chose a homebred Friesland x Oldenburg ram. I have around sixty Shetland ewes so there was a fair number to choose from. The dam needed to be capable of feeding a bigger cross- bred lamb. Although the ewes are colour- ed the lambs will always be white since white is predominant in this cross so quite a consistent 'type' can be established. In fact many of them look like cuddly teddy bears with their thick fleeces and woolly faces, but I am not sure this is quite what is meant by 'type'.


The Shetland cross ewe seems to fall roughly in the middle between her hardy mother and softer father. By using parents from both extremes one should get maximum hybrid vigour. The cross ewes put a lot into their lambs (it is usually twins) which will grow to their, mother's size at weaning. For this reason the ewes need feeding more than their Shetland mothers, but obviously less than a Friesland or Oldenburg. As a terminal sire we use the Cheviot, this being the most common breed in our part of Scotland. If the farming press is to be believed then the best choice would be a Texel, but these would probably be too soft for us. The best ewe lambs from the Cheviot cross can then join the commercial flock, looking not unlike small, if somewhat woolly, Cheviots and the wethers (castrated males) and smaller ewe lambs can go into the store ring. At the moment long-keeping lambs are very popular. When the variable premium goes this may change.

 

Hand-spinnable fleeces
Since both dam and sire have hand spinnable fleeces our cross takes on many of the good points from both. Fleece weight is about 5 lbs or 6 lbs in a shearing. The wool is lustrous, crimpy and very soft. Practically all the fleeces are suitable for hand-spinning. The smaller size can be a bonus when Oldenburg x Friesland fleeces averaging 7 lbs-8 lbs are sometimes just too much for the spinner.
 

Do they milk?
But, you ask, do they milk? The answer is, in most cases, 'yes and very well'. Their udders are usually big in proportion to their small size. The teats are well placed and large Shetlands often have well shaped, quite large udders, and since I used a homebred ram I could choose one that I knew would leave good udder shape and size. In temperament the Shetland cross ewes are not . as quiet as Frieslands and I am not sure how they would parlour-train for machine-milking. For hand-milking they are fine. They soon settle to a daily routine and I often milk an ewe that has had a single lamb throughout the summer. They are also a good source of colostrum at lambing time.
Once the lambs have been sold I milk the best of the Shetland crosses along with the other dairy sheep until October. In fact, it would be very hard to dry them off if they were not mllked. I have only had one or two that would not settle to be milked at all but then this can happen with any breed.

Their main advantages
Probably one of the main advantages these ewes would have for the small farmer would be that their smaller size and hardier type mean they can be stocked more densely and fed well on less than the bigger framed dairy ewe. Although, in common with both their parents, they keep their teeth well, Shetland cross ewes suffer from the perennial dairy sheep problem of need- ing constant foot trimming. However, that is bearable on a small scale.


An ewe that gives lambs, wool and milk and will last well is obviously what everyone wants. For me the Shetland cross ewe is also very pretty and friendly. If you are working with sheep every day that can be an added bonus too.

 

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