SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Finnsheep Sheep for all Economic Seasons

Finnsheep Sheep for all Economic Seasons

Finnsheep: Sheep for all Economic Seasons

by Grace Hatton of Hawley, PA
photos by Elizabeth Kinne

Sheep were one of the first animals domesticated. They were so important to humans that in Northern Europe they often lived in barns over the winter and even lambed in barns so they would be protected from predators.

Humans lived in one end of the long farm building and livestock in the other. Unlike their close relatives, Shetland and Icelandic sheep, that ranged outside year round, free of any predators, Finnsheep were always in closer proximity to humans. This may be one explanation for their docility and apparent affinity for people.

In the last century in Finland, Finnsheep were selected with regard for the quality of their wool and the tendency towards a double coat similar to the Icelandic sheep that have almost completely disappeared.

A shepherd with Finnsheep can cope with economic adversity or weather related feed supply shortages without long term effects. Finnsheep were bred to take advantage of good years as well as bad ones. If the hay was in short supply, ewes would be sold or slaughtered to bring their numbers down to match the hay available. Winter lasts a long time in Finland. Hay needs to last a long time, too.

The average flock in Finland in the 70’s when they were first imported into the US, was around five or fewer ewes. Some Finnish shepherds lambed their ewes twice a year. Ewes lambing twice a year need to be on a higher plane of nutrition most of the year, but in return there should be five to seven lambs per ewe.

Once a year lambing will result in three, four or more lambs per ewe, enough lambs to keep back for breeding to expand the flock if necessary as well as some to sell.

Meat from Finn lambs is more tender than average and the meat to bone ratio is more favorable than many other breeds. Finn lambs in the 60 – 90 pound live weight range are popular in the ethnic market in the USA.

Finnsheep in the USA began with seven rams and three ewes in the early 1970’s. They were selected from about 200 Finnsheep previously imported into Canada.

They were crossed with other sheep and originally any sheep with at least 15/16ths Finnsheep blood could be registered. The upgrading program ended in 1991. Since then there have been importations of Finnsheep semen from Finland and artificial insemination has expanded the Finnsheep gene pool in the United States.

Recently some Finnsheep breeders have been allowing different wool colors to emerge from the uniform whiteness long favored in all sheep.

Genetically all sheep are either black or, rarely, brown. White is a pattern genetically and not considered to be inherited like the colors black and brown. The white pattern is dominant over colors and masks them.

Some black sheep have wool that fades resulting in a sheep with black face and legs, but chocolate colored tips on their fleeces. Some black sheep fade to gray — black as lambs, but by the time they are two years old, become grizzled. Others start off black, but sometime during their first few months of life, their wool abruptly turns grey so the staple is lighter colored half way down.

Brown sheep also vary according to what is believed to be a modifier gene. If the gene is present, the sheep will be a pale fawn color.

Then there are other genetic traits that result in white markings on the face and legs, spotting that mimics a Holstein cow or even small all-over spots, similar to a Dalmatian dog.

Still other descriptively named variations exist such as badger-faced and Mouflon, which resembles the wild sheep, ancestral to modern sheep.

Elizabeth Kinne

While she was in the vanguard of owning crossbred Finnsheep in the late 1970’s — only a few short years after they came to this country — changes in her life forced Elizabeth Kinne to give them up in 1982. But the feisty red-head knew that if she had a chance to have sheep again, they would be pure-bred Finnsheep.

Twelve years later everything had fallen into place and she had a 38 acre hill-top farm bordering a 5,000 acre state forest where she now lives, south of De Ruyter, NY. She bought the sheep that were the beginnings of Stillmeadow Finnsheep — eight white ewes from New York breeder, Brian Magee, and a charcoal grey ram, Cheningo, from Clifford Hatch of Massachusetts. Cheningo had a black patch around one eye and spots on his belly. Both his sire and dam were white.

Elizabeth was intrigued by the idea of spotted or piebald sheep. Several years later she bought a ram with black and white Holstein-type spots from another Massachusetts breeder, Ginger Sokol, that was distantly related to Cheningo. When that ram was used on Cheningo daughters about 30% of the lambs were spotted.

There were spotted lambs in the mega-litter of seven Elizabeth’s Snobird had in 2001.

There have been several instances of Finnsheep dropping seven lambs in the USA, but the all time record is still in Finland where a ewe had nine lambs. Usually Finnsheep have three or four lambs.

Elizabeth has her 28 acres of pasture bush hogged annually. A 30’ x 60’ Harnois greenhouse barn houses her sheep over the winter and shelters them during lambing. Elizabeth says that even in 2000 when she had 25 ewes and their 75 lambs in the facility, there were no problems with ventilation. A skid steer loader is used for barn cleaning and snow removal around the place, but that is it as far as farm equipment goes.

More recently Elizabeth has been promoting her badger-faced Finnsheep. Badger-faced sheep have dark bellies and distinctive dark markings over the eyes.

A long time handspinner and weaver, Elizabeth prefers to only spin Finnsheep wool on the three spinning wheels her father made for her plus her two antique Saxony wheels. When it comes to weaving, it is the same story — her favorite is Finnsheep yarn. She is currently weaving on a LeClerc 4 harness 36″ wide counterbalanced floor loom and also has a 60″ wide 8 harness floor loom made by her father in 1978. More recently she has been doing felt making — again with her beloved Finnsheep wool.

Finnsheep Sheep for all Economic Seasons

Heidi Trimbur

In contrast to long-time Finnsheep breeder, Elizabeth Kinne, Heidi Trimbur just got started with Finnsheep. Heidi had been involved in the equine industry for over 30 years, starting with sport horses, evolving into the breeding of colored sport horses and eventually ending up in the Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry. As the breeding and foaling end of the business grew, she and her husband, Eric, required more land and hence the purchase of their 20 acre Alburtis, PA property.

Eventually keeping up with the amount of work horses require got to be too much. The energetic young racing bloodstock are hard on the human body so they decided that it was time to make a change. Two and a half years ago they began researching ideas of what to do with the farm when the racehorses, broodmares and foals were all gone.

“We spent almost a year visiting different sheep farms, learning about the industries served by sheep breeders, what was and was not profitable and what breeders had to say about different breeds of sheep they had raised and probing into markets and potential markets to discover what buyers were looking for and what they were willing to pay to acquire the product. We identified what the top of the market was looking for and kept their needs in mind when selecting our breed of sheep! We also established our own criteria based on what we felt our land was most suitable for and our own personal interests.”

Luckily they didn’t need to do much in the way of barn modification and they had already fenced their property for the horses. The fields were set up for cross grazing and full rotation. They make their own hay anyway so there was nothing to change there either. As a plus, the reproductive characteristics of Finn ewes and their earlier maturity rates get a program up and running quicker than other breeds.

According to Heidi, “Temperament… was a biggie, as I had just spent over 25 years breeding horses — I had absolutely no interest in any breed that would be rude, obnoxious or flighty!”

Heidi searched for animals with suitable characteristics for a quality breeding program. Conformation, temperament and wool quality are her main selection criteria. Then came wool quality, versatility and the range of natural colors in the wool. This goes back to market penetration. She says, “White wool is fabulous because you can dye it any color you want, but we have a huge ‘natural, environmentally-green-minded’ market in our area so varied colors give us more marketability. Finn wool characteristics make it extremely versatile and it can be used with confidence for a larger variety of projects than most other wools. Our fleeces for 2009 are sold out!”

Whenever hand-spinners are asked what their favorite types of fleeces to spin are, Finnsheep always comes up as one of the popular ones. The wool is known for its softness, silky hand and high luster. The American Wool Council ranks it in the finer end of the medium wool breeds. Finnsheep fleeces are hard to find since fewer than 350 Finnsheep were registered in the past year.

Fancy Finnsheep fleeces sell for $10 or more per pound. Some breeders coat their fleeces, but the primary issue affecting hand spinner fleece sales is attention to detail. That means no second cuts or belly wool or matted areas. Hand-spinners don’t want to be picking hay bits out of the wool.

Finn roving sells for $18 per pound and up. Roving is wool that has been washed, carded, sometimes dyed and put up in strips ready for spinning. There are many commercial wool processors out there, but processing can be done in the home.

Finn wool also felts easily making it popular with felters.

Finn wool doesn’t have as much lanolin in it as some breeds so loss on washing is closer to 35% compared to some wool breeds where weight of lanolin can be up to 50%. Finnsheep wool grows quickly so they can be shorn twice a year.

Another consideration for the Trimburs was health and ease of care. Heidi says, “Finnsheep, as a breed, won this one without contest! They are smaller, super-friendly, have no horns to worry about and no tails to dock. They are hardy, thrive on good nutrition and grow a gorgeous fleece. I love to walk out in the pastures with them. They all come running over to say hello and some of our rams love to jump on our golf cart and “go for a ride” – it is hilarious! Finns are extremely personable and they are an ideal fit for today’s smaller farms and superb for family operation, they are also wonderful for children and as family pets. We absolutely love the breed! They are a joy to work with, a pleasure to have on the farm, and our customers can’t get enough of them and/or their wool!”

Finnsheep Sheep for all Economic Seasons

Finnsheep Facts at a Glance:

  • originated in Finland
  • imported into the USA in early 1970’s
  • hornless, short-tailed, single coated
  • wool highly favored by handspinners
  • colored sheep can be registered
  • early maturity
  • plenty of vigorous lambs – averaging 3 or 4
  • used in crossbreeding to increase lambing percentages
  • lambs marketed to the ethnic market (60-90 lbs)
  • docile and friendly

Resources:

American Finnsheep Breeders’ Association
http://www.finnsheep.org

Stillmeadow Finnsheep
5883 Randall Hill Rd
De Ruyter, New York 13052
315-852-3344
stillmeadowfinnsheep@frontiernet.net

Trimbur Finnsheep Organics
58 Bitting Road
Alburtis, PA 18011
610-845-3607
htrimbur@dejazzd.com

Sheep-color-genetics
An online email list for breeders of all kinds of sheep interested in color genetics on yahoogroups.com

Finnsheep
an online mailing list not affiliated with the FBA – Join by going to: http://www.yahoogroups.com

Freelance writer, Grace Hatton, has raised Finnsheep since 1986. She is a hand-spinner, knitter and huge fan of Finnsheep wool. One of her Finn ewes gave birth to quints in the spring and quints in the fall of the same year. Another Finn ewe in her flock had 41 live lambs by her tenth birthday. Grace is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Finnsheep Breeders’ Association.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

by:
from issue:

Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

by:
from issue:

“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

The First Year

The First Year

by:
from issue:

Prior to last year, I had felt I knew the nuances of the land quite well and fancied myself as knowledgeable about the course of the natural world. Outdoors was where I felt the most comfortable. The fresh air and endless views of fields, hills and valleys renewed my spirit and refreshed my mind. I didn’t think there was much that could fluster me when it came to the land. Until I became an organic farmer.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

by:
from issue:

Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

by:
from issue:

I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

by:
from issue:

How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

by:
from issue:

In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

LittleField Notes Seed Irony

LittleField Notes: Seed Irony

by:
from issue:

They say to preserve them properly, seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed, dry container. Yet the circumstances under which seeds in a natural environment store themselves (so to speak) seem so far from ideal, that it’s a wonder plants manage to reproduce at all. But any gardener knows that plants not only manage to reproduce, they excel at it. Who hasn’t thrown a giant squash into the compost heap in the fall only to see some mystery squash growing there the next summer?

Useful Birds

Useful Birds

by:
from issue:

Whether a bird is beneficial or injurious depends almost entirely upon what it eats. Birds are often accused of eating this or that product of cultivation, when an examination of the stomachs shows the accusation to be unfounded. Accordingly, the Biological Survey has conducted for some years past a systematic investigation of the food of those species which are most common about the farm and garden.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Russian Dacha Gardening

Russian Dacha Gardens

by:
from issue:

Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.

Low Impact Ranching

Low Impact Ranching

by:
from issue:

This kind of low-impact management has yielded visible results for Rose who can display flourishing pasture grasses, healthy cattle, and firm banks in his riverside pasture. “I am just a detail oriented person and one of those farm boys who always likes to have a project,” Rose said. “I am trying to get the most out of my land and efforts and I really enjoy seeing the positive outcomes of a finished project.”

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT