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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: How-To & Plans

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

Building an Inexpensive Pole Barn

Building an Inexpensive Pole Barn

by:
from issue:

The inside of the barn can be partitioned into stalls of whatever size we need, using portable panels secured to the upright posts that support the roof. We have a lot of flexibility in use for this barn, making several large aisles or a number of smaller stalls. We can take the panels out or move them to the side for cleaning the barn with a tractor, or for using the barn the rest of the year for machinery.

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

by:
from issue:

Yogurt making is the perfect introduction into the world of cultured dairy products and cheese-making. You are handling milk properly, becoming proficient at sanitizing pots and utensils, and learning the principles of culturing milk. Doing these things regularly, perfecting your methods, sets you up for cheese-making very well. Cheese-making involves the addition of a few more steps beyond the culturing.

Farmrun On the Anatomy of Thrift

On the Anatomy of Thrift: Side Butchery

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals.

Forging Rings in the Farm Blacksmith Shop

Forging Rings in the Farm Blacksmith Shop

by:
from issue:

Fabricating steel rings is a common task in my small farm blacksmith shop. They are often used on tie-rings for my customer’s barns, chain latches on gates, neck yoke rings, etc. It’s simple enough to create a ring over the horn of the anvil or with the use of a bending fork, however, if you want to create multiple rings of the same diameter it’s worthwhile to build a hardy bending jig.

Barn Raising

Barn Raising

by:
from issue:

Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

Book Review Butchering

Two New Butchering Volumes

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming.

Sleds

Sleds

by:
from issue:

The remainder of this section on Agricultural Implements is about homemade equipment for use with draft animals. These implements are all proven and serviceable. They are easily worked by a single animal weighing 1,000 pounds, and probably a good deal less. Sleds rate high on our homestead. They can be pulled over rough terrain. They do well traversing slopes. Being low to the ground, they are very easy to load up.

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

by:
from issue:

We had experimented with unrolling the bales the year before and had decided to make a device that would let us move them with the horses and then unroll them. I used square tubing to make a simple frame with two arms attached to a cross piece which connected to a tongue. Small diagonal braces made the arrangement rigid and the arms had a right angle piece of square tubing on their ends which allowed a pin to be driven into the middle of the round bale from each side.

Horseshoeing Part 2A

Horseshoeing Part 2A

As there are well-formed and badly formed bodies, so there are well-formed and badly formed limbs and hoofs. The form of the hoof depends upon the position of the limb. A straight limb of normal direction possesses, as a rule, a regular hoof, while an oblique or crooked limb is accompanied by an irregular or oblique hoof. Hence, it is necessary, before discussing the various forms of the hoof, to consider briefly the various positions that may be assumed by the limbs.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Hand Plucking Poultry

by:
from issue:

I confess that I am cold-hearted and cheap. Though I love raising poultry, I hate spending time and money anywhere but on my little farm. So I process at home. If you are only raising a few birds for yourself, say 25 or 30 at a time, I recommend having a party and doing it all by hand. My journey backward from machines to hands started with a chance encounter with a Kenyan chicken grower visiting the United States. He finishes 15,000 broilers each year.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

Cultivating Questions: The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

Build Your Own Butter Churn

by:
from issue:

Fresh butter melting on hot homemade bread… Isn’t that the homesteader’s dream? A cheap two-gallon stock pot from the local chain store got me started in churn building. It was thin stainless steel and cost less than ten bucks. I carted it home wondering what I might find in my junk pile to run the thing. I found an old squirrel cage fan and pulled the little motor to test it. I figure that if it could turn a six-inch fan, it could turn a two-inch impeller.

Basic Blacksmithing Techniques

Illustrated guide to basic blacksmithing techniques, an excerpt from Blacksmithing: Basics For The Homestead.

Delivery Wagon Plans

Delivery Wagon Plans

from issue:

While the low down delivery wagon is an improvement, the objectionable features are increased. But with all those objections the low down wagons increase every year. Their convenience outweighs all other objections. They are handy for country delivery and are fitted up inside to suit either grocers, bakers, butchers or milk delivery, or a combination of the four.

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