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Icelandic vs Shetland sheep

 
Posts: 51
Location: Vancouver Island, BC
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goat tiny house bee
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I'm wondering what the differences are between these two breeds, trying to decide which would suite me better. For fleece, don't care about meat but would be curious about all differences. Fleece differences, number of shearings, which are better mothers, which breed has richer hay demands? Which breed tolerates wet better? I know both breeds are raised in my area so looking for the nitty gritty details if possible.
How long do they live? If bred and if left dry
Do the microns of their fleece get thicker as they age like with Angora goats?
Located PNW Canada.

Thanks!!
 
pollinator
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When I was looking into this a few years ago the impression I got was that these two varieties are extremely similar. To the point of perhaps being essentialy the same breed. No practical experience too point to but that was my take away from my own personal research into the matter.
Also, the folks who raise these animals (should be able to find listed shepherds through your national Shetland/icelandic sheep guild, the US definitely had shepherd directories) are very happy to communicate with potential stewards of the breed
 
Aida Alene
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this is also the impression I have been getting so I thought I'd try and ask. I considered contacting breeders however my experience (with goat people at least) has been that people tend to be biased towards their breed or only know a lot about their breed so I wonder if its accurate lol.
 
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Great question.  

The answer is "it depends".

I'm on Southern Vancouver Island and about 10 years ago, I was asking exactly the same question, so I've done a lot of research into the area.  

An important thing to remember is that there are breeds and there are individual flocks.  I noticed in our area, many of the reproductive traits (like twinning or easy birth) common to the breeds weren't as strong as I expected.  A difficult birth requires human intervention to save the life of the lamb and the ewe.  Traditionally, Ewes (and rams - as the sire can have a strong influence on head size of the lamb) with a history of difficult birthing would be culled to ensure that these traits don't stick around.  But nowadays, with smaller flocks, we get emotionally attached to each sheep and we think "she's so sweet, let's just keep her and her lamb and see what happens next year"  (I admit, I am guilty of this)


Questions:
- have you had sheep before?
- do/have you other livestock?
- what will you do will the fibre?
  - will you take it to the local mill in Sidney?
  - will you hand process it?
  - will you sell it to fibre artists?
     - what kind of fibre artist?
- will you be selling breeding stock?  
  - if so, what will you feel like when you discover your lovely lamb you sold soandso is living in a wallow up to its chest in mud and being wormed once a week with toxic dog meds?
- do you understand the difference between salt and minerals for sheep care? (I really wish this wasn't a question I had to ask, but it is a huge thing people get confused about)

Most importantly, what will you do for medicine/care for those times when you need an expert?  Vets that are willing to treat sheep are hard to find.  Recent laws in BC mean we aren't allowed to buy worming meds or antibiotics without a vet.  Good prevention means you probably won't need it, but it's also illegal to deny an animal these medicines when they need it which can lead to criminal charges.  It's very complicated and political here.




Shetland and Icelandic are both old breeds and both have a high tolerance for variation in their diet.  They have different mineral needs.  Have a look at Pat Colby's (sp?) writing on natural sheep care where she talks a lot about the different mineral needs by breed and how having the right minerals can prevent many health issues.  

If you are keeping them with goats, check the copper tolerance for the breed.  Copper overdose will kill a sheep quickly, but different breeds have different tolerances.  Something like a Black Welsh Mountain can tolerate the same amount of copper as a goat - SO LONG AS THE COPPER is separate from other minerals and salt and free choice.  

Fleece-wise, the difference is huge.  Before choosing a breed, I recommend getting one of each and working with it by hand.  Skirting, sorting, washing, carding (with hand carders) and combing (with wool combs), spinning (both drop spindle and wheel), then make a wearable bit of clothing.  Wear it every day for a month, except for washing, and see how it holds up.  They are very different to work with and create very different cloth.

Both fleece types have different characteristics when mill processed.  They have a dual coat and the short fibres act differently to the long ones which can make some beautifully textured yarn - or pill terribly - depending on how it is processed.  The local mill is very good and Tracy or the staff there can walk you through the options.

Price may also be a huge factor.  Think about registration - is it important to you?  It makes no difference as to the quality of the animal and quite often animals are killed because they are the wrong colour or shape for the breed standard.  Some of my best animals are culls that were the wrong colour to be registered.

Sheering, both breeds can be shorn twice a year, but this depends on your goal for the fibre.  Too short a fibre.

Motherhood - depends on the farmer you are buying from more than the breed these days.  Does the farmer cull for difficult births or bummers (orphans/rejected lambs)?

Richer hay demands?  Not sure your meaning here.  Hay demands in the PNW are higher in the summer (when hay is more expencive) and when snowing.  The hay demands will depend on your location and forage.  You don't want a nitrogen-rich hay for sheep.

Wetter - again, depends on the farmer you buy from.  Do they cull for feet issues?  Correct mineral balance for your area can have a huge influence on this.  

Lifespan - not sure

Microns - What I say about this is contrary to popular opinion.  Most of my animals get finer fibre as they age but most farmers around here claim it gets thicker.  Animals we got as adults have much finer fibre after a few years here.  The shearers remark on this as they keep samples from different farms over the years.  I firmly believe that diet and care influence fibre thickness far more than age.




For myself, I went with Icelandic.  They are very nice with a wonderful temperment.  Good healthwise but sensitive to SE defficency (as all sheep are here since we don't get SE in our soil).  I think fibrewise, I would have been happier with Shetland, but very quickly, I moved away from the duel coat breeds and went with Black Welsh Mountain as they are also very good in our conditions, have less demand for SE but also have a high copper tollerance range as I had planed to run them with my goats.  After a while, I discovered that the BWM had too high a copper demand and their fleace suffered from lack of copper.  Also the Icelandic and BWM weren't good at flocking - they scatter.

I've now moved to Cotswold.  The fibre sells for more and the personality of the breed is far more affectionate which turns out is the biggest quality we want in a sheep - afection and self reliance in perfect ballance.  

 
Aida Alene
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r ranson:

thanks for all the info! I have bred registered Nubians for quite some time on a very small scale so I'm pretty up and up about caring for ruminants. My 3 girls get a mix of yeast, dairy mineral, sea salt and kelp. I also like to blend up a natural dewormer as a treat for them as well as using the commercial dewormers when needed. I've had serious problems with parasites this year, the location my goats have been at for the past few years is not my ideal pasture, its big enough for them to graze but no forage and they end up picking up their own parasites off the grass. I am a true believer in dry lot management unless one has access to lots of land! I am going to be keeping these sheep at my actual property instead of where I have been leasing the past few years, much dryer ground and never had livestock on it before (alpine, at 800ft elevation). I wouldn't get the sheep until 2021 so I'm planning way ahead.

r ranson wrote:

An important thing to remember is that there are breeds and there are individual flocks.  



agreed, it took years for me to figure out which Nubian herds I liked best in western Canada and there are HUGE differences within the breed. This can be a very difficult thing to figure out though when starting a new species/breed because everyone has different opinions and people tend to say their animals meet every criteria even if its a lie!

r ranson wrote: I noticed in our area, many of the reproductive traits (like twinning or easy birth) common to the breeds weren't as strong as I expected.



this is good to know as well.


As for your questions, I hand spin, so I have no plans to sell the fleeces. I want to comb it, though I currently don't have combs, its only the list for things I need. I can't believe how expensive they are!

r ranson wrote:if so, what will you feel like when you discover your lovely lamb you sold soandso is living in a wallow up to its chest in mud and being wormed once a week with toxic dog meds?



my main motivation for getting out of dairy goats is the stress of dealing with a crap buying mark on the island and the enraging aspect of finding out later that a home I thought was good is actually a terrible animal steward. Second stressor is the fact that dairy goats really need to be disbudded to have any selling value (plus Nubian horns are somewhat dangerous). I don't agree with people disbudding on the farm without full anesthetic so that means I have to go to Mill Bay vet every time I have female kids born and they now charge over $100 per kid. Ridiculous. Also, to get milk they have to be bred obviously, which is another bummer because I don't really want goat kids to deal with, thus why I'm switching to fibre. I would go with Angora goats except that I really don't think they suite this climate, they don't seem hardy enough for the rain we get.

What do I mean by richer hay demands? I mean that on the island we don't grow hay that is truly suitable for heavily producing dairy goats so I have to buy the stuff brought over from Keremeos or Creston at $20-25 a bale. I am hoping based on my reading that sheep would thrive off of local hay (but thank you about the nitrogen comment because I was wondering if cow dairy farm grown hay would be toxic from the nitrogen levels in it). Do you feed a local hay?

I'm considering keeping one of my goats because she is my absolute baby and I am having a very difficult time deciding to find her a new home. I'm not a sure a sheep and a goat would be happy together though... I don't plan to breed the sheep, at least not for the time being. If I've learned anything over the years it is that breeding and selling livestock is NOT worth the stress and dealing with the buyers (or lack of). I think its a fine idea but there tends to always be too many people selling and not enough people buying. My experience of the island especially has been that most buyers here are city folks who want to play at farming but have no real sense of how much things cost so they think they should be able to buy a kid or lamb for $100 bucks. This is a huge reg flag because if you live on this rock you know that hay and vet costs will far outweigh that $100 in a year alone. When a buyers first question to me is "how much" I usually don't take that sale any further.

cotswold are certainly interesting, I wish they were smaller though! How many bales do you go through per sheep per month? How much do those bales weigh?








 
Aida Alene
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r ranson
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It makes me very happy to read your reply.

Combs - I saw some for sale near Victoria recently: http://vhwsg.ca/classified-ads/

Hay - I'm very lucky to find an organic farm near mine that uses minimal/no irrigation (depending on the year) and if it wasn't for the Douglass fir, I could probably see their hayfield from my house.  They put aside X number of hay for us each year and if it's a bad year, they have the method for importing hay from Alberta.

Polling - something to think about is docking.  It's hard to do as it isn't nice for the animal but it prevents much worse things.  I like your choice of sheep as they are both breeds that don't require docking.

It's funny about the cotswolds.  I avoided big breeds because I'm not good with overpowering a sheep.  But the cotswolds understand that I'm not a sheep and I'm not a preditor.   I'm about the sheep equivalent of a god (which totally goes to my head) so it's much easier to handle these guys.  The older breeds had different ideas.  I was either a sheep to be dominated or a threat to be expelled.  They only had an "flock" and "not flock" category.  Whereas the cotswold have this third thing "provider/safe/doctor/bringer of life/thing that gives me treats/scratcher of itches" kind of category.
 
Aida Alene
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Awe darn, the combs already sold! Good to know you can use local hay. I talked to Tideview Icelandics and they do feed the imported stuff, so I guess its a bit of preference.

Yes I would like to avoid the need for docking so I like that they don't have long tails.

I wish my goats saw me as a God, lol. They see me as mummy, and they are quite demanding about get scratches all the time, I need more hands quite clearly. Strangely my two alpha type does are pretty aggressive with everyone who isn't me, even little kids. Anyone they don't know is fair game to be grunted at and threatened and nipped, even some mild head shoving. Its very strange as they were both bottle babies, one started it and now the other learned from her because they are two years apart in age. ugh!

I only plan to get 2 so I don't think it will matter much if they flock haha.



 
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We have had both Icelandic and Shetland sheep.

For ease of handling, Shetland are generally friendlier.  They are also quiet substantially smaller than Icelandics, therefore have less meat.  Both breeds are primitive and prefer a diet that more closely resembles that of goats (which we also have).  Both breeds are good mothers in my experience.  Rams are always pretty horrible in tup.  Icelandics are also good for milk production, so there is an additional service for you, if you are interested.  Both produce valuable wool, though very different.  Icelandics produce a double coat - each can be used/sold individually, or blended together.  Shetlands produce a very fine wool suitable for things like blankets and outerwear, that sort.  Of course, if you don't care to sell the wool it can be used (cleaned) as insulation or as a mulch.

 
pollinator
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Or, you know, just felt it into a giant pad mattress, if you have that much fibre you can't get rid of. I wonder how that would work on my back, just straight on the floor?

-CK
 
Aida Alene
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Nissa Gadbois wrote:We have had both Icelandic and Shetland sheep.

For ease of handling, Shetland are generally friendlier.  They are also quiet substantially smaller than Icelandics, therefore have less meat.  Both breeds are primitive and prefer a diet that more closely resembles that of goats (which we also have).  Both breeds are good mothers in my experience.  Rams are always pretty horrible in tup.  Icelandics are also good for milk production, so there is an additional service for you, if you are interested.  Both produce valuable wool, though very different.  Icelandics produce a double coat - each can be used/sold individually, or blended together.  Shetlands produce a very fine wool suitable for things like blankets and outerwear, that sort.  Of course, if you don't care to sell the wool it can be used (cleaned) as insulation or as a mulch.



thank you, after much consideration I decided to go with a breed that matches my goats in size and no horns so I went with Gotlands. Another motivation for this was that they are considerably more rare than the Icelandics and shetlands in my region so I feel I might have better luck selling ewe lambs and fleeces :)
 
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