Last Friday it was very cold for our spinners group to meet at the library. We spin downstairs in the finished basement but it can get a little cold when the temps dip below zero. So, Grace Hatton invited us over to her farm where she raises Finnsheep and her husband Fred restores antique spinning wheels. I always enjoy a trip over to their farm.
During my visit, Grace agreed to do a short interview on my blog to share her experience of raising Finnsheep. And she kindly provided me with some photographs to go with the post!
cyndy: Hi Grace! You and I have talked recently about your wonderful Finnlandrace Sheep. You mentioned to me that the breed is in danger of dying out (here in the USA) and certainly losing genetic diversity. How many are in the country at the present time?
Grace: There were only about 340 registered in 2008.
cyndy: Can't you just import some if they go extinct in this country?
Grace: No. There are import restrictions.
cyndy: Oh my, I didn't realize that! How long have you been raising Finnsheep, and why did you choose that breed?
Grace: We have raised registered Finnsheep since 1986. We could not afford to have animals that could not pay their way so the idea that Finnsheep would have litters of lambs was very appealing.
cyndy: Would you speak a little bit about their background?
Grace: They were developed over hundreds of years ago in Finland which is near the Arctic Circle. Winters are very long. It was not practical to keep large numbers of ewes in barns over the winter, but still plenty of lambs were welcome to graze the forages that grew rapidly under the "midnight sun. Some shepherds bred their ewes to lambs twice in one year.
cyndy: I've heard you say that Finnsheep are easy to care for and fun to keep. Why do you think they have such a good temperament?
Grace: Unlike Shetland and Icelandic sheep (their relatives) that were wintered out of doors because there were no predators on Shetland or in Iceland, Finnsheep always lived close to humans. This probably accounts for their gentleness and docility. We have a similar situation here in terms of climate and predation to Finland. Black bears kill our sheep. Bald eagles and coyotes are around, but have not been a problem. yet.
cyndy: I've heard that Finnsheep have a reputation for having more than one lamb at a time. What is the record number of lambs born to one ewe?
Grace: Finnsheep usually have no trouble giving birth because their lambs are smaller since there are many of them. Triplets and quads are the norm, but the record in Finland is nine live lambs. I know of two instances of septuplets in the USA and a rumor of octuplets.
cyndy: I know that lambing time is very busy for you. What is the record at your farm, in terms of lambs from a single ewe?
Grace: The most we have ever had was quintuplets. One of our ewes had quints in the spring and quints again that same year in the fall.
cyndy: Wow, that seems like a lot of lambs for one mother to care for. Do you ever have to help a ewe take care of her young?
Grace: Obviously a ewe cannot take care of more than three lambs all by herself. The easiest system for us it to help out by providing extra bottles of lamb milk replacer to large litters. The lambs are normally weaned by six weeks old so it is not a chore of long duration.
cyndy: I have purchased some of the wool from your sheep, and I just love working with it. Would you tell my readers more about it?
Grace: Finn wool is wonderful to work with. It is known for its luster and silky hand. The American Wool Council ranks it in the fine end of the medium wool category. Finn wool does not have a lot of lanolin in it so the yield is good with around 30% lost in washing compared to nearly 50% in some breeds. While Finnsheep do not have heavy fleeces, they are often shorn twice a year. Summer fleeces are not likely to have wool breaks due to nutritional stress and far fewer bits of hay since the ewes are out on pasture. Our flock usually has about a 3 - 4" staple.
cyndy: I notice that some of your sheep are black and some are white, and sometimes they have both black and white on one sheep. Are there any other natural colors of Finnsheep Fleece?
Grace: In recent years Finnsheep breeders have explored the potential for natural colors in their flocks. Importation of moorit or red-brown Finnsheep genetics and the discovery of three types of spotting:
1.. white markings on head and feet
2.. Dalmatian spots
3.. Holstein spots
There are also several types of grey fleeces. One is a graying that happens as black sheep get older, usually evident by age two. Another type called "shaela" by Shetland breeders involves a black lamb whose fleece turns grey abruptly and there is an actual line in the staple. Still another fascinating color is badger face. A badger face has silver fleece and a black belly and black markings over its eyes.
cyndy: What would you say to someone who might be interested in raising Finnsheep?
Grace: Finnsheep are smaller than Dorsets or Suffolk sheep which makes them easier to handle for a woman. The are not flighty. The do not have horns and have naturally short tails that do not need to be docked.
Thanks Grace! You certainly have a beautiful flock of Finnsheep, and I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. For more information on Finnsheep you can contact Grace through her blog at Antique-Spinning-Wheels.blogspot.com or finnsheep.org