I am sure that every shepherd has an inclination towards his or her own chosen breed of sheep. Perhaps we all think that our breed is the best. I’m not sure that there is a perfect breed out there, but I do think that multipurpose Finnsheep have certainly made our family proud and happy shepherds. We know that they are the perfect sheep for us. Perhaps they will be a good fit for you too!
To give a little background, we are a small family farm operating on 57 acres in SouthWest Virginia. My children all are developing their own small flocks of Finnsheep under parental supervision. This is a chosen family activity, and we evaluate our choices and goals often to keep things happy and as efficient as possible. We usually carry between 30-50 Finns and crosses at a time, depending on where we are in the rhythm of the farm. We ask that our sheep hold true to the breed in profitability, soundness, prolificacy, fleece quality, sound udders, maternal instincts, ease of handling, and general hardiness. We do carefully feed to support the high numbers of lambs and quality fleeces that we desire. Our sheep remain on pasture and are rotated as needed. We follow some unusual protocols for mineral supplementation, offering a large selection to promote self-supplementation based on individual needs. In tandem with our vet, we do use carefully measured copper supplementation to enhance worm resistance, maintain sound feet, darker or just finer fleeces, and better overall growth. We believe that this is a key contributor to our program.
Now, down to the Finns themselves! They, as reputed, are such a friendly and easy to manage sheep! Very sweet natured and loving, they cannot resist the constant waggling of tail anytime someone reaches to pet them. My children have had delightful experiences halter breaking these lambs as all they have needed to do is slip on halter, wiggle fingers, sheep walks up to be pet, repeat!
As moms, Finns tend to have many lambs. Perhaps this is why they are on occasion nanny sheep. We have had many moms co-raise, attempt to adopt other Finns’ lambs, or just nurture bottle babies through the gate. We had a sextuplet lambing here on our farm and were amazed at how well the mother could clean and attend to the lambs on her own. We were there for back-up, but she managed quite well, and all were up and mobile in short order. This same ewe lambed in a stall the following year without our awareness. When we got to the barn, we found that she had quintuplets all up and dried and fed on her own! Needless to say, we were quite relieved and pleased with her attentiveness. Finns can raise up to 3-4 lambs on their own at a time with good nutrition, but we will supplement and watch carefully if numbers increase beyond the ewe’s limit. I will say that Finn lambs are born small for obvious reasons, but that they do grow well with the proper input. Minerals, again, are superbly important for both parents and lambs. On our farm, we find that twins to quads seem to be a more normal numeric expectation. Bottle buckets, creep feeder stalls, and extra Finn moms really help with raising all the sweet lambs, but if the surrogate moms are not interested in sharing, little Finn lambs get creative at snatching extra snacks! Those little Finn “maaa” calls capture our hearts every time and make Spring one of the most delightful times of year!
After lambing, we always give special attention to the lambs and the moms to bring them to tip-top condition. All those hungry babies take a toll! We feed pasture as long as we have it through the year and get grain from a local supplier freshly milled. Ratios will vary depending on needs, and we usually separate the lambs from their mothers no sooner than 3 months. Our goal is to have sheep that grow out sustainably for our farm and customers. We like to have sheep that will reach a reasonable size with soundness and alluring fleece while not sacrificing udder strength, multiple birthing abilities, maternal qualities, hardiness, friendliness, etc. In short, we want all that the Finn has to offer! Finns are supposed to be light boned and have a heritage woven deep into Finnish history. They are not your typical commercial lamb but can make a nice and reasonable meld of both worlds with care. I think our breeding program is aiming towards that moving target all the time, but we certainly have much to learn from others and our sheep as we continue to build on the best foundations that we can find. This Fall, we are measuring and are pleased with our Spring lambs. Many of them coming from multiple births, and most weighing easily over 100 lbs. Those high number births with smaller lambs seem to even out in the end.
Friendly fleeces from soft sheep, or soft fleeces from friendly sheep? Even though Finn fleeces are on the fine side of medium for grade of wool, the tips of these fleeces are not crunchy, but rather sleek, often with sheen, and quite malleable. These soft and compliant locks are easily spun into a yarn that both tends not to poke and wears well. I often think our next-to-skin soft Finn yarn is highly preferable to fine fleeced yarn as, though Finn has a slight bloom, the yarn is durable and does not quickly deteriorate or pill as a finer knit yarn item might. Finn seems to be the best compromise between the juxtaposed wool worlds and offers a great balance for those looking for a long lasting yarn that is still soft enough for any use. They keep an attractive and interesting lock structure, and then there are all those colors!!! Greys, blacks, white, browns, and spots! Dalmatian spots, piebald spots, or lovely badger markings. These sheep are easy on the hands and eyes! I think that their friendly personality must come out in their fleeces.
If you are blessed enough, you will be able to find something that resounds deeply enough in the fiber of your hand and heart to commit to and bring contentment. We were fortunate to find Finns early enough to enjoy them together as a family. Shepherding these sheep has been a delightful and very meaningful experience for us. These sheep are not just stock here, and I think this may be what they excel at the most: They are the most peaceful and loving of friends.
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This blog chronicles our very full life here on WoodSong Farm. We will share everything from dog to sheep stories, unique wooly works, to animal husbandry tips we pick up along the way. I hope this helps to give you an idea of what our extended farm family and wooly projects are like, and that we may somehow benefit everyone who reads about our journey.