Finns seemed ideal for a breed that would provide a finer wool while still preserving a brilliant luster that was compatible with that of Lincoln wool. We also hoped that crossing a large, slow-maturing breed with a small, fast-maturing breed would give us a compromise that would meet our live lamb goals.
We had a nucleus registered Lincoln flock and added a Finn x Lincoln ram from the U. of Minnesota as well as using a borrowed Finn ram from the same original source. We produced some first generation Finn x Lincolns as well as using both rams on a flock of part Finns also from the U. of Minnesota. The part Finns were crosses with a variety of meat breeds. We used those ewes as a starter flock to produce some cash flow while we developed a wool/lamb breeding flock. The breeding flock eventually ranged between 130 and 200 ewes, the number mostly depending on pasture conditions.
We crossed and back crossed as our flock evolved toward an average of approximately equal genetic contributions from Finns and Lincolns. We brought in new registered rams from both the Finn and Lincoln directions in an effort to avoid excessive inbreeding. At the same time, we often intentionally line bred to bring out desirable wool qualities.
Ewes who did not produce market lambs efficiently were culled. The rest of our selection pressure was strongly wool oriented. We did the usual culling to try to limit coarse britch wool, fuzzy 'Finn' wool, and other undesirable traits. We paid no attention to fleece weight as a factor. We did select for fleeces that were uniform across the flock. The reason for that was because of our location in western Minnesota. On farm sales were almost nonexistent, so we targeted the mail order route for reaching premium wool customers. That meant that we wanted a uniform product so that a few wool samples were fairly representative of the entire flock. It also meant that we could fill large orders with a group of fleeces of very similar character. Our only advertising was an ad in each issue of the specialized SpinOff magazine, and we did not travel to fairs, etc. as a promotional activity.
All the above worked. The F x L wool was a 5-7 inch long medium wool with a well-developed crimp, a brilliant luster and a pure white color. Because of the microscopic character of luster wools, in which the scales are very flat, the F x L wool is exceptionally soft feeling, and is an excellent garment wool because of that character. We also had colored F x L sheep, with the flock eventually being about half white and half colored. The colored fleeces ranged from pale silver gray from the Lincoln side to pure black from the Finn side.
The market lambs from the F x L cross were feed efficient and grew at an adequate rate to make us some money. We normally lambed in early April and started shipping lambs at slaughter weights in September. The lambs were shipped in small, uniform lots when they graded choice to high choice which occurred at a live weight of about 130 pounds on average. For about the last decade of the operation the lambs were all sold at the same market, and the buyer acceptance was clear from our always getting the top price from repeat buyers. One assumes that means the carcasses were desirable to the packers.
The F x L crosses also gave us lots of lambs. The flock average of live births per ewe exposed was about 240% Some individuals were exceptional producers of course, with one ewe having a lifetime average of 400% including lambing as a yearling. We insisted that a ewe be able to milk triplets on her own and handle four or more with some by-hand supplementing from bottles. We culled any ewes that did not produce twins by their second lambing.
Lambs were given access to creep feed from a few days old, and were weaned at about 8 weeks. Ewes were supplemented with a corn/soy mixed feed during lactation, and given hay or pasture access depending on conditions. During lactation we separated the ewes from the lambs daily for the ewes to have 2-3 hours on pasture while the lambs remained in their own 'quarters' in an open-sided pole shed and yard. That separating is easier than one might think. Often we just let the ewes through a narrow opening while shooing the lambs back, or had the ewes jump a hurdle that was too high for the lambs. In either case the lambs learned very quickly to stay back to avoid being stepped on or otherwise banged around.
Did we have fast-growing market lambs that would compete with meat breeds? Of course not, but the lambs grew well on little feed, and got us top prices. Live lamb/sheep income was about 2/3 of the total, with the premium wool coming in for the remaining 1/3. Skirtings or wool otherwise inferior for hand spinning was bagged separately for sale through normal commercial channels where it received full-fleece prices. We also sold substantial numbers of breeding ewes and rams, the income from which is included in the live lamb/sheep income above. We sold no ewes for breeding that were not twins or above.
Flock health was excellent in all respects, with the F x L crosses being much healthier all-around sheep than the purebred Lincolns. That said, the Lincoln longevity was a fine balance against the relatively short useful life of pure Finns, giving us ewes that remained in the flock for about 8 years on average. We sold almost all of our older breeding ewes to an area sheep raiser who would buy all we had every year, and he would get a number of more years out of them - breeding them to blackfaced sires.
Since our going to the F x L cross that mix has become popular around the US and Canada, so while Sammen Farm produces no more wool, the F x L fleeces are out there for lucky hand spinners to acquire. I would heartily recommend the cross to anyone who is interested in premium wool from a flock that also pays its way with live lamb/sheep sales.
Any negatives? Not really. at least no unique ones. Finn x Lincoln sheep are sheep and have the same requirements as any sheep, as well as many of the same problems. We found that the flock did very well with mostly pasture and grass hay as year-round feed, with corn being fed only before and during breeding and during lactation. Our flock was provided with no shelter except after shearing about 2-3 weeks prior to lambing, and during lambing itself. They thrived in the extreme winter weather of western Minnesota with wind chills often reaching the 50 below range. In most winters no liquid water was provided, and they did just fine eating clean snow for their water source.
Ron Parker who now lives in Sweden was formerly co-owner of Sammen Sheep Farm near Henning, Minnsota, and is author of The Sheep Book (Scribner's 1983, Ballantine, 1984) as well as numerous articles on sheep and sheep raising. He also is list owner of the FiberNet computer mailing list which can be subscribed to by sending email to email@example.com with the one-word message subscribe, or by going to Ron's web page and choosing FiberNet Helper or direct to http://www.benefitslink.com/knit/common.html#mailing
© Ron Parker, 1998