Finnsheep Breeders Association, Inc.
Finnsheep breeders are now found across many States producing purebred and crossbred Finnsheep. Breeders look to the Finnsheep Breeders Association, Inc. to provide record keeping of registrations and transfers of the breed. Since the inception of the Finnsheep Breeders Association, Inc. the organization has drawn on the expertise of leading research authorities to enhance the Finnsheep breed and provide leadership in promoting the Finnsheep qualities and characteristics.
FBA Mission Statement
The American Finnsheep Breeders Association:
- Provides a national pedigree breed recording system for Finnsheep
- Maintains the Finnsheep breed standard for the USA
- Promotes animal health within the breed and nationally
- Fosters and promotes the proliferation and marketing of Finnsheep within the national sheep industry and abroad
- Is a national focal point for Finnsheep Breeders
- Disseminates timely information to members on all matters relating to the breed
FBA Board & Officers
Hall of Fame
2021 - Clark BreDahl
FBA Hall of Fame Inductee: Clark BreDahl
Clark BreDahl is a commercial and purebred sheep producer whose experience with the Finnsheep breed goes back over 40 years. He purchased his first Finn ram from the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, Nebraska in 1978 and has used the breed on his family’s SW Iowa farm continuously ever since.
He is a past president of the Iowa Sheep Producers Association, the Cornbelt Lamb Marketing Association and the Finnsheep Breeders Association and has authored a monthly column, Dispatch from Mormon Trail Farm, for The Shepherd magazine for over three decades.
He was the first Finnsheep breeder to enroll in the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) and is a firm believer in using data driven numbers for making flock improvement decisions. Clark and his wife Linda are the proud parents of two married daughters whose families are both involved in sheep production on Iowa farms.
2020 - Grant Blackburn
FBA Hall of Fame Inductee: Grant Blackburn
Grant Blackburn has selflessly served the FBA and Finn breed for many years. To celebrate his
induction into the Hall of Fame, Grant shared some of his memories from his time with the FBA.
My time with the FBA has been a wonderful experience. It started in Dec 94 when I bought three bred ewe lambs From Naomi Smith. I went to my first annual meeting in 1995 held at Cleveland in conjunction with a festival, I can’t remember which one. As I remember there was quite a roll up with around twenty or so in attendance. At the end of the meeting I found myself President!
Of course this was when the internet was in it’s ’embryonic’ stage, so most
everything was transacted by ‘snail mail’ and phone calls. At the same time the long time secretary , Claire Carter, began having health issues and was slowly losing her grip on the Secretarial duties which, back then, entailed the registration function (all manually recorded, no computers) and treasurer duties as well. In the end we split the Secretary and Treasurer duties and Sandy De Master (treasurer) kindly volunteered to take on the registration function.
The FBA account books were in a similar situation and the bank had very little money in it. Sandy managed to work through the manual books and computerized them as well.
A year or two later on we were able to get the Hampshire Breeders Assossiation contracted to do our registrations. This was initiated by Dr. Paul Hunter, who had ‘Hamps’ as well as Finns. They had computerized their registrations and thus saved the FBA having the outlays for our small flock. This was pretty much the start of Associated Registries as you know it today.
Our next big problem was how to get enough money to market the
breed? The Board met at the Springfield, IL sheep sale and decided to introduce an ‘activity fee’, (known as ‘annual dues’ today) as a way to get revenue to promote the breed. Combined with additional membership and registrations the bank account slowly accumulated allowing more marketing of the breed.
In the late 90s the internet was starting to become popular and recognized as an excellent marketing tool. The board agreed to register a domain name and I put together a pretty rudimentary web page which had facts about the breed and who to contact. We had remarkable success with it and I remember being surprised at the number of ‘hits’ we were getting daily, from around the world! Some of those were probably search engine bots. The webpage was launched Jan 1999, and we were very close to being the first sheep breed on the web; we were leading the way you might say! Of course much work has been done on that since and contracted to a webmaster.
Having got the webpage up and running the board realized we needed to develop a business structure, so people knew what we were all about. That eventually happened and is still in use today.
Over the years I’ve served in the various positions on the Board and was treasurer for a while until that was contracted to Associated Registries.
But now it’s time for the next generation of breeders to take over and I’m delighted to see some ‘young blood’ and fresh faces on the Board.
You can also find an article titled, “Reflections on My Beginnings with Sheep or, How I Came to
Judge a Wool Show” writen by Grant in Short Tales Volume 96: November 2017 (archived on
the FBA website). Above is an image included with that article. It shows Grant, holding the mic,
with “Rambo” the ram held by former breeder Lonnie Cook at the 1999 Illinois Finnsheep sale
2018 - Naomi Smith
Naomi Smith, Finnsheep Breeder Extraordinaire
by Mary O’Malley
Legendary Finnsheep breeder, Naomi Smith was inducted into the Finnsheep Hall of Fame at the May 2018 meeting of the Finnsheep Breeders Association. Naomi graduated in 1953 from Cornell University with a degree in animal husbandry. She and her husband Joe Smith would manage Angus cattle for many years before beginning their own farming venture. An article by Dr. Charles Parker, (a former roommate of Joe’s and an expert on all things sheep) highlighting the benefits of raising Finnsheep intrigued Naomi. She proposed to raise breeding sheep, not market lambs. The Finn, with its excellent maternal instincts and ability to forage seemed a good fit for their mountainous property. The trait of prolificacy would ensure they could grow their flock quickly.
In her over 30 years of breeding Finns, Naomi has developed a keen
understanding of Finnsheep. She notes that the early Finns were smaller,
similar in size to a Shetland. Through careful breeding, she and other breeders have increased the size of the Finn- sheep so that currently a mature Finn ewe will range in weight from 130-180 lbs and a mature ram can be expected to weigh from 170-240 lbs. She will only sell rams from litters of triplets or more. Twin rams will be sold for the ethnic market.
A spry 85 year old, Naomi keeps going at an age when many people have
turned into couch potatoes. Naomi continues to do a great deal of her own
farm work, writes articles on Finnsheep for a variety of sheep publications
and participates in farm related workshops and sales. It has not always been easy to maintain this enthusiasm as her personal life has contained
heartbreak and loss with the untimely deaths of each of her 4 children as well as her husband. As Naomi puts it, the sheep are a reason to keep going. The joy of seeing newborn lambs, and the challenge of keeping the flock healthy are rea- son enough to get up in the morning.
Naomi’s enthusiasm and excellent ideas have been a guiding force in the FBA for many years. She recognizes the value of a breed organization in preserving the unique qualities of a purebred animal (whether Finnsheep or Angus cattle). She has served the FBA as president, director, and secretary. Her knowledge about the organization is so vast, that nearly any question can be answered if you simply “ask Naomi”.
A tireless promoter of Finnsheep, Naomi has traveled all over the country in her pickup truck, Finns in tow. In recent years, she has been a regular
participant in both the Great Lakes Sale (May) and the Rhinebeck Sale
(October). Participating in the 2018 Great Lakes Show and Sale myself this year, I can tell you that many people stopped by my sheep and asked for….Naomi! This is in part due to the personal attention Naomi gives prospective and eventual buyers. Jason McCune a breeder in Ohio commented that Naomi writes him a handwritten letter every year and calls to make sure things are going well. In this technologically sophisticated world, it can be hard for a breeder without a computer to keep up, but Naomi manages. Her example is one from which every shepherd can learn.
Note: this article also appears in the 2018 July/August of THE BANNER
2018 - Grace Hatton
Hall of Fame Recipient Grace Hatton
MY JOURNEY WITH FINNSHEEP
What brought me to Finnsheep in 1985 was their prolificacy. I’d raised dairy goats for a while and
wanted to get away from the twice daily milking routine. The first sheep I had was a grade Suffolk
ewe. She was several years old and only had single lambs. I did a little research and bought a
Tunis ewe because of what I had read about their prolificacy with the same result. Eventually I
guess I might have had twins from one or the other, but I was accustomed to my Nubian dairy
goats frequently have twins, triplets and even quads now and then.
There was no way I could afford to keep sheep that had single lambs or even twins. We live in the
Poconos in Northeast Pennsylvania and winter lasts a long time and hay needs to be fed for at
least six months of the year. And that hay and grain needed to be brought in. The main crop
harvested from our county is rocks. Fact: the bluestone from quarries along the Delaware River
paved New York City’s sidewalks.
I bought my first Finn ewe in 1985. After a disastrous first purchase of a Finn ewe that had OPP,
we found another breeder, Brian Magee. So our little Finn flock started off OPP negative and soon
began to produce the numbers of lambs I had hoped for from everything I had read.
We never had more than half a dozen ewes at any time. Out of curiosity I decided to see if I could
breed them twice a year. I had read about how Finnsheep were managed on smallholdings in
Finland and some were managed to lamb twice a year in that country.
Finnsheep developed in Finland because the length of the winters severely limited the number of
animals that could be overwintered, but the grass grew like crazy during the brief summer under
the midnight sun. Very few ewes were fed over the winter, and yet lots of lambs were produced to
eat all the grass.
It was hard to lamb in late March here because there was the very real possibility of temperatures
of around 10 above zero. A couple of times in the early 80’s here the overnight temperature mid-
winter had dipped to 25 below zero. But by lambing in late March or early April, I could wean
lambs and rebreed the ewes at about five or six weeks post lambing. Lambs had creep feed
available from birth. The ewes usually had smaller litters in the fall, and the milder weather at
lambing time was very welcome. One of my best ewes, Hannah, dropped five lambs one spring
and five more in the fall of that same year. That year our six ewes, including one yearling,
produced 26 lambs.
Martha, my best ewe ever in terms of lifetime production, was the offspring of two Magee Finns
and had trips as a yearling and then two more lambs that fall. She had quads the following spring
and was not bred for fall lambing that year. As a three year old she had quads in the spring and
triplets in the fall. I can’t locate the rest of her production, but it was phenomenal.
Our soil is very dry and sandy and we only have a couple of acres of pasture and then there are the
bears. After losing a ewe to a black bear, we learned to lock the sheep in the barn at night year
round and to top our 4’ woven wire fence with electric.
Having sheep here was very labor intensive and could never be much more than a hobby. The
farm has been in the Hatton family since the 1850’s and we love it, but most of it is wooded or
ledge and all of it on a slope.
A few years into raising sheep I learned to spin on a spinning wheel and then fell in love with the
beautiful, lustrous Finn wool. Shortly thereafter, my husband was given an antique spinning
wheel from the early 1800’s which he restored for me. Then word got around and soon he was
restoring antique spinning wheels so they could actually be used for spinning for folks all over the
The sheep led us both on a long and pleasant journey. We are grateful to have had the opportunity
to own such lovely animals as our Finnsheep.
2017 - Dr. Charles Parker
Adding PEP to a flock with Finnsheep: Performance, Efficiency and
Reflections by Dr. Charles Parker on Finnsheep, their unique genetics and their awesome possibilities By Mary O’Malley, FBA President
At the May 2017 meeting of the Finnsheep Breeders Association, Dr. Charles Parker, PhD, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University was inducted into the Finnsheep Hall of Fame for his outstanding research with, and support of Finnsheep. During his remarks at the presentation, he shared his extensive knowledge of the overall sheep industry and his perception of how Finnsheep fit into the bigger picture of raising sheep in America.
Growing up on a Merino sheep farm, Parker was well aware of the influence the “Merino Craze” had on Ohio’s sheep Industry. Wool prices as high as $2. 75/ lb. were recorded in 1812 at the woolen mill in Steubenville Ohio. In 1867 the Ohio sheep inventory was 7.7 mil- lion. Today there are 117,000 sheep in Ohio.
In 1968, Dr. Parker invited Dr. H.P. Donald of Scotland to speak at the Ohio Sheep Day on the benefits of Finnsheep, particularly their unique trait of prolificacy. Having obtained a doctorate in Animal Genetics at Texas A & M and with an interest in genetic selection for re- productive and growth efficiencies of sheep, Parker was intrigued with Dr. Donald’s research. Finnsheep arrived in the United States in 1968 and would be studied at Pipestone, MN; OARC, Illinois; Wooster, Ohio and Dubois, Idaho. Finns were introduced at Ohio Agricul- ture Research and
Development Center, (OARDC) in 1971. More studies have been done with
Finnsheep than any other breed.
Dr. Parker noted that the U.S. Sheep industry has had many transitions. Initially raising quality fine wool was the focus which in part explains the Merino sheep craze. Gradually breeders shifted toward dual purpose breeds and later to meat production breeds. Currently hair sheep like the Katahdin are enjoying significant popularity due to their parasite resistance, meat quality and the added bonus of no shearing necessary.
The most profound change in the sheep industry has been the decline in inventory. In 1942 there were 56.7 million sheep in the United States. Currently (2017) there are 5.2 mil- lion. This doesn’t make sense, when, as Dr. Parker notes “Sheep are biologically beautiful animals and respond to quality care and management. They are ideal for small rural farm enterprises as they require low investment costs and can efficiently utilize renewable resources for food and fiber production.”
According to Dr. Parker, “Our industry’s greatest need is to increase the lbs. of quality lamb produced per ewe per year.” Current lamb meat production stands at 95 -100 %, meaning one marketable lamb produced per ewe. Until the early 1970s, most of the sheep related research identifying issues that affected lamb production focused on management techniques like predator control, nutrition and health care. At OARDC, Parker researched the genetics of resistance for internal parasites and
conducted nutritional studies on optimal nutrition for high producing ewes. Dr. Parker noted that overall lamb percentage has in- creased by only 14 % over the last 35 years and emphasized that lamb meat production can be doubled by using prolific genetics. This is where the Finn stands out.
Crossing purebred Finns with a meat production breed can significantly increase production. A 1972 study at the U.S. Meat and Animal Research Center (Nebraska) showed Finn- cross market lambs to have a growth rate equal to other breeds. Breeding a purebred Finn- sheep or 1⁄2 (F-1) Finn ram to a ewe with no Finnsheep ancestry will result in increased number of lambs born and hybrid vigor which in turn leads to profit. A shepherd raising market lambs can increase the lamb crop percentage by 25% in one generation by introducing an F1 cross ram to the ewes of another breed .
Despite this proven research, Finnsheep have not gained the popularity one might expect from these numbers. Dr. Parker reminded us that the sheep industry in general has challenges competing with beef and chicken, yet marketing opportunities abound. Today, 35% of the U.S. population comes from an ethnic group that prefers lamb! These consumers seek a lamb that is in the range of 40 – 100 lbs. at the time of slaughter and provide another excellent opportunity for the small flock owner. Nutritionists encourage their cardiac patients to consume
adequate amounts of omega 3 fats as they have been associated with decreased risk of inflammation and heart disease. While a variety of foods are known to contain desirable levels of omega 3, grass-fed lamb has been identified as having an ideal omega-3 to omega 6 fat ratio. According to Parker, “We are hiding “under a bushel,” one of the GREATEST FUNCTIONAL FOOD FEATURES—Lamb could/should become THE RED MEAT HEALTH FOOD!”
Time at the meeting was also spent discussing options for promoting Finns through advertising and sales. It was acknowledged that breeders not having personal experience with a Finnsheep or Finn-cross may be reluctant to introduce a purebred or crossbred Finn to their flock. Fear of multiple births can be powerful! Finnsheep breeders can address this concern by sharing management techniques, but also by providing the F-1 cross ram. Dr. Parker challenged the members of the Finnsheep Breeders Association to highlight the Finns’ quality genetics: prolificacy. “The epic era of Finns has yet to be!”
2016 - Brian Magee
Brian Magee, Outstanding Shepherd
by Mary O’Malley
Reprinted with permission of
THE BANNER Sheep Magazine vol. 39 No. 6 July/August 2016
Few of us know what our life’s work will be at a young age, but for Brian Magee the path was
set when at age 6 or 7, he received orphan lambs from his veterinarian neighbor. Assuming
responsibility for the lambs, Brian developed the skills that would lay the foundation for a
lifelong career as an animal scien- tist, shepherd and teacher. In addition to receiving the lambs,
Brian was given a subscription to THE SHEPHERD magazine which he devoured. He readily
applied the knowledge he gleaned from reading articles to the practical art of raising sheep.
Magee’s initial shepherding experience was in Colorado, but his family returned to their native
Ohio by the time he was in high school. He continued his interest in raising sheep as well as
other livestock and was active in 4-H. After high school he attended Wilmington College in
Ohio, majoring in chemistry and biology.
After working in Maryland in soybean research, Magee and his bride applied to the Peace Corps
and were sent to Ecuador. Here, in the land of the equator, where the length of days is 12-14
hours, Brian observed that the native sheep bred year round, in as short as a 7 month lambing
interval. This was quite different than the yearly cycle of breeding in the fall and lambing in the
spring, typical of the United States and northern Europe. Observing this pattern gave Magee the
confidence to develop what would eventually become known as the STAR system
Returning to the US after his time in the Peace Corp, Magee landed a job at the U.S. Sheep
Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho. His primary responsibilities lay in research of coyote
predation of sheep. During this time, he further developed his understanding of accelerated
lambing with Polypay sheep and learned the concerns of farmers and shepherds on the western
In 1978 Magee completed a Master’s Degree and accepted a position at Cornell University as
Sheep Superintendent and Sheep Extensionist for New York State. Here, in collaboration with
Professor Doug Hogue, he designed the Star System of lamb production. Magee’s colleagues
were at first skeptical of in- creasing the frequency of lambing, as most American and European
breeds of sheep are bred once a year, during the fall, to lamb in the spring. However, an increase
in production is an asset to the financial stability of the shepherd and the consistent availability
of lamb to discerning clients
Magee and Hogue found that in addition to increasing frequency of yearly lamb production with
7.2 or 9.7 monthly intervals, the Cornell Dorsets combined with Finnsheep increased accelerated
lambing to nearly 300%. Ewes come in to heat based on the fading light pattern in the fall.
However there are some primitive breeds like Finnsheep, native to Finland that are known for
fertility and producing “off-season”. The chance discovery of an outstanding Dorset ram whose
daughters lambed consistently at 7-month intervals and the observation that the ram’s scrotal
circumference increased slightly during the spring made this phenotypic measurement a selective
parameter on the sire side for Dorsets and Finnsheep.
Through colleagues at Penn State Magee learned of a ram with an unusually high fertility. By
studying this and other rams, the realization that the size of the testes impacts fertility was added
to the mix.
Brian Magee, Outstanding Shepherd, continued
In addition, the daughters of the ram with an increased testes size showed an increase in fertility.
This knowledge combined with his South American sheep observations and awareness of
Finnsheep and their natural off season breeding encouraged Magee to continue to study an
increased lambing frequency and develop the STAR system. If you have access to the internet
you can learn more about the STAR system at this website: http://sheep.cornell.edu/cornell-star-
In May, 2016 The Finnsheep Breeders Association inducted Brian into the Finnsheep Hall of
Fame at their annual meeting held in Wooster, Ohio. The award was in recognition of all that
Magee has accom- plished as an outstanding shepherd, breeder and promoter of Finnsheep.
While Magee is perhaps best known for the STAR system of accelerated lamb production, he
also developed an effective method to address foot rot and was instrumental in tackling Ovine
Progressive Pneumonia when it infected the Cor- nell flock. According to the OPP society, “
when Cornell’s Finns and his own flock were found to be infected with the OPP virus, Brian’s
writings made their way into the popular press, generating a great deal of respect for one of the
first breeds to openly tackle OPP”. (1)
For breeders of purebred Finnsheep and members of the Finnsheep Breeders Association, his
clarity and understanding of inbreeding vs. outbreeding helped the organization maintain the
integrity of the breed when the proposal to re-open the flock books was presented in 2011. He
pointed to the depressive effect on prolificacy that outbreeding had had on 1⁄2 Finn 1⁄2 Dorset
research flocks at Cornell University in the early 1980s. In the late 1970s, the Finnsheep
Breeders Association had still allowed “upbreeding”, the introduction of another parent line into
the breed. When a sheep reached 15/16s Finn, they were allowed to be registered as purebred
Finnsheep. This subtle shift in parentage resulted in a significantly lower lamb crop. The 1⁄2 Finn
1⁄2 Dorset flock produced a 197% lamb crop as opposed to the average 260% lamb crop for
Dorset and Finnsheep.
In the 1980s Finnsheep breeders worked hard to recover the unique genetic traits of the
Finnsheep by al- lowing registration of only the traditional short tail lamb and by strongly
encouraging registration of lambs only from mature ewes who gave birth to four or more lambs
annually and raised three lambs or more without supplemental milk. A careful breeding program,
where the sheep with best conformity are selected for breeding and lambs with negative
recessive traits as well as their parents are sent to market can greatly reduce the undesirable traits
and strengthen the foundation flock. This careful breeding al- lowed the Finnsheep Breeders
Association to maintain the unique genetic traits of the purebred Finnsheep that support
prolificacy and other strong maternal traits. (2)
Though Magee retired from Cornell in 2009, he has not retired from shepherding. He implements
the STAR system on his own flock of Finn/Dorset crossbred sheep, providing whole carcass
lamb year round to a culinary institute. His Finn/Dorset crossbreds produce the carcass size and
fat content desired by chefs. He can be found at community events demonstrating shearing for
the public. Soft spoken, with a dry wit and keen intellect, Magee is well known in sheep circles
and well thought of by all who have had the good fortune to “talk sheep” with him.
(1) OPP Concerned Sheep Breeders Society Newsletter. April 2011
(2) Inbreeding vs Outbreeding The Banner Sheep Magazine, vol. 36 No. 6 July/August 2013,
this can be found on our website: www.finnsheep.org under “Finnsheep in Print”