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"If You Name Your Sheep They're Too Fat"

The Shepherd, July 1999, Volume 44, Number 7, pages 30-31.
Words of wisdom and an important lesson learned from Dr Frank Craddock: If you name your sheep, then you are probably feeding them too much and they are probably too fat. The more sheep you have the less apt you are to name them and the leaner they become.
Wool Sheep Judging, 1999 The Maryland Sheep Breeders Association sponsored a Wool Sheep Judges School at the 1999 Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Howard County Fairgrounds, West Friendship, Maryland on Friday April 30. The instructor was Dr. Frank Craddock, Extension sheep and goat specialist with Texas A & M University in San Angelo, Texas.

The purpose of this class was to refresh the skills of current sheep judges, but also train livestock judges and shepherds in wool sheep evaluation. Dr. Craddock started the class by having us judge a handful of pencils. First we had to determine the criteria we wanted for the "ideal" pencil, and finally to defend our reasons for selection. We learned that judging sheep is no different.

This was a half day of class/lecture instruction, with the afternoon devoted to live animal handling and practice judging. Individual breed characteristics and breed standards were emphasized; the handbook included the breed standards of most wool sheep breeds. The ability to evaluate the fleece on a live animal and the consequence of proper conformation of that animal were areas highly stressed.

How to be an effective wool sheep judge

"Judging is one person's opinion, but that opinion should be based on knowledge and experience." Being an effective wool sheep judge involves the careful analysis of each animal in the class, then one animal is compared to another, and finally animals are compared to the breed standard. Of course the hard part is retaining a mental image of the class. Proficiency and accuracy as a judge requires several skills, one of the most important is knowledge of the sheep anatomy. Skeletal, as well as muscular, function is essential for the adaptability and longevity of the animal. A judge must have the ability to recognize important differences and rank these differences in a priority order.

Criteria needed to be a good judge:

  1. Know what you are judging
  2. Know what is "ideal"
  3. Recognize desirable and undesirable characteristics of the breed
  4. Form a mental image of the class and rank individuals by comparison
  5. Avoid bias or prejudice
  6. Orally defend your placing
Charm School

The fundamentals and importance of fleece and animal handling techniques in the show ring, including proper etiquette, was practiced. The use of appropriate terminology and finesse when giving oral reasons for placing, as well as suitable defense of those reasons, was discussed. Descriptive and comparative terminology such as "grants and criticisms," with connective words and transitions, were learned and their usage practiced.

Techniques learned - be methodical

Watch the animals as they enter the ring: first impression is important; especially notice how the animals move. After they have lined up, check the tail-end then the front-end, that is go down the line checking the testicles/udders, then come back checking the mouths and teeth. Evaluate each animal as an individual, then start eliminating animals with faults based on the importance of those imperfections. This can be achieved by dividing each class into groups: top group, middle group, and bottom group. Then the animals in the top group can be further evaluated using 3 basic assessments: comparison, grant and criticism.

Most wool breeds of sheep have adopted a 60/40 appraisal system. This means a weight of 60% is given to the general appearance and conformation of the animal, while 40% of the emphasis is on the wool or fleece characteristics. There are breed exceptions; some of these are:

NCWGA, natural colored40%60%
Natural Colored Romney40%60%

Visual appraisal should include both the conformation score as well as the wool score:

Conformation score - 60%

  1. Soundness (mouths, testicles, and udders)
  2. Size and growth potential (maturity)
  3. Structural correctness (bone structure = strong top, level rump, straight legs, strong pasterns)
  4. Volume and capacity (i.e. balance = length, depth or width, and height)
  5. Muscling
  6. Breed and sex characteristics
There are numerous advantages and disadvantages associated with appearance and conformation. Some important points to remember are:

  • Know the "ideal" for the breed
  • Testicles should be smooth and firm with no knots or lumps, they should be the same size and the larger the better
  • Udders on yearling ewes should have evidence of production
  • The neck should come out of the shoulders up high
  • Structural areas to fault would be: splay shoulders, sway back, straight hocks or cow hocks, buck knees, splay feet, straight or weak pasterns
Fleece score - 40%

  1. Fleece weight (quantity or quality, depends on use)
  2. Fiber diameter (representative grade for the breed)
  3. Yield (vegetable matter and grease weight)
  4. Length/strength (the longer the staple the more valuable the fleece, up to a point)
  5. Uniformity (evenness of fiber diameter, length, and character)
  6. Character (luster, brightness, color, crimp indicative of breed, handle)
  7. Purity (undesirable fibers i.e. black fibers in a white fleece, kemp, contamination, stains)
Important wool traits to remember:

  • 75% of the time "crimp" is the best way to determine grade, the finest will be on the shoulder, the coarsest on the britch
  • The finer fleeces will be the most uniform, while the coarser fleeces will be less uniform
  • The coarser fleece with be higher yielding, while the finer fleece will have a low yield
  • Make sure there is a complete channel from the eye down to the corner of the nose to guard against wool blindness
  • Belly wool should stay on the belly
  • Look for hairy britch
Reasons format

Giving tactful, accurate reasons at the end of a class is perhaps the most difficult part of being an effective and respected judge. Judging wool sheep requires being consistent, articulate, comfortable, but most important, it requires having wisdom and a good memory. Experience is probably the best teacher.

Now that I've had time to sit back and think about this class and all the things that I learned, three questions keep coming to mind.

  1. When does a raw fleece become a processed fleece? This question holds for the fleece on the animal in the show ring, as well as the fleece entered in a fleece competition. Just how much washing, conditioning, brushing, or coloring is ethical?
  2. If a certain show has a list of rules and regulations, such as: minimum wool length, trimming and fitting, coloring the outside of the fleece, dress codes for exhibitors, etc., who is responsible for enforcing those rules, the judge or the show superintendent? The late Glen Eidman use to say, "I'm just here to judge the sheep; if you have rules, you do the policing."
  3. If an exhibitor is abusive to a judge or is rudely argumentative with the judge's decision, whose responsibility is it to settle or reprimand, the judge, the show superintendent, or the breed organization?

In summary

Judging proficiency was effectively summarized in the handbook:

"The key is to stick to the fundamentals, stay with your first impression, and have confidence in yourself."

I wish to thank Dr. Frank Craddock and the Judges School Committee: David Greene, Martin Hamilton, and Peggy Howell for making this class possible.

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