Sheep sharing leaves shepherds blue

Tara MacLachlan and Kirstin Tittemore have the blues.

And those blues are believed to be the first purebred Bluefaced Leicester sheep flock in Saskatchewan.

The women, one from Eyebrow and one from Central Butte, bought the flock several weeks ago from Rory and Jody McLean of Valleyview, Alta., and relocated it to the Saskatchewan plains.

Tittemore is interested in the breed for its fibre qualities, while MacLachlan plans to offer purebreds for sale and use them in a crossbreeding program with her North Country Cheviot ewes.

“(Cheviots) tend to be a bit more high strung,” said MacLachlan.

“They’re a very independent breed. That’s why I chose them. But as you continue to breed that same line … and they become truer and truer to that breed, I noticed I was getting more individual animals that were high strung. I wanted to get a little calmer genetics back into my flock.

“One of the other things that I was looking for was a little narrower head and front shoulders for my first-time ewe lambs, to get them through their first lambing.”

Spinners and weavers place a premium on wool from Bluefaced Leicesters. Their white long and curly wool is said to be lighter textured than fleeces from other breeds.

“The fleece is supposed to be a wonderful fibre to spin and a favourite among hand spinners,” said Tittemore.

“It has a beautiful drape and excellent dying properties.”

Fleece quality should also improve wool characteristics in the crossbreeds, she added.

MacLachlan said she undertook careful research before deciding on this breed and had put a deposit on several rams. When the McLeans decided to sell their flock, she and Tittemore took it on.

“To my knowledge, this is the first actual flock in Saskatchewan,” she said about the purebreds.

The long-time shepherd uses guardian dogs to protect her flock from coyotes, which used to be a major problem.

“We had tried every method we can think of, including llamas and night penning and all of the different options to prevent the kills, and we were losing seven percent of our flock,” MacLachlan said.

“We were getting hit every day.”

Then they added a purebred Sarplaninac dog to the mix.

“The coyote kills instantly stopped, so we were very impressed.”

The dog recently gave birth to a litter of purebred Sarplaninac puppies, and two of the seven will be retained for future guard duties on the farm.

MacLachlan also did extensive research before choosing a Sarplaninac as an addition to her pack of guardian dogs.

“One of the attributes that we found very appealing was that they were expected to be fierce protectors of their livestock during the pasturing season, but then in the winters they were also expected to live peacefully amongst the villages.”

The Sarplaninac proved to be the right fit for her flock and situation, but MacLachlan and dog breeder Louise Liebenberg of High Prairie, Alta., both caution that the dogs are not suitable for everyone.

Liebenberg said research is re-quired before sheep producers decide on a breed of guardian dog.

“There are so many good breeds out there,” she said.

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