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California Red Sheep Produce Great Wool
California Red sheep were originally bred for meat but some lines now produce prize-winning wool as well. Elizabeth Ferraro and her son Leonard have won state wool competitions.
  “We’re in the fleece business and selling breeding stock,” says Elizabeth Ferraro. “We breed for fleece quality and body confirmation.”
  The relatively new breed (selected from Tunis and Barbados crosses in the 1970’s) has a reputation for lean, delicate meat produced on just hay and grass. Rams range from 225 to 250 lbs. and ewes from 130 to 150 lbs. The breed is polled, so horns aren’t a problem. The fat-tailed sheep may need docking.
  The wool is silky in texture and not as super fine as Merino. It has low levels of lanolin, making it easy to shear. Lambs are born red. Mature fleece has light oatmeal to faint raspberry undertones with light gold to cinnamon red hairs intermixed. The head, belly and legs have short, red hair. Ferrari says the fleece is popular with hand spinners, weavers and fiber artists.
  “We sell our skirted fleece for $21 per lb., and we have a waiting list,” says Ferraro. “We will get a 3-lb. fleece from a small ewe and as much as a 9-lb. fleece from a large ram.”
  Ferraro cautions prospective buyers that not all California Reds have the same quality fleece. The fleeces on her sheep have changed from coarse rug wool to finer sweater and knitting wool in the 13 years she has bred and selected for better wool. Other flocks selected for other traits may not produce as much or even a similar quality fleece. In fact, it was other traits that attracted Ferraro to California Reds.
  “I was 65 when I bought my first sheep, fulfilling a life long dream to own sheep,” she recalls. “I wanted a gentle sheep, easy to work with and resistant to parasites and foot rot. I’ve never had a problem with their feet, and at 78 years old, I can walk into the pen with my 12 rams and never worry about being hit or any hostility. All they want is to be scratched.”
  Ferraro also appreciated the breed’s reputations as good mothers. Lack of wool on the belly makes it easy for lambs to nurse. Twins are expected, and triplets are common, though Ferraro doesn’t select for that trait.
  California Reds will breed out of season, and they remain productive for years. The breed is very adaptable to the weather, says Ferraro. A few years ago she moved her flock from New Jersey to a farm in northeast New York, not far from the Canadian border.
  “They did fine in the warm and humid New Jersey climate as well as here,” she adds. “Quite a few have been exported to the United Arab Emirates, and I understand they’re doing well in that heat.”
  Ferraro advises prospective buyers to look for sheep from different bloodlines. She maintains 8 to 10 separate bloodlines.
  “When people buy lambs from me for breeding, I suggest they buy 3 ewes and preferably 2 rams, each from different lines,” she says. “Then they’re independent and can maintain 2 lines using one ram on the lambs of the other.”
  Ferraro sells ewe lambs for $350 each and ram lambs for $450. A yearling ram lamb sells for $500 and a proven breeder-ram will sell for $600.
  “Groups of 5 or more receive a 10 percent discount,” says Ferraro. “The buyer pays for health certificates and transportation.”
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Elizabeth & Leonard Ferraro, P.O. Box 695, Peru, N.Y. 12972 (ph 518 643-2790; mail@applerose.com; www.applerose.com).

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2014 - Volume #38, Issue #6