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Rare Sheep Breed Known For Easy Lambing, Weight Gain
Clun Forest sheep have the attributes producers appreciate – easy lambing, growth and carcass quality. A native of the Welsh hills (near Clun), the breed has adapted well to many different environments in North America, says Rich Fitz, sheep owner and secretary/treasurer for the North American Clun Forest Association (NACFA).
  Small in overall numbers (205 lambs registered in the U.S. in 2016), hobby farmers and small flock producers emphasize the importance of keeping the breed pure. At the same time, they sell stock to commercial producers who crossbreed Cluns in their flocks for the easy lambing trait and ability to thrive on lower quality feed.
  “We have a lot of breeders (NACFA) who are new to livestock and want easy production sheep, and they don’t want lambs that have to be pulled,” Fitz says.
  With a narrow head and short legs, lambing rarely requires human assistance. Lambs are up on their feet quickly, and ewes give lambs everything they have for fast gains.
  “I find that the ewes need very little to bounce back from lambing. I have 9 and 10-year-old sheep that I put on scrubland (after weaning), and by the end of July they look like they have been on alfalfa round bales,” Fitz says.
  He and other producers say the medium-size sheep are easier to handle than most of the large commercial breeds. Yet, the fast-growing lambs flourish on less feed and 100-120 lb. lambs dress out at 50-60 percent. Fitz sells many lambs to an ethnic market, and customers are surprised how much mild-flavored meat they get from the stocky lambs.
  Fitz says he gets consistent flavor and quality with a combination of pasture, limited grain and free-choice first cutting hay.
  “In Michigan, the growing season is so variable that we err on the side of caution with feeding,” he says.
  He notes that Clun sheep adapt to all types of feed management with producers from Georgia to Canada. The sheep are often grass-fed on the East Coast, for example. A Colorado flock feasts on sprouted grains.
  Fitz says he likes the alert appearance of the sheep with their open faces and upright ears. They tend to hold their heads up high and are smart, he adds, alerting each other to danger. They aren’t as wild as breeds like Cheviots, but tend to be more standoffish than tamer breeds.
  Many producers have created markets for Clun wool, which is strong, springy and suitable for socks and outerwear.
  “I do see more interest in Cluns from Midwest commercial breeders who are trying to get away from huge, tall sheep that need extra feed,” Fitz says.
  The price of purebred rams varies depending on the breeding program and region. On the East Coast rams from semen imported from the UK can run $700 to $1,000. In the Midwest prices are closer to the $300 to $600 range.
  Check out NACFA’s website for more information.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Rich Fitz, Ugly Dog’s Farm, 5185 N. Washburn Rd., Davison, Mich. 48423 (ph 810 299-3417; nacfassn@gmail.com).

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2017 - Volume #41, Issue #3