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Shropshire Sheep Re-Bred To Have Wool-Free Faces
Fred Groverman helped clear the face wool from Shropshire sheep, returning the ancient breed to its original look. Along the way, he boosted muscling and increased rib eye and dress-out percentages. He also kept his flock pure, avoiding the common practice of introducing genetics from other breeds. Today his sheep are regarded as likely the only truly pure Shropshires in the country.
“My dad bought his first Shropshires when I was 6 months old,” says Groverman, who is closing in on 87 years. “At the time, the breed slogan was ‘All wool, from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.’ They had so much wool on their face that people showing them had to cut it away.”
In the early 20th century, Shropshires were the dominant sheep breed in the U.S. By mid-century they were losing market share as breeders bred for extreme wool cover and shorter, more compact sheep.
The excess wool face meant that as a boy Groverman had to bring the flock in several times a week when foxtail weed was going to seed. In the late 1940’s, his father imported a ram from England. British breeders had retained the larger, open face line while also breeding the new extreme wool line.
“My dad died in October of 1950 and never saw that ram’s lambs,” says Groverman. “When he was mature, the ram weighed 315 lbs. and sheared 19 lbs. of wool. By late 1952 we had lambs that looked like English Shropshires. By the late 1950’s, others started breeding for an open face too.”
Groverman became a veterinarian, but eventually took over the flock that his mother maintained after his father’s death. He continued to develop the open face flock, but also concentrated on increased muscling. Measuring the loin muscle in carcasses, he could see the impact of genetics. Ultrasound let him see the difference in live animals and select rams accordingly.
“We started in 1996 with 1 1/2-in. loin eyes, and by 2019 they were 3-in.,” says Groverman.
Groverman compared his flock to lambs from champion ram semen he introduced from England in 2009 and bred to some of his ewes. The half English Shropshires dressed out at 49 percent while the 100 percent Groverman lambs dressed out at 53 percent.
One result of his success is that an English breeder imported semen from Groverman’s flock. In 2019 the champion Shropshire ram in England was a result of that importation.
Groverman continues to sell breeding stock from his flock, and other breeders advertise having Groverman bloodlines. Yearling ewes are priced at around $350, with rams going for $450 to $550, if he chooses to sell to a person.
If a buyer has less experience, he suggests starting with older ewes. He notes that the top Shropshire ewe in England last year was 15 years old.
“Look for depth and width of chest and how the front legs stand,” he says. “You need heart and strength with a belly long enough and big enough to carry and feed twins.”
“Groverman Shropshires are the only purebred flock in the country without other breed genetics,” says Corey Hiemke, Mapleton Mynd Shropshires (www.mapletonmynd.com). “We started with the breed in the 1980’s, and they may have been purer in the beginning. They were bastardized by bringing in rams we thought were purebred, but actually weren’t.”
Hiemke recently purchased a group of ewes from Groverman and is establishing the breeding line in the Midwest. He also administers the Groverman Shropshire Facebook page.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Fred Groverman, 400 Ormsby Lane, Petaluma, Calif. 94954 (ph 707 763-3132; fredgroverman@gmail.com; https://www.facebook.com/GrovermanShropshireSheep/).

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2021 - Volume #45, Issue #3