Gary: Does limited crossing of horned to polled do anything to correct horn problems?
Mundi: No it doesn't, and it's even for the worse because of scurs and small horns growing in
Gary: I'd like to refer here to an excellent article on horning authored by Liz Harker of the
Back Forty Sheep Camp in an interview with Emma Eythorsdottir of the Agricultural Research
Institue in Reykjavik. The title of the article is: "Horn Inheritance in Icelandic Sheep:
An Interview with Emma Eythorsdottir." It was in the Isbona newsletter Volume 5 No.
4 Fall 2001. It can be accessed by visiting the Isbona website and clicking on "Isbona
Newsletter Feature Articles" It reads as follows:
Liz H: "You mentioned polled flocks. In Iceland, do farmers try to keep the horned and polled
phenotypes separate as best they can?"
Emma E: "Types 2,3,4 are all heterozygous Pp- the appearance of horns is different between
males and females and there is great variation within this group. Icelandic farmers are
reluctant to breed horned and polled together because of this. The flocks that come out of such
interbreeding become very heterogenous in appearance and some of the phenotypes do need
repeated cutting or trimming of horns. Many farmers find it practical to mate their ewelambs
from a horned flock to a polled sire to avoid lambing difficulties. The lambs would all go to
slaughter and the ewes would be mated to a horned sire in their second year."
Gary: It would seem to me that Ms. Eythorsdottir's statement here reflects the collective
wisdom of generations of experience, as well as the results of years of research at the
Institute. I would take it as a reliable indicator that horned/polled crossing creates too many
problems and too few benefits to be worth putting in the effort it would take to overcome all the
difficulties. And what do you do with all the offspring of your "experiments?" Hopefully not
sell them to the unsuspecting!!
Mundi: Yes, Emma has put the wisdom of generations, as you say, into a few descriptive
Gary: Is it possible that problems from improper breeding practices may skip a generation or
two, and pop up at some future time as an animal worthy to be culled?
Mundi: It sounds likely to me.
Gary: True or False. You have 36 horned AI rams and only 18 in the 2 semen stations because
the Icelanders are selecting for leanness and heavy muscling, which is found to a greater
extent in the horned animals.
Mundi: No, it's because we have more horned sheep than polled, but why is that? I can't give
you an answer on that except some farmers like horned sheep and some like polled.
Remember that most of us don't use horned rams on polled ewes or polled rams on horned
ewes, so we keep both on hand in the semen collection facilities.
Gary: Thank-you so much Mundi for your insight and your interest. I'm sure it will prove to be
very helpful to many breeders here. hope to see you at Reinbeck this October!
Mundi: Yes, hopefully I can attend Reinbeck next October. I certaintly felt at home when I
came there in 2001 because of your great hospitality and kindness. It really is a pleasure
working for Southram communicating with icelandic sheep breeders in North America. Finally,
I hope we can increase our cooperation in the future for greater improvement and development
of the Icelandic sheep in America.
Gary: Yes, let us indeed work towards that!
Admittedly, I push the limits with my own agenda, attempting to go far beyond just having a
well-rounded, generally good animal. I see so much in this breed and I want to explore the
depths of its potential. The sheep on the finest farms we visited in Iceland while attending the
vaginal AI seminar have been highly developed over quite a number of generations, and are
sleek, well-muscled, and mostly horned individuals. If there were an undue amount of difficult
births and other problems caused by the overdevelopment of their musculature, it would have
been made obvious by now. I trust the Icelanders and their ability to do things well and avoid
problems. They are not dabbling in, or playing at being "sheep farmers." This is a very large
and important chunk of their economy, and is fundamental to their well-being. By necessity, the
developments the Icelanders guide their sheep through must be productive and functional. The
Icelanders actions are studied and deliberate, and when the Icelanders are careful to avoid
certain practices like mixing horned with polled, we should take note.
For those concerned mainly with wool and milk production, these issues may not seem overly
important, but for meat purposes, or for those who simply have as a goal the development of a
good all-around sheep, someone's prior unwise breeding choice can show up in some future
breeding you do, causing you the heartache of having to cull out surprises and possibly buy
some new breeding stock, (continued on "Interveiw, Page 4)
|Interview with Mundi, Page 3