By Tim Barnes
The next time you are on the internet, google “Barnyard Blindness”. What did you find? My experience has been there is no good answer. It offers you sites for blind horses and barnyard festivals!
In an old Drovers Journal article, the author states: “The definition of BARNYARD BLINDNESS is when everybody thinks that their critter is better than anyone else’s, but the real meaning is when a breeder cannot see the animals shortcomings and therefore, continues to produce subpar offspring.”
Daily, as I feed and water (garden hose – no automatic fountain), I observe the groups of our lambs, ewes, and rams. Making sure all are up and about but also evaluating (in my mind) just how good they are in the big picture of the Shropshire & Tunis worlds. I personally think I get a much more optimistic opinion in the morning than in the evening. I do not know why, but I would guess the freshness of the new day is verified by the calm of the animals in the barn. By evenings all those little problems start to add up, a hanger is broken on a feeder, ewe 1725 is limping, lamb 1840 is coughing, a light bulb is burnt out, etc. So, I continually try to balance the good with the bad and never make big sheep decisions in the evening.
So how good are my sheep??? How can I compare them to the other flocks? Let me say right here and now! I have used EPDs and benchmarks for years in the swine industry and firmly believe they are an invaluable resource for herd improvement. But the show sheep industry currently places little/no value in this type of data, so each of us must develop our own system to evaluate our sheep.
You can establish a baseline for your flock by visiting other breeders. I am not sure why my mind works this way, but when I visit other flocks, I am always impressed with their sheep for the first few minutes. My mind thinks their sheep are bigger, thicker, sounder, and longer. But then reality and experience set in and my mind starts to calibrate the surroundings. Soon after, I start to focus on the priority traits I am looking for, and then establish a balance between my sheep and the host flock. Years ago in Oklahoma a breeder told me you can have your pick of my ewe lambs. REALLY! My problem was there were 150 head in a 100 acre pasture! Needless to say that visit was a real eye opener! Be flexible and ready for many new experiences on a farm visit!
FAT SELLS, FAT SELLS, FAT SELLS!!! Learn quickly the difference between fat and muscle. There are meat science videos, live sheep judging videos, feed management videos, and old experienced shepherds who can help you evaluate muscle and fat. The vast majority of sheep judges today are profile judges (they place the animals from the side view), thus fat makes a narrow animal wide, a shallow animal deep and a small animal massive.
We are all BARNYARD BLIND to a certain degree. We raise the type of sheep we like to look at. The great breeders know a good one whether they are skinny or fat. Embrace the challenge of breeding better sheep. Learn, live, look and enjoy each moment in the barn. Remember ”BARNYARD BLINDNESS” is a curable problem!