Friday, August 12, 2016

BLOODLINES -- Zoar Farms attempts to maintain four Barbados Blackbelly Sheep bloodlines.  These bloodlines are named in remembrance of the place from which the line came in the earlier years of the initial breeding program, or by the particular name of one sheep of significance. 

1-SAINT MICHAEL LINE is named after a particular ram.
2-SAINT PHILLIP LINE is named after a particular ram.
3-ARKANSAS/HATLEY is named for the state and owner of a particular farm in which a grouping of sheep were bred.
4-SCHOOLEY VSU is named for the owner of a particular farm which was the recipient of the latest release of sheep from the Virginia State University (VSU) test herd.

To identify these four lines, I came up with a system of color coding for collars, which all adult ewes wear around their neck at Zoar Farms, along with a yellow ID number.  This allows the ewe to be spotted easily.  For example, in the picture below, Critterhaven Verina wears a neck tag of Blue, which means she is in the Saint Michael Line.  Her yellow number specifically identifies her from a distance.  It's virtually impossible to see her ear tag from far, so this method helps the breeder keep tabs on a particular sheep.

There are other lines spoken of among breeders throughout the United States, such as the TENNESSEE LINE or the OKLAHOMA LINE.  In the early days of the Barbados Blackbelly Association, it was the "wild west" of breeding these sheep: Breeders trying to save the purest strains assembled various sheep from here or there, as they came by them, with the desire to save the breed from extinction. Breeding programs developed differently, with a focus on this trait, or that trait.  For some, eliminating any white in the coat was a focus, for others, eliminating scurs and horn buds was the focus.  Others concentrated on increasing the carcass size, and so forth.  Each breeder did what they thought was best.  The goal of everyone was to save and preserve the breed, and help shape it to conform to a breed standard which would be put to paper, and now exists.  Variations within the breed are unavoidable, even under the best of circumstances and breeding practices, which is why one will see on the Breed Standard page of the BBSAI that one trait is ideal, and another is acceptable.

The four categories to consider, according to the BBSAI:
Ideal : The perfect sheep. This is the sheep we all want, the sheep we all strive to breed.
Acceptable : These flaws are generally cosmetic and rarely are genetically fixed across generations. If the flaw does persist across generations, the breeder should work to eliminate it.
Discouraged : These are serious flaws. The breeder should recognize that these flaws, if allowed to pervade the flock, will compromise the flock’s integrity. Elimination of these flaws should be a priority.
Not to Standard : Sheep with these flaws should be culled from a breeding program. These flaws are detrimental to the future of the breed.  It is possible to do everything right: To mate an ideal ewe with an ideal ram, with awesome pedigrees going back five generations of registered ancestry, and still produce the "Not to Standard" sheep pictured below.

Genetically, he was RR at Codon 171 -- check!  He was from a sire which was ideal breed standard -- check!  His sire had produced awesome offspring for a number of years -- check!  His dam was equally awesome, producing breed ideal sheep -- check!  So, what happened?  Well, the "woodshed" happened somewhere, some how, generations ago, and the recessive trait of huge horns in this case decided to make a strong comeback.  Horns in a polled breed is not acceptable in any way, and so he wasn't able to be registered, of course, and had to be culled from the herd.  However, he did bring $225.00 at auction as a meat animal, and so he furthered the operation at Zoar Farms in his own way. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The farm house at Zoar Farms
The name, "Zoar" is found in the Bible in the Book of Genesis, 19: 22-23.  In the land of Canaan, it was one of the five Moabite cities near the Jordan River slated for destruction by God, yet is was spared by Lot's plea -- Lot and his daughters fled there and found refuge.  Zoar, in Hebrew, means "insignificance."  And so, this farm, small and insignificant as it is, is a place of refuge.

Zoar was originally called "Bela" (Gen. 14:2,8), and is also mentioned in Isaiah 15:5 and Jeremiah 48:34.  Its ruins are still seen today at the opening of the ravine of Kerak, the Kir-Moab referred to in 2 Kings 3. In the account of the death of Moses, it is mentioned as one of the landmarks which bounded his view from Pisgah, (Gen. 34:3).  To think -- it was one of the final places looked up by Moses -- it probably brought him comfort to gaze upon that place of refuge as an everlasting remembrance of God's mercy.

When one looks upon the sun setting in all of its colorful and spectacular glory reflected upon the rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country, one can't help but contemplate the vast mercy of God and what He has done for mankind since the time that Abraham and Lot walked through the Jordan Valley.  

One of the farm roads leading to the lower pastures

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

BREEDING PROGRAM at Zoar Farms -- There are three methods of breeding to consider when working with such a relatively small gene pool, as is the case with the Barbados Blackbelly.  There is in-breeding, line-breeding and line-crossing breeding.  In-breeding is mating together animals which have a common ancestor on both the dam and sire side of the pedigree.  Line-breeding is the concentrated mating of one particularly desired animal within a pedigree, and Line-crossing is the mating together of one or more animals in a particular line with those of one or more animals of another line.  All of these methods are employed at Zoar Farms.  For a detailed report on different types of breeding, go here.
One of my ewe lambs, killed by dogs

LIMITATIONS AND REALITY -- It must be remembered that we have two unavoidable issues with the Barbados Blackbelly.  First, the registry is closed.  There are only so many sheep available in the gene pool. Only two registered Barbados Blackbellies can render a sheep able to be registered.  Second, only a limited number of sheep were ever imported into the United States. 
Schooley VSU Line ewes and lambs, maintained at Zoar Farms
For example, the sheep which came out of the research program at Virginia State University (VSU), --which were imported from the University of the (U.S.) Virgin Islands (UVI) -- shows that a small number of rams appear in multiple pedigrees. Rams named VSU731 aka UVI8158 and VSU732 aka UVI8172 are both found over and over again, in multiple pedigrees of the sheep made available to breeders some 20-25 years ago.  Other rams which appear often are VSU2414 and those from the North Carolina State University research program such as NC92073 and NC94107.  Fortunately, these close relations are less dangerous for sheep than they would be in a human gene pool with such little variety!

EFFORT NEEDED -- One of the main reasons I chose the Barbados Blackbelly breed was because it was on a "watch list" when I began, meaning that there was some danger of the breed disappearing from the American farm landscape.  The Livestock Conservancy keeps track of all heritage breeds in North America.  The breed has since moved to the "recovering" list, which is good news.  Another reason was that it's a particular breed found primarily in North America.  Sure, it would have been a lot easier to buy a herd of sheep (or goats for that matter), fatten them up, breed them, and sell them at a profit.  If you're looking for that quick sale and fast turn-around, the Barbados Blackbelly is not for you.  Records must be kept.  Pedigrees must be consulted.  You must have a dedicated breeding program with a sound strategy in mind, and you must have patience in achieving it.  Disasters do happen!  Before Zoar Farms moved to Kerr County in the Texas Hill Country, about an hour northwest of San Antonio, the farm was located in Atascosa County, about 30 minutes' drive south of downtown San Antonio.  The counties couldn't be more different: soils, grasses -- and roaming dog packs.  On two occasions, feral dog packs hit my herd, destroying 20 ewes, bringing my number down to only 14 ewes.  It was a senseless slaughter that set my breeding program back years.  All but two of the yearlings were killed.  My genetic lines, in some cases, are down to one or two animals.  It was a painful experience.  Another challenge is that for the last three years, ram lambs have been born on a 3:1 ratio with ewes.  It's difficult to plan long-term with those odds.  So patience is the first virtue, endurance is the next.

*In the photo (right):

DAE Roxy P. Rosenstein, a daughter of Saint Phillip VSU, produced two beautiful single-birthed lambs for me in the short time she was on the farm.  Her ewe lamb (pictured along side her) was slaughtered with her by a pack of dogs, along with 18 other ewes in two nights of terror.  Her ram lamb, ZOR Nero Claudius, is still on the farm and ready to enter into the breeding program.  At least her genetics were not lost entirely.  Roxy had the farm tag of #5, with a red collar, which noted she was in the line of Saint Phillip VSU.  She'd eat from my hand and let me scratch her head.  She was the lead gal for the ewe herd and moving the others were so easy: Roxy always followed me.  From the appearance of how the carcasses were found after the last attack, she was the first to die, no doubt out in the lead facing the danger which came under the fences.  She is missed!


LOCATION -- CENTER POINTZoar Farms is located in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, a 25-county region of Central and South Texas featuring tall rugged hills consisting of thin layers of soil atop limestone and granite. Many of the Hill Country homes, some dating back to frontier days, were built with this limestone. The Texas Hill Country is also home to several native types of vegetation, such as various yucca, prickly pear cactus, juniper scrub, and the dry Southwestern tree know as the Texas Live Oak.  All of these, and others, are found on the farm, including many native species. 

Several cities were settled at the base of the Balcones Escarpment, including Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels and San Antonio in the southeastern part of the Hill Country, while Kerrville, Bandera and Fredericksburg were founded on the Edwards Plateau itself, which is the high terrain of the Texas Hill Country.  Beneath the Edwards Plateau is the source of life for this dry part of the State, and that is the Edwards Aquifer.  Technically, because the water is flowing, it is the largest river in the world which feeds hundreds of springs and rivers for all the inhabitants.

Sunset seen from Zoar Farms -- my backyard!
Atop the Edwards Plateau, equal distance between Fredericksburg to the north, Bandera to the south, Comfort to the east, and Kerrville to the west, is the old train depot which became known as "center point" between these towns.  The town of Center Point, in Kerr County, Texas, was founded on the Guadalupe River in the mid-1850's when a post office was built to service the rail line.

In the midst of drought, the Texas Sage riots color.

Prior to that, however, the town was known as Zanzenberg, a name which reaches back to New Spain.  In the summer of 1695, Captain Zan Zenburg and his pirate crew were caught in a deadly hurricane off the coast of what is now Texas.  Forced to abandon ship, the survivors, including Captain Zenburg, rowed up what is now known as the Guadalupe River.  While most of the possessions were lost at sea, they were able to salvage a few provisions, including two cannons from their ship, the Aurellia.  Enduring hardship while paddling upriver in a failed attempt to find a settlement in New Spain, the cannons were eventually scuttled overboard.  After centuries at the bottom of the Guadalupe River, during the extreme Texas drought in 2011 which brought the river to a low point, the cannons were spotted and retrieved at Mosty (Ranch) Falls near what is today, Center Point.  Before the 1850's brought the railroad depot equal distant between four towns, Center Point was known as Zanzenberg, after the captain who left his treasure there.  It explains why the local high school mascot is the Pirates! 
Ram lamb, from the July 2015 crop



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

INTRODUCTION -- Thank you for visiting the blog, and welcome to Zoar Farms.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have concerning this breed of sheep at

I've only been in the sheep business for a few years, and have made some mistakes, but I have learned from those mistakes.  So, perhaps my experience with many issues may be able to assist you as you begin your farming experience with a starter flock, or in adding these amazing sheep to your on-going operation.  

Zoar Farms began with thirteen ewe lambs from Sunny Slope Farm in Missouri, two adult rams from Lone Star Farm in Texas, and two adult rams and two adult ewes from Old Forge Farm in Maryland.  In time, three more ewes were purchased from Critterhaven Farm in Colorado, and lastly, a new line of sheep was acquired from Bellwether Farm in Illinois, which is no longer in operation due to the death of the owner, Mary Swindell.  She helped me greatly, through phone calls and emails, and set me going in the right direction with this breed.  Among her many accomplishments with Barbados Blackbelly sheep, including breeding over 500 lambs over many years, Mary had a dream to preserve a very rare line named for Saint Phillip VSU, a founding ram within the Barbados Blackbelly breed in the United States.  When she passed from this mortal life, I was privileged to acquire her remaining breed stock in the Saint Phillip Line, and Zoar Farms continues her work.  Of the six surviving ewes sired by Saint Phillip VSU (with no surviving rams), I came to own five of them, while the sixth ewe was owned by Breedlove Barbados Blackbellies Farm in Linn County, Oregon.  As the Registrar for the Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International, (BBSAI), Mrs. Breedlove and I are now collaborating with each other to expand this rare genetic line.  In the summer of 2016, Zoar Germanicus, a ram bred and raised at Zoar Farms, made his way to Oregon with the hope of crossing his genetics with her Saint Phillip daughter and granddaughter.  See the pedigree of Saint Phillip here.  As you may observe, Saint Phillip's sire and dam both have lineage back to the beginning flock lines imported from the University of the (U.S.) Virgin Islands and from the North Carolina State University and Virginia State University test herds.  These animals trace their roots back to the original sheep from the Island of Barbados, and thus provide us with a clear and true bloodline -- a sort of baseline for the specimen -- by which Breed Standard can be measured. 

Zoar Farms breeds quality registered Barbados Blackbelly Sheep. They are a polled, hair sheep.  They have no horns and instead of wool, they have hair, which, depending on the climate, may grow thicker in winter. They are a meat sheep prized for the mild and sweet flavor, and the meat is lean.  Zoar Farm policy means that when one of the rams doesn't make breed standard, he is sold for slaughter, but most of the sheep at Zoar Farms are sold as breeding stock to individuals.  Zoar Farms is dedicated to excellence in the approach to preserving this breed, specializing in breeding according to the highest standards of the Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International ideal breed standard.  The practices of Zoar Farms concentrates on eliminating hornbuds and scurs from this breed, along with white markings that may appear from time to time.  Standard head, neck, leg, coat, color and markings conformation, strength in health and temperament, and good carcass size are hallmarks of our registered sheep.  Zoar Farms rarely registers any ram lamb, but waits for months to see how he will develop.  When you purchase a ram from Zoar Farms, you will be assured of this high standard, and a guarantee is offered on every ram: "Rams will be ideal breed stand, and they will sire lambs under normal conditions, or we will exchange him for another available ram when he comes of age."
If you are interested in learning more about this unique and beautiful breed, please contact Zoar Farms, now located on 43 acres in the magnificent Texas Hill Country, approximately an hour northwest of San Antonio.  If you would like to visit the farm to view the sheep, please email to make an appointment. 

Native Texas Bluebonnets bloom in March
THE BEGINNING -- ZOAR FARMS was founded in December 2012, with the establishment centered in Atascosa County, just outside of Somerset, Texas, about 30 miles south of downtown San Antonio.  The original 12.69 acres was modest as far as Texas farms and ranches are concerned, but it was the beginning of something which had laid dormant.  After 30 years of working at one place -- and I enjoyed it tremendously -- I wanted to do something different.  I was reminded by my mother that being a “Farmer/Rancher” was what I had listed in my 8th grade graduation yearbook.  And so, the city man returned to the almost-forgotten dream of his childhood.

With the farm making progress on the weekends, the first Barbados Blackbelly sheep were purchased from Sunny Slope Farm in Hillsboro, Missouri.  After their transport, six ewes arrived later that month, and another seven ewes arrived in the spring of 2013.  These 13 ewes would form the beginnings of Zoar Farms.  The December 2012 arrivals had the genetics of a line called Arkansas from the Hatley Ranch, and a group centered there, tracing also other rams in the pedigree.  The early 2013 arrivals were from a line named after a ram called Saint Michael whose progeny is now spread throughout the United States.  But more about these incredible animals and lines later.

Well, what did I know about sheep in 2012?  Only what I read on the internet that previous summer, and what I was able to gather together from emailing breeders of the sheep called Barbados Blackbelly.  So, why sheep, and why this breed?

Barbados Blackbelly sheep on the Island of Barbados
According to the Barbados Blackbelly Sheep Association International, or BBSAI, the Barbados Blackbelly breed came from the West Indies island of Barbados from hair sheep brought by African slave traders during the 1600's, perhaps from the area now known as the nation of Cameroon.  Unlike their wool-producing European cousins, Barbados Blackbelly sheep have hair, and were no doubt, well-suited to their earlier tropical climates.

In 1904, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), imported four ewes and a ram to Bethesda, Maryland.  From that original importation, research flocks were established at North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University and the Dixon Ranch in California.  In the 1970s, Dr. Lemmuel Goode of North Carolina State University imported a small number of Barbados Blackbelly sheep directly from the Island of Barbados. Sheep from this importation have been the foundation for pure island-type Barbados Blackbelly sheep in the United States.  As of 2010, there were fewer than 600 Barbados Blackbelly sheep in the continental U.S.  A large research flock is owned by Virginia State University, which imported the breed which had made its way to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The former North Carolina State University flock was sold in 1996 to a private breeder. In addition, recognizing the genetic crisis that was extinguishing the breed in the U.S., a handful of private breeders formed an informal cooperative to preserve the remaining genetics and reestablish the breed in the U.S.  Because the Barbados Blackbelly is a small-framed sheep, the USDA had crossed it with Rambouillet and then European Mouflon to develop a larger meat sheep while retaining the no-shear hair coat and the breed's prolificacy, disease resistance, and parasite tolerance.  This cross has been a wellspring from which many significant breeds of sheep have evolved.  Perhaps none is more dramatic and popular than the American Blackbelly.

Through a cooperative breeding effort, by 2007 the census had doubled.  Thanks to these pioneer breeders, the Barbados Blackbelly, with their original characteristics re-established, are now listed as “recovering” on The Livestock Conservancy watch list.

It was this dramatic story that drew me to learn more, and choose sheep to raise, and this breed in particular.