Today we have a little genetics demonstration. As kindly shown by two of last year’s Shetland lambs: Eriskay and Callanish.
I bet you won’t believe me, but underneath all that fluff, both these sheep are black. I’ll show you again after shearing time, they’ll be hard to tell apart.
The reason that they look so different now is that Eriskay (left) is what’s known as a ‘Shetland Black’, while Callanish (right) is a ‘True Black’.
It’s all brought about by their genes. Callanish is a BB ** i.e. she got one black gene each from her mum and her dad. Eriskay meanwhile is Bb, she got one black gene from her father, and a brown one from her mother. Her fleece is actually a very dark chocolate brown, and the golden tips are where it’s been bleached out by exposure to sunshine/rain etc. Here’s Eris when she was a wee lamb:
She looks black, doesn’t she. However, you can probably just tell that the skin around her eyes is a very dark brown colour. Her eyes are a pale honey colour too, I’ll be looking out for both these features in this year’s lambs, as they seem to be a giveaway for a Shetland black.
Here’s Callanish, who was jet black from the outset:
Last year we used a ram who turned out to be a True Black (genetically BB, so he could only pass on black genes to his offspring), and as a result had mostly black Shetland lambs. Some were grey (a variation of black), but we had no Moorits (a gingery brown colour). I’d like to maintain a good variety of colours in my Shetland flock., so this year I’ve used a Moorit Katmoget ram (with a genetic base of bb), in the hope that we’ll get at least a few brown lambs.
The details of sheep colour genetics are pretty complicated, but fascinating. You can learn more about the subject here:
and specifically about Shetlands here:
As for my flock, I can’t wait to see what colours this year’s lambs are!