Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles

Shetland Sheep: Rich in History, Rich in Textiles! Our farm mission is to enjoy and promote the wonderful diversity of the Shetland breed by fully utilizing to the best of our ability all they have to offer historically. We believe the best preservation and management of this breed includes it's full spectrum of history. We encourage old and new shepherds alike to join in the fun by engaging in fiber arts, especially spinning and knitting, as this breed is so intimately linked with those aspects of the arts.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Variety is the spice of life!

As many of you already know, we love Shetland sheep, but from the very start of our farm, we did not want to limit ourselves to just one breed.  After spending a few years building our Shetland flock to where we most wanted it, it was time to migrate into other kinds of fun, and fun it has been!

An interesting thing about sheep...coarse wool sells.  I'm not sure WHY that is, but it is amazingly so.  We did not carry coarser wools from down breeds until recently.  Yet we noticed that farms that specialize in coarser wools are doing quite well in a down economy.  Why is that?  It was a fun puzzle to look into!

One thing I have longed to do is get into the down breeds of fiber and play around.  What fun we've had!  Here is a sock I made recently with down wool.  A barely carded sample of fluff sits next to it to give you an example of staple length.  Staples run about two and a half inches, fresh off a lamb.  A twelve month clip would be at least double that.

This yarn is a handspun 2-ply of about light worsted weight.  It is very easy to spin this fiber finely, but surprisesuprise!  The very crimpy, cushy nature of the fibers pops the yarn up into a much thicker gauge than one might expect. (Not all down breeds do this.)  Upon learning about it, I went out and bought myself some of these sheep and I've been enthralled with them ever since!  I've already wintered over with socks from this breed and WWOOOWWW!  I'm HOOKED! :)  I guess you'd have to be a yarnie to understand such fun and rewarding obsessions....

Purple Cushy Socks with pink trim, knitted on size 4 dbl pts.
Winter?  What winter? lol

In my early years with Shetlands, I kept hearing a certain group of people fiestly stating nobody WANTS coarser wools.  That always puzzled me because people specializing in breeds that produce coarser wools are doing great...have floored the sheep community in fact.  After years of selling to the public now, I have a more accurate picture of what people go for, and well...that fiesty group was just plain wrong.  So I have made it a point to raise all types of fibers, from cobwebby to coarse.  Variety truly has been the spice of life for this yarnie!!

I do believe that with these socks, you can actually trick your feet into believing winter never came.  My cushy socks were put to the test in one of the coldest winters on record here.  I do believe we had over 60 nights well below zero, and too much snow to boot!  Now Shetland socks are equally awesome, and I rely heavily on them to get my outside chores done, but these socks have the high honors of passing the test, too.

It is always fun to try new fibers and expand your yarnie experiences.  This has been a very fun adventure that is just beginning.  There is much more exploring to do and funny, there just does not seem to be enough time in the day to do it all!  Variety truly is the spice of life.
Blazing yellow/orange maple leaves brighten the autumn landscape.

Coming off the wheel...Honey, who is now all spun, and an old fleece from Starlight, which is spinning up like silk!  Very silky.  Also, lots of down wool for wheely warm winter socks.  Whirly (Wheely Wooly Whirlwind) and Lacey are now sold out.  If you are looking for Whirly-type yarn, Lerwick has two or three skeins left that are similiar.  They are 'brothers'.

Hope you are all knitting the projects of your dreams everyone!  If any of you figure out how to add hours to the day for more yarnie fun, please let us know...will you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Geese, Fall Color, and Swirly Whirly Mittens

Beautiful fall has come to Wheely Wooly Farm, and a gorgeous one it has been so far!  The grass has been very green, the trees have turned vivid colors rich in reds, oranges, yellows and light greens, and the days have been a calm, peaceful warm.

Today, I'll throw in a picture of the geese, as our geese blog entries have been so popular.  We love our geese.  They are very hardy, cheap to feed, and they clean up under the apple trees first thing in the morning, doing a better job than any human has ever done.  The two vacuum cleaners with them (the ducks) are outstanding on a small farm.  They vacuum up so many bad bugs that I don't know how we got along without them!  Pleasant to have around, cheap to feed, and very hardy, I could only add one complaint...they like to muddy up the hens water, so keep hen water separate from the geese and ducks.


Pommander in front, Hyssop behind, and the vacuum cleaners.
This year, Hyssop gave us 42 eggs!
 After ample moisture this summer, our fall colors are outstanding!

Whirlwind's Swirly Mittens
Made from a purebred Shetland ram (black) and Claire's dyed blue trims.

Whirly (Wheely Wooly Whirlwind...a twin born during a passing tornado) has a rich black color to his fiber, with the brown barely, barely noticable.  His fiber is very soft and ideal for mittens.  His fleece has unbelievable density to it and takes me much more time to shear as the more blows I make, the more the fiber just keeps coming off one spot.  He has sired some beautiful lambs for us that are keepers, including Pansey, the cute little white ewe!  Whirly threw lots of twins himself, and his own twin, Maewyn, has been a valuable addition to our flock.  Whirlwind was named by a family member who was taking shelter in our barn during the passing storm, and asked if he could name this little lamb Whirlwind.  It was quite a day!

The mittens are a pretty basic pattern.  I spun the yarn on my wheel (the whole fleece) into two ply with a bit of a loose twist...typical of my style.  I love soft, warm yarns and I hate to throw too much twist in and tighten up the natural beauty of Shetland yarn too much.  This style makes for a loftier yarn that traps more warmth, so badly needed here in the midwest, where temps in winter can suck every ounce of happiness out of your being in a hurry, like the wind! lol  The swirly blue flowers are crocheted from Claire's yarn.  She is not a Shetland of course, but her yarn paired nicely with Whirly's.  The big swirly flower helps block the wind from that part of the hand.  Someone pointed out that the flowers make perfect nose swipes....giggle giggle.  Ok!  I guess that would work, too!  These high performing mittens were not hard to make and anyone could do it with just two skeins of Wheely Wooly Farm yarn.  Be sure to find yarn that is of light worsted to worsted weight to be warm enough around here.  I knit these mittens on size 4 double points.  If you don't know how to crochet the flowers, we have them made and ready for you in a variety of colors!  Just hand sew them on when the mittens are finished.

(Speaking of Maewyn and looser twist, I made myself a pair of mittens from Maewyn's fleece a couple of years ago.  They are my barn mittens, that take frozen metal stall latches, iced up water bucket handles, stinky creatures, and mud...lots of mud...slimy dog sticks, lambing, and all sorts of other daily barn scenarios.  Despite the looser twist, these mittens are still in perfect, functional use!  Trust me...they go through more than anyone else practically could throw at them! lol  We are confident that your mittens will last you many happy years.)

Customers who have tried on these mittens have described them as 'heavenly', 'soft!', 'cozy', and 'the snuggiest mittens I've ever experienced'.   Try some Wheely Wooly Farm yarns for yourself and make a pair for everyone in your family!  What a wonderful way to love them all, with a cozy, warm pair of mittens!

(Did you know?  Mittens are a fast knit, and patterns are everywhere.  There is plenty of time to make a pair for family members in time for the holidays if you hurry!)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Check out CUTE diaper cover!

Check out the photo of the cute diaper cover sent in by happy customer, Michelle.  Isn't it CUTE! (Right side of blog by customer testimonials)

Wheely Wooly Farm yarns are known for their softness and other wonderful natural qualities.  Come check us out this weekend at the farm market, as we gear up for knitters' favorite season and see for yourself!  We will be bringing old favorites, new yarns, and new colors to select from for scarves.  So browse your patterns, scope out the condition of your worn out hatsglovesmittenssockssweatersetc. and head on down to pick up some new yarn that will replace all the old stuff!

Don't forget your christmas list!  (For others, silly!)  Actually, keep yourself in mind for a sweet christmas gift of yarn for a new pair of mittens or socks or a new hat for yourself!  Knitters so often forget to knit new stuff for themselves, so this holiday season, don't forget your own personal list!  And don't forget to get something for the other knitters and crocheters in your life.  Wheely Wooly Farm yarns have become favorite packages in their lightness under the tree, yet are so special and talked about upon opening...and just like in our booth every weekend...every one's gotta squeeze the yarn!  What a nice gift to give.

Pictures of Whirly's swirly flower mittens coming next, as promised, but we just wanted to point out the world's cutest diaper cover first.

Happy planning for knitting season everyone and we'll see you Saturday!


Monday, September 29, 2014

More Winnings!

For those of you who know who is winning all this stuff, here is the update!

Advanced Showmanship Reserve Champion!

Saturday was yet another fun day for the shepherds on Wheely Wooly Farm!  There was no market that day due to Appleton's splendid Oktoberfest, which is a huge event separate from the weekly market activities.  It's a great day to deviate from the world of sheep, into the fascinating and incredibly diverse world of poultry.  This year, the focus was on moving up in the hardest category of showmanship.  Advanced showmanship is for the smartest, wisest, and brightest!  lol  Well, it IS the category of those who have earned top trophies at least three times in other qualifying events, just to get INTO the competition.  Our competitor succeeded at that right out of the gate and rapidly advanced.  

However, Advanced showmanship has been the most fun!  The competition includes competitors from the entire state.  These competitors know their stuff, and work very hard at winning.  This is no piece of cake!  So this year, it is with many smiles and lots of sweat that this trophy now graces the pile of other trophies in the farmhouse on Wheely Wooly Farm!

This time, it's a golden chicken.  It's been a long wait for a golden chicken!!  Funny, the things that inspire...

Back to the sheep...you know I can't stay off the topic of sheep long lol...as fall progresses, changes need to take place in the flock.  This is the time of year the rams really shine.  They've spent the last many, many months as obscure, good boys hangin' out, chewing cud, and listening to the birds while laying in the shade, but things are a changin' based on the whacking sounds coming from their pen!  As you get closer, you hear their grunts and the sound of horns clicking, as they tussle to the vibes of hormones.  I always wonder what is must be like to be such sweet creatures that are totally hijacked by those raging, wild hormones every fall!  

As the cool air moves in, the rams seem to wake up and realize they have a very important job to do.  Don't try to stop them! lol  This year, Lerwick is getting the same ewes he got last year, as we really liked the results of those pairings.  Wooly Bear has a batch of ewes that give a variety of color in fleeces that we love.  Some of the white ewes are going to a new, non-Shetland ram whom we also love!  Fall is an exciting time, as you put months of planning and dreaming into progress!  They will all go together this year around Oct. 1st.  We planned it late this year for a variety of very, very, very exciting, and scary reasons!!!!!!!!!!!!  But I cannot share about that at this time.

It's also a sad time as we have to say goodbye to some we love.  Some changes have been made to make those days easier, and that was really nice,  Plus, hay comes in, the barn is cleaned out and ready, and it's time to repair fences and stash them away for the next grazing season.  Speaking of grazing, our ewes are STILL out grazing!  The grass is in great shape and we'll be able to go awhile yet.  It's been a good year that way.  The flock is well trained now (meaning the lambs we're keeping) in moving away from our sheep dog, moving through pens and grazing spaces, so things are very peaceful around here and everyone is content with the exception of the hijacked rams.  I'm always amazed at how they turn  into poor fellows, at the whims of hormones and whacks, knocking themselves senseless and clicking horns like ceaseless chatter!  Nature is an amazing thing!  And how handsome they are, in their glory!  

As a shepherd, ya gotta love the rams.  If you don't, it would be so much harder!  The rams have a natural beauty all their own of might, power and brilliance...and I love to admire them....on the OTHER side of the fence! lol

Up next, either Whirly's awesome natural colored mittens with bright blue swirly flowers or the purple yarn I just dyed for socks.  Coming off the wheel, more Claire and more Iris, then more Shetland black. Have a great day everyone! 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sock Season's Comin'! Are ya Ready?

The weather has turned cool and crisp here on Wheely Wooly Farm!  The pastures are deep green, the grazing is good, and the sheep are very, very happy.  There is a peacefulness about them out in the late summer sunlight, all heads down, so content and quiet.  The air has been pretty fresh, and the goldfinches are tweeting all day lately.

When the evenings come, it's time already to pour some delicious apple cider and slip on some warm, cozy sheepy socks!  Oh what a simple pleasure in life!  What??!??  You don't have any?  Well it's time to learn and make yourself some!  Oh?  You can knit almost anything?  Time to head on down to the Wheely Wooly Farm booth and pick up some of the finest yarns on the planet and make yourself some luxury!

 A pair I made last year.  Um...they are on my feet this very moment! 
In this photo, I had just turned the heel and picked up the stitches.

Wheely Wooly Farm has lots of wonderful yarns to choose from that would make perfect socks for a cozy feeling that cannot be bought in any store!  We have a range of natural Shetland colors as well as dyed colors from some of our white sheep just waiting for you.  Markets the rest of the season will be hit and miss for us, so if you want to be sure to know if we'll be there, email us towards the end of the week and we can let you know.

So why be cold and have frozen feet this winter when you can luxuriate in the natural warmth of Wheely Wooly Farm yarns?Your feet work hard for you all day long!  Don't leave them out in the cold!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Too much rain!

Well we're not flooded out, but definitely soggy.  Rain has been coming too frequently and the grass has too much water content.

With Labor Day comes no break for the barn spiders.  They sure are busy this time of year, and are spinning far more than I have time for!  lol  I guess they have more hands than I do.

This little buddy's for sale!  He's a Wooly Bear Grandson.

We've been having a ball working the sheep with Swifty lately.  For those of you new to our blog, Swifty is our awesome little Border Collie sheep dog.  He has a ton of natural talent and instinct, which frankly, has saved me time and time again!!  I've learned I can hold back and just let him go where he needs to go, cause he already sees and understands where he needs to position himself next.  His wait command even works despite his great excitement at getting to work sheep!  Before we head out the door, we tell him "Sheep?"  and he is R-E-A-D-Y!  Afterwards, he loves a refreshing shower from the hose.

Swifty...a super good boy!

Hope all of you had a great weekend here at the end of summer!  We here at the farm are looking forward to local apple cider and relief from the humidity.  What does a shepherd do when it's humid?  Why use it as an excuse to spin of course! lol

P.S.  We WILL be at the market Saturday morning unless it is rainy again, to be of service to our non-festival attending customers.  Wool see you there!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Violet, Lerwick's lamb

There is one person here on this farm who wanted to try something new in sheep.  This shepherd went shopping for their dream sheep with money saved over two years, and ultimately picked out and brought home some really nice ewes to breed.  Then, the search for a ram began, but one the shepherd really liked was not found in time, so the choice was made to use my purebred Shetland ram, Lerwick on these ewes for the first season.  Wow!  We are so glad we did that!

Meet Violet, one of Lerwick's lambs this year.
Isn't she lovely?
Thanks Lerwick!!

Violet is a keeper!  She is going to have a nice future here on this farm.  Her growth has been fantastic, with great bone density and glistening health.  She has excellent parasite resistance so far, and is a very calm sheep.  She has been raised like a Shetland, purely on grass.  And her fleece has her owner very, very, very excited.  Violet will be sheared this fall, and I have a feeling her fleece will be on the wheel as soon as it's dry!

Her twin is a ram and also has a wonderful fleece suitable for things their owner wants to do, which is dye the fibers and add glitz.  A pack of assorted glitz colors has already been purchased just for this, with money made selling stuff to friends.

I think this shepherd is having a ball with their sheep.  Thanks to Lerwick, things are going well!  A non-Shetland ram has already been selected for Violet this fall, as she has grown so nicely.
It will be really fun to see what happens next!