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.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Some things never....


That's the lioness at the zoo in Green Bay. The lions were so playful that day, then suddenly, it was nap time!

Then there's copycat.

Meet Goldie, the farm clown. Can you imagine sleeping like that? This is not unusual for him. He's on the porch railing, half one way, half the other. He'd been out in the field behind the house just before his nap, so I suppose there might be a mouse or two in that bulge hanging down!

We made the newspaper again...this time for a wonderful story on why people make and sell their crafts. We were interviewed for the yarns we produce and the sheep we have. Holly's Baa-tique was mentioned, too. Seems having some kind of craft to make brings families together! I know I've certainly seen that with sheep people, where families are raising sheep and managing the products together. The sheep provide so many wonderful opportunities! It was a great article and we are thankful for having the opportunity to be in it.

The baby chicks are gone to their new home, all but one that is. Little "Jasmine" stayed here! I'm not sure how that happened so easily! The other three are happy in their new home with their new family. From what I hear, they are a real excitment and are very loved!

Today I spun a double coated ewe from friends of mine. The ewe's name is Esther. She is black with white fibers mixed in; an older ewe who has lambed several times. I once saw someone spinning black fiber with white in it. The fiber didn't look appealing, but the yarn was amazingly beautiful. I've never forgotten that. So when spinning up Esther, I was wondering how it would look. Nothing to worry about! It's beautiful! Picture to come. The fiber was remarkably fine for a ewe who's lambed and is older. I have found that Shetland fleeces are always full of pleasant surprises!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Meet Honey the lamb...

...a real sweetie! I'm betting she'll make a great mom someday. It unexpectedly poured rain here all day, so I took pictures of her in the barn. I think her head looks funny here; but it does anyway since she has soooo much wool already! Since I've brought her home, I feel that her fleece feels softer and finer. My imagination?:)

The first day she was here, we turned her out with a babysitter, ewe Gwendolyn. Gwennie has been the baby of the flock until now, and is not sure she's ready to be in charge! I just sheared Gwennie since her wool was too long and irresistable to leave for spring! She looks so funny to us now! She wanted her top wool on her poll to be left on, so she looks reallllllly funny! I sheared her with blades, with her wearing a halter and standing at the fence. She chewed her cud while I snipped! The kitty is local farm clown, Goldie. I'll blog about Goldie in the weeks to come. You won't want to miss it if you like kitty clowns! Clearly, he's not afraid of the sheep.
This is not the best picture of Honey's fleece, but I thought the color contrast was nice to see. She is mostly white-ish under the honey-colored tips. Shetlands have such wonderful variance in color, even within one fleece!
This is what's on my wheel today...maple leaves from Hidden Valley Farm. Makes for beautiful spinning!
I spin mostly upstairs in a spare room that looks out over our gardens and the horses. Sometimes the sheep are rotated over there, too. It is sunny and bright there, making for pleasant views when spinning! I was hoping to capture that on the camera, but the light was just too bright. Seven year old Holly took this picture for me today.
Here is the pair of barn socks I just finished for Dear Hubby. They are out of fiber from a ram friends have, named Redwood. Despite being an older ram who breeds their entire flock each year, he yields a very nice fleece! It's now too coarse for necks or wrists, but still cozy soft for socks! These socks are out of the same pattern I always use for barn socks...simple and fast to knit up. Takes about two or three days to make a pair. The brown variations with white look great with jeans, and are the perfect color for a guy. Dear Hubby already has a hat and scarf from Redwood out of prior year's fleeces. I was a little worried about going tooo matchy, matchy as guys are not real into that, but not to worry, he says! He's happy for the warmth!
I'll leave you with a warm and cozy parting thought...Sophie the kitty finds more wool....(see prior blog for Sophie sleeping in a different fleece before I had a chance to put it away!)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No shortage of...

...things to do around here! But first, look at the "find" I found at the local thrift shop! It was up on a high shelf, behind a delightful little silk flower pot. All I could see was part of the drive wheel. As I slowly pushed the flower pot aside, I found myself holding my breath in wonderment of what I'd find. Is that a spinning wheel lamp?? Yes! Can you believe it? It took me a long time to decide if I should buy it, with the economy the way it can't exactly eat a spinning wheel lamp! It looks great on the computer desk though, don't you think?

There is a little finger nob at the bearing of the drive wheel that you can hold onto and rotate, which makes the drive band go around! Anyone know of the history on this clever little lamp?
Our family made the local newspaper this week for winning Grand Champion Ram at the festival! What fun! We were able to promote the festival and the Midwest Shetland Sheep Breeeders Assoc., as well as the Shetland breed. What a great opportunity! Then it was the mad rush out to the garden, which kept on going in all the busyness of getting ready for the festival. Look at this potato we harvested! It's a Kennebec, grown without anything added to the soil except composted winter sheep bedding! That's a full-sized dinner fork next to it! This potato brought great fun and laughter to the dinner table! It was creamy-tender all the way through and made for some pile of mashed potatoes!
I also had to freeze countless containers of tomatoes, as they finally decided to ripen for the first time this summer! We really enjoy the chili we make all winter with them and were beginning to wonder if we'd get any ripe tomatoes at all. Thankfully, they reddened up (while we were gone it seems!) and we have a freezer full now. The pears are also ripening at alarming speed, putting me in a panic to preserve them all! The zucchini is eight inches long! The beets are the size of softballs! The raspberries need picking, and we found a huge nest of eggs in the heart of the pumpkin patch!!! (...which also needs picking!) Customers have been calling to pick up yarn, record books are due in 4-H and school work needs to be checked, fleeces need to be washed, sheep need to be rotated, and I'm being interviewed for another newspaper article to come out in a couple of weeks....whew!!!!!!! I'm not even mentioning everything! There's also our new little ewe, whom we've named Honey. She is SWEET! She has great history and a wonderful double coat with whites, greys and fawn colors under honey-colored tips. Those tips will be gone with the lamb fleece shearing, but they are beautiful!
She's a big lamb with a lot(!) of fleece that is not the finest fleece, but very, very soft nonetheless, and will make heavenly socks! She was brought in to bring fawn colors into our flock. Iris (see previous posts) is a musket, light to white colors with all grey undertones. Honey has some grey areas (spotted genes!) but should be mostly light with brown tones. Should be beautiful, I can't wait! And her personality is incredibly sweet and calm. We love her already! More pics to come, since she just came home yesterday!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Grand Champion Ram!

What a weekend we've had! The Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival was held this weekend in Jefferson, Wisconsin. We've attended for a few years, taking classes and spending all our spare cash on all kinds of fleece, roving, and yarn. However, we've never taken our own sheep. This year we did!
The main goal was to give our seven year old daughter, Holly, an opportunity to gain show experience. She wanted to take the purebred Shetland ewe (Sweetie-see prior blogs) we gave her into the youth showmanship class. So that meant we needed to take at least one other sheep along. We decided on our little ram lamb, Wooly Bear (see prior blog entries) since he has such a nice fleece and great conformation, plus his horns are beautiful and pristine! We also wanted to take our booth along to sell yarn. After making all the plans and gaining the approval, off we went!

We set up early Saturday morning in the sheep barn where the show was to be held. The sheep went into pens across the walkway from our booth. It was a great set-up that I have been dreaming about for a long time! Our booth drew attention right away! People raved about the handspun yarns, but the biggest attraction was definitely Holly's Baa-tique!

We had come up with the idea less than two weeks prior to the festival! We thought, wouldn't it be neat if Holly had a way to sell the doll and toy scarves she knits? She puts them up for display only in our booth at other why not make some extras to sell? People are always asking! So under great time crunch (!) we built a miniature "shop"! It has windows, skylights, a stained and varnished hardwood floor, and doll house furniture! I didn't have a nice picture for over the fireplace, then the idea of putting a pic up of Holly and Sweetie came up. So cute! I had to knit some of the scarves for her since, being only seven years old, she couldn't knit fast enough to have enough inventory on time! It was a HIT! She not only drew customers, but answered countless questions about sheep, yarn, fiber, and dyeing! AND she sold several scarves and sheep!!!! She also placed fourth (out of eight kids) in the youth showmanship...her first time ever in the ring! The three kids who placed higher are very experienced, some show at nationals and are very good so we were very happy! It is important to note that Holly halter-trained her ewe under our guidance and they did soooo good together!

Then I went into the ram lamb class with Wooly Bear.

I was soooo nervous! Other people competing were from surrounding states, and some have competed much more than me, and have bred sheep for awhile. I really didn't think I'd place, but I knew Wooly Bear was bright and is a great example of the breed standard! He was so great in the ring, and was really looking to me for comfort, but did an outstanding job of showing off his halter skills! When the judge placed us in first, I was in total disbelief!!! Me?!??!!!!!! We then went on to win the Grand Champion Ram!!!! What an amazing day!
Afterwards, we were swarmed with questions and everyone wanted to see him! Many people wanted to take pictures of him, and one lady asked if she could get a picture with her granddaughter standing next to him! The rest of the day is a blur! Our booth became very busy!

Thank you to all our customers who visited our booth and asked questions! It was really nice to meet all of you! It was nice to meet other Shetland breeders as well, such as Nancy of Bluff Country Shetlands! And to those Moms who are eager to get their kids knitting, we wish you well and offer all the encouragement and cheer we can! Hope to see all of you at next year's festival!

Monday, September 7, 2009

What is a Shetland sheep?

What is a Shetland sheep? A sheep whose ancestry is from the islands north of Scotland, and whom presents three fleece types: longish-wavy, kindly, and double-coated (beaver). (See North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association Handbook (2004), p. 5 for pictures and descriptions) The NASSA Handbook says, "NASSA recognizes that different fleece types are present within purebred Shetland sheep as part of their heritage and these fleece variations are accepted in North America." (p. 4) I'm confident NASSA would back me up on what a Shetland sheep is.

A Shetland is a hardy, thrifty, friendly little sheep that has endeared humans for centuries. This can provoke a strong human reaction as we easily bond with these amazing producers of awesome fiber. I'm confident the elected officials of NASSA can vouch for that!

As lovers of Shetland sheep, we join NASSA with the intent to continue enjoying them, as well as to meet other people like us. As members of NASSA, we are committing ourselves to see, use, and enjoy the breed for what it is: a landrace, "unimproved", non-standardized breed. We are coming together collectively as representatives of the breed and as educators to the public at large as to what Shetlands are; the whole package. Shetlands are not just one fleece type, color, or horn type. The introduction in the NASSA Handbook has it written, "In North America, Shetlands are considered a somewhat primitive breed. This means that within certain parameters of what is acceptable, there are likely to be variations in fleeces, horn growth, etc. Shetland sheep are one of the few breeds that truly represent "something for everyone." (p. 1) The Shetland Sheep Standard, the document to which breeders strive to adhere to clearly states "Wool...extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well closed." All three fleece types easily fall within this definition, in an acceptable range. I'm confident NASSA would back me up on this as Shetland judges have selected Grand Champion winners from all three fleece types over the years. (See back issues of NASSA News for photos.)

As I write this, there are organizations out there who are working hard to protect non-Shetland (and non-livestock) interests. The North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association is a small organization. As members of NASSA, we don't have the luxury of dissent amongst ourselves. The foundation has already been laid and should be respected. We must work together in harmony, to pave a future for Shetlands so that people may continue to enjoy the sheep, the diversity within the breed, and their amazing products. Our actions today lay the foundation for tomorrow's opportunities. That is a heavy responsibility. Our decisions must be carefully weighed. I think Dr. Phillip Sponenberg had said it so clearly:

"So much has been lost from so many breeds that it would be a shame for the Shetland breeders to not learn from the mistakes of others." (NASSA News, Vol. 18, issue 2, Spring-April 2008, p.26)

I'm confident NASSA would back me up on this.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Meet Gwendolyn...oops! She is so friendly!

She came here last fall as a lamb, very wild. However it only took three or four days and I was tripping over her each time I went in her enclosure! Once Shetland sheep trust you, you have high honor in their minds. Gwennie is a purebred Shetland ewe who is a moorit blaeget. That means she is a beautiful shade of brown with golden tips NOT caused by sun bleaching or damage. The tips are honey colored and beautiful! I was sooooo excited by her wool! It is very long and strong, yet fine enough to be pleasantly soft. Sock ewe! Being a avid spinner and knitter, I feel I have a better understanding of wool on the hoof. Getting to know fleeces takes a long time, and I still have lots of experience to gain, as we all do. However, this ewe made me happy right away. Turns out, she is of the same line that I've picked visually and by feel in my other sheep. Wooly Bear is the same thing. That amazes me....

Her front legs are not the conformation I'd like to see, but she is nice in all other ways. Good back legs, good topline and size, well sprung (she's standing on a slope here, giving the appearance of being higher in hip than she really is), nice head and tail (she stuck it out here so you can see!).

Her wool is crimpy and a little more consistent neck to tail than I'd like to see. I like britch wool as long as it isn't toooo coarse. Her britch is a little soft. She doesn't really fall into the longish/wavy category as she has good crimp, yet not crimpy enough and too long to be in the kindly category. So she's a......kilong!
One advantage of having a small flock that you shear yourself is that you can shear in the morning, skirt and pick immediately...make your assessments, and put the fleece straight into the tub! By mid-day, the fleece is sheared, skirted, weighed, recorded, washed, and drying. I like that! Then it's time for a coffee break to dream of how I'm going to use the wool! Here are two balls of her yarn I spun up as soon as it was dry. Notice the honey highlights! I loveeeee those! I've learned that in making wool into roving, you'd loose that beautiful honey would get diluted in the carding process. By spinning a freshly washed and dried fleece without carding, you get this beautiful effect. Isn't it pretty?
So of course, I had to make socks right away! First I spun up the whole fleece. That took me a few days. Then it was on to socks! I had spun this wool on my Ashford Kiwi (a no bells and whistles pleasant little wheel that I enjoy very much. Meanwhile, my all bells and whistles Lendrum is sitting...waiting...) I spun a heavier worsted weight singles, then plied two singles for a 2-ply yarn that would be heavy and warm enough for the NEXT brutal winter I'm sure we're about to have. By making the socks sooo warm, I can wear them in my mud boots without need for winter boots. They are also so cushy that I am secretly delighted every time I take a step in them. If you don't have to do winter chores, it's hard to know how unpleasant they can be sometimes. It is such a luxury and pleasant feeling to have these socks on. They really take the bite out of bad weather!!

So not only do I have the pleasure of knowing Gwennie, and watching her playfulness, and enjoying her personably friendly nature, but I have, with a little work, wonderful fiber to make delightful garments with that I've come to treasure. That's worth the work! If you haven't had the opportunity to wear Shetland socks yet, hummm.....don't wait any longer! Get yourself some and see what I mean!