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 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.

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