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.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

All's quiet on the Swifty Front

Lil' Swifty is settling down so nice now, since he had his "quiet" restriction lifted after being neutered. Can you believe....I ACTUALLY crocheted, with a coffee cup nearby, while he was OUT of his kennel?!? Read big smile! I love this dog!

So now that he can be outside and off the leash with us again, he is getting lots of snowy playtime. We've done some good leash training, too. Seems he's forgotten some important things in those long two weeks, such as no jumping on people! In his happy puppy exuberance, he can knock you right over! So WAIT A MINUTE! Training time!!!!! I'm confident we can fix this...with repetition....a lot....

In the house, he's being worked on the leash to sit, stay while I walk away, how to sit pretty, how to lie down properly for work, how to walk up on command. Work! He's so smart, but his natural exuberance nearly gets the best of him every time. But patience brings him around and soon, he is doing what you wish with a very sweet look on his face. He's gonna be a nice dog! Meanwhile, if you don't give him something to do out in the barn, he'll fill in for you! Even if there is no animal to "herd", he'll go to work. One quiet morning, he was in the pole shed and it was very quiet in there. That's where the sheep, chickens and ducks are. Humm....quiet border collies are not good things! So I peeked around the corner without calling him and guess what he was doing! Running back and forth, stopping, circling, and creeping up on ghost sheep! Yep! There were NO sheep out, yet he was "working", with the happiest look on his face!! A memorable moment for sure! Silly boy!

On a different subject, iset fibers in Shetland sheep (black with grey and white fibers mixed in on body only, giving a blue-ish hue from a distance...different from shaela or emsket or gray fleeces) are very beautiful and unique! I was really hoping to get that hue in my yarn! I have not spun a whole lot of iset, for it is hard to find. Many people want it and can't get it. Some think it's dominant. I disagree! Dominance only comes when certain lines get bred over and over, making a color appear dominant (This is NOT the technical version! :). Truth is, Shetlands are full of diversity and if you breed properly, iset will not take over your farm (unless you want it too!) Even though Lil' Rainbow's fleece takes on that lovely blue-ish hue on hoof, her yarn spins up as black slightly speckled with white...a testimony to the fact that she has extensive black soft, fine, long, dense undercoat, and that undercoat rules the yarn. The yarn takes on the characteristics of that lovely undercoat. I like to joke that it's my "Border Collie Yarn". :) Fun! Here at Wheely Wooly Farm, we are VERY interested in the diversity the Shetland sheep have to offer, and enjoy utilizing all the colors. What a shame it would be to discriminate against genuine fiber or color, as long as it's "soft and fine, longish and wavy". In some places in the world, Shetlands are only allowed to be white. Other farms keep moorits only. If that works for some farms, great! But that's not me. I LOVE the colors of Shetlands and would miss not having any of them! As stewards of this awesome breed, we must be VERY careful to not believe politically charged "education" so as to not fall prey to the narrowing of the breed and all it's beauty.

We hope all of you are having a happy and joyful holiday break!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More on Lil' Rainbow

Dear, dear Michelle...sigh! Let's look at what deformity means for a minute. I would consider a jaw deformity to be a structural problem in a sheep that prevents it from living a normal, fair, and thrifty life; free of ongoing extra care. For example, last spring, meat lambs were born just down the road from me with NO lower jaws. I would call that a deformity. Unable to nurse, they were not able to live a normal, fair, or thrifty life. Teeth that are off pad are just that; certainly not a jaw deformity. Lil' Rainbow's jaws are completely normal, as is her face and head. She tears grass, chews cud, and snorkels hay just like all the rest. In fact, the shepherd who owned her before me is well respected in agricultural circles, has an advanced education from an outstanding, world-influencing agricultural university, and knows sheep better than most. That shepherd also chose to breed this ewe. After easily shearing her, spinning her beautiful fleece, and wearing the resulting garment, I have chosen to breed her, too. That is a change of mind for I originally thought I wouldn't. Wheely Wooly Lerwick was the lucky ram.

Our breed standard protects us from deformities by disqualifying stock who birth lambs with no lower jaws or misshapen, severe underbites as also sometimes happens. I cannot speak for other breeds, but apparently, that is not a priority outside Shetlands. I have not heard of a Shetland sheep being born with a jaw deformity and I've talked at length with many Shetland shepherds over a period of years now, but I hear of it every spring, every year from commercial breeders. If it has happened in the Shetland breed, it's rare. Teeth off pad in a thrifty ewe would be a loss of points in the show would legs not nicely straight, or ears a bit too high. In fact, in some breeds of animals, the toothy smile is considered an endearing trait...such as in llamas and some breeds of dogs; not a deformity.

This ewe has never required deworming in my one and a half years of care, nor has she ever been inflicted with any kind of health issue. She manages her parasite load on her own and has the cleanest health record of all the ewes in my flock. A healthy, thrifty older ewe who is in excellent condition on grass in summer and hay in winter is not "deformed". But I know you know that.

So if you take out your handy NASSA Handbook and turn to the last page, you will see the 1927 Breed Standard. Near the bottom, it says 'Disqualifications' which are: broad heavy tail, coarse and open bad wool, very coarse wool on britches, deformities of jaws, undersized animals, defective colors, and badly shaped animals as sires. Boy! I've seen all of that in our local show ring!! Especially badly shaped sires! I've seen terrible tails, uncharacteristic wool that more resembles other breeds, severe under bite (once), broken down beefy bones, very weak backs, massive heads, tiny adult ewes, and fatal horns...all in the ring. But I've never seen Lil' Rainbow there (giggle, giggle). I've never taken her. I personally would be much more leary of purchasing lambs from a breeder who uses a ram for a season or two, then "gets rid of him" because he's "mean". Mean?? That can be a far worse consequence in the breed than a sweet ewe with a glowing, toothy smile!!

Lil' Rainbow is an excellent specimen of the breed with her outstanding fleece, sweet temperament, strong mothering instinct and thriftiness with excellent conformation and size...and nice tail, too. She is very easy to care for, which the genuine Shetlands have earned a reputation for, and she contentedly lives behind a three foot fence (well...except for the day she tried to steal Gwennie's lamb for herself in her despair at losing her own lamb the year before.) Her one fault is that silly, toothy smile. It's not desirable, but every sheep has a fault or two. But I know you know that, too. :) And thanks for the compliments on the socks. I hope you are enjoying sock making, too!

Meanwhile, I hope all is well with our Shetland friends in California and up the coast! Gettin' a bit o' Shetland weather there I see!

Speaking of the Shetland Islands...they are in a lot of darkness now! I don't know how they do it up there with no sunlight! I admire you Shetlanders, for sticking out the darkness and faring well! We are currently getting about 10 hours of daylight.

So everybody... guess what today is? Swifty is restriction free! It's a GREAT day! He is currently tearing around the house like a wild banshee........

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lil' Rainbow's Socks

Well, here they are! Lil' Rainbow's socks, that I've been waiting for since I bought her summer of '09. Lil' Rainbow is a very sweet ewe with excellent conformation; except for her toothy smile! She has a black head, black legs, and a "ghostly" fleece covering her body. Her fiber is black, with grays and whites mixed in, giving it a blue-ish hue from a distance that is remarkably cool to look at! She adds a lot of color to our flock, and stands out as a visitor favorite, for nearly no one has seen such remarkable color in local, commercial sheep! Actually, she brings gasps, people are so surprised. The Shetland word used to describe her color is actually a Norse word: iset. The colorful Shetland sheep are mostly given color description names that root out of the Norwegian language, for many of the people on the Shetland Islands stretch back to family ties in Norway. My guess (this is just a personal guess!) is that the sheep have such ancestry as well.

Anyway, Lil' Rainbow has this remarkable color to her fleece that would look so nice with jeans! So I couldn't WAIT to shear her and begin spinning!
Lil' Rainbow's Sock with crocheted flower

Below is a photo of her the day after she arrived on our farm. She was a purely spontaneous purchase from a shepherd looking to move into other breeds of sheep. (named after the rainbow we enjoyed the day we bought her, and for the line she's out of) She is perfect size, had been well cared for and was very healthy! She has been the "cleanest" acquisition to our farm we've ever had. She also came with some emotional sadness, for she had lost her little lamb the prior spring. Despite her toothy smile, we bred her to Wheely Wooly Lerwick in hopes of twins from her next spring. I didn't think I''d ever breed her because of that smile, but her fleece convinced me to change my mind! She is also VERY hardy, cheap to feed, and very sweet. She passes all of our picky criteria, EXCEPT that SMILE! :) Notice her perfectly straight topline! I like!
Lil' Rainbow recently sheared; summer of 2009

In the above photo, she was wearing a bell, just in case she jumped the fence and took off. Bells...handy things!!
Lil' Rainbow in full fleece; spring of 2010

By the time spring rolled around, I was drooling with anticipation! She has the classic "soft, fine textured, longish and wavy" fleece our breed standard requires us to maintain. Her fleece draped to her knees and was about 5 1/2 inches long all together, with neck wool slightly shorter, britch being slightly longer.
Close-up of Lil' Rainbow's midside fiber on the hoof

Her fiber has coarser ends, giving her remarkable hardiness. Her fleece sheds water like a duck! Underneath is extremely fine, black softness that makes you pause with surprise! It has very light handle and is very responsive yarn! FUN!!!! I sheared her myself, then washed the fleece. It barely had time to dry before I was spinning it! The skeins I didn't keep for myself all quickly sold in summer. I only have enough for myself to make socks, but I have it!

So while I was working on these socks, Swifty was getting more things to do. Pretty soon, our psychotic Border Collie was getting back to normal and things were calming down around here!

Good boy, Swifty!

I couldn't WAIT to try the socks on! I love to knit in the round on double-pointed needles! It is very relaxing and easy. Here, I just have to close up the toe with the kitchener stitch....very easy once you get the swing of it.

I absolutely LOVE the color dynamic! These are no ordinary, plain socks! Yet they are not the dizzying colors we are all enjoying lately, either! The color is bright, yet subtle; harmonious, peaceful. I like that! It will also never fade, bleed, or wash out...meaning the color will look nice for a very, very long time! I like that, too!

I'm thinking of crocheting a pretty edge along the top of the cuff just for fun. We'll see! The crocheted flower (from our Shetland ewe Iris) is my exclusive design created right here on Wheely Wooly Farm! They make such wonderful accent pieces, add a very nice touch, and are very popular! Iris's flowers have whitish yarn with grey undertones, perfect for harmonious matching with iset fibers! Have I mentioned how much I love Shetland sheep and their fiber????Now it's your turn! A knit-along has been suggested, but I've never done anything like that! And I don't think I'd be much help knitting socks on circulars. I LOVE circular needles and use them a lot, but I knit my socks on wooden doublepoints. Any suggestions on how to get a knit-along going?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

We are only five days away from being restriction-free with Swifty!!! Woohoo!! Keeping him from jumping or just being his natural exuberant self has been a real challenge! I love his natural exuberance and miss him flying around outside around me as I work. We have really developed his "radar", so he is continuously tuned in to me seeking direction or guidance. Meanwhile, he is always doing his work, as he thinks he should be doing it. He moves the ducks from point A to point B, he stands guard by the gate, and he "holds" the pile of footballs and sticks he's rounded up, as if they were sheep he needs to keep in one spot. All the while, he's looking at me and moving his ears, waiting for the next command! Our goal over the next few months is to turn that radar into predictable movements on command. We'll see if that works! :)

In the meantime, one very effective way to hold a Border Collie still is the trick of holding the ball like you're just about to fling it. This worked great with Shimmer (my last stock dog) when my arm was tired of flinging stuff. That keeps him still for quite awhile! Below, you see a dog poised to go like a loaded spring! He is so fast, sometimes he catches the ball in his mouth before he realizes it, and looks around for it briefly, then realizes it's IN his mouth!! Funny boy!
Like a loaded spring, ready to catch the ball!

Then comes the "big lean", where he leans way over his center of gravity, in anticipation of the chase. The more intense it becomes, the higher his tail goes and the bigger around his eyes get. Sometimes his whiskers twitch in the intensity of it! Here, we are just getting started in the "big lean". While he is doing this, he is frozen still...for however long it takes. That's what I love about Border Collies! They take their jobs so seriously and they are the masters of concentration! They make great examples to my human students on how to tune things out and concentrate.
So after his Border Collie therapy session on the sofa, there aren't many pillows left ON the sofa!'s a tip if you are young, buying furniture, and love dogs and kids. NEVER buy a sofa with loose pillows!!!!!!!!! You will spent the rest of your life picking up those pillows and straightening them....everyday....all matter what! WHAT was I THINKING when I bought that sofa?!? (giggle, giggle) Sigh........

Notice Swifty's ears in the above picture? Shimmer went through this phase when she was this age as a pup. I call it the "flying nun" phase! See how his ears are nearly straight out and seemingly weightless? So cute! Such a puppy look!

Eventually, he settles down. Confession. Keeping him off the sofa......just doesn't work! Why? Me. I was thinking about that last night. Poor Rollie and Simon (our Collie and Sheltie) were never allowed on this sofa. It saddened them, but they accepted it. Here now is Swifty, and he thinks the sofa is just for him! Makes for some emotions. What am I doing?? I let him go up there and I'm not sure why.

On to another thing...does anyone out there know who made these tracks in the snow?? Creeps me out! They were big, with the foot toe-ed in. There are no body drag marks in between the footsteps so whatever made the tracks was tall enough to walk through a few inches of snow without dragging quills or fur. There are no tail drag marks, either. Hummm..... and they led to a brush pile where there is a nice door that faces the south, protected from the wind. They lead to the apple trees and back to the brush pile. Even though the tracks are freshly made here, it had sleeted just enough of little round balls to cover the toe marks, so we could not see how many toes or if there are claw marks. Does anyone out there recognize who made these tracks??Creepy mystery tracks

On to the last topic...last night I nearly finished my pair of Lil'Rainbow socks! Exciting! In my next blog, I'll put up a picture of her again and the socks! I can't believe it's been a whole year since my last sock blogs!! Those of you who know me, know I'm absolutely nuts about Shetland socks! I've had them (socks from other sheep) on my feet everyday now for quite some time and oh how soft and warm they are!! My current socks are from Iris, Gwendolyn, and Sweetie. If you haven't learned how to knit Shetland socks yet, ya gotta get started, for you're missing out on a very wonderful sheep pleasure!! Stay tuned!

PS...owls are hooting a lot, and calling back and forth! So relaxing at night to hear them all around!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bound Border Collie; in blizzard!!

Well let's see....the rams are doing great. The beginning tusseling was about it. They've been very well behaved since...let's hope that continues! Then along came the massive storm that has affected so much of the midwest. Deep drifts are everywhere! The wind howled, the snow was heavy with mixed sleet and freezing rain coming down at times in between the heavy snows. We canceled all our plans, like everyone else, and stayed home. The house has been very cozy and the food good...warm apple cider after chores and scrumptious soups made from our garden produce. First I made chili with tomatoes that tasted fresh picked, then a kettle of potato vegetable chowder from those remarkable home-grown potatoes! And let's not forget the Chex Mix! House smells soooo good while that is baking!

Now Swifty (that's our seven month old Border Collie puppy) has been another story! You see, last Tuesday, he had his surgery. The big surgery. You know. So anyhoo, the vet sent me home with STRICT instructions to keep him....shall we say....that word that doesn't exist in a Border Collie's vocabulary....QUIET!! Ha!.....Ha!!!! Right! We'll keep him quiet! HaHa! OK! How many sticks can I find in a blizzard?!? Our strict instructions said no jumping. HOW am I gonna do that??

So that means Swifty was not allowed to leap, or tear up stairs, or drift-dive, or sail off drift crests, or tear around the barn, or chase stickshoolahoopsducksfootballssheeptennisballschickenstugtoysicecubessnowflakes or children on sleds! Oh no! How on earth was I going to entertain him?? He's stuck on the leash, cannot jump up, cannot go on the furniture, or up stairs, or chase anything because of his natural exhuberance! Terrible! So we slid his kennel into the living room; right under the christmas tree. Then, we tried to console him. We brought in sticks for him to chew up. They each lasted only about ten extremely delighted minutes. We gave him a ball to chase around inside the kennel. We threw tiny treats in through the gate so he'd have to sniff around and find them. Anything we could think of to keep him "quiet" and thinking. Sometimes he'd bark or bite on the kennel, or put his paws on the door with pleading glances to pleeeaaassseeee let him out! I started wondering if he needed a trip to the psychologist's couch. I think he was actually starting to think I didn't love him. Usually however, he rolled himself over with paws stuck straight up in the air, and went to sleep. How sad!! Not fair!! I was sooooo looking forward to drift-diving happy days! I guess we'll have to wait. :( Meanwhile, he's only been leash walked....which of course meant a trip to the store for a chain collar! Nothin' like being yanked off your feet by a bored, psychotic Border Collie!!! So while the wind and snow was raging outside, I was inside, feeling mournful that I wasn't outside watching Swifty surf the drifts! (Maybe I'm the one that needs to be on the psychologist's couch!)

Swifty; on the psychologist's couch...just happy to BE ON the couch!

So in our lonely treks out to the barn...without Swifty Pal, we managed to get all the animals snug as bugs in rugs. We fared well during this blizzard, and hope our sheepy friends have all done so as well! Our snow tally was 12.3 inches, but to the west, the tally was much higher. Hope everyone came through ok!

Friday, December 10, 2010

In like a lamb; out like a ram

Breeding season here on Wheely Wooly Farm is now over. Yesterday, I gathered up all the rams and wethers into a tight pen. Two snowy snowstorms have been predicted; one for last night, and one coming Saturday. It's good to have them in and easier to care for. No more outside water buckets! Yippee!!

We set up a small square pen in our pole building, away from the girls. Then pair by pair, I took the boys out of their pastures and brought them in. They were delighted! Wilbur and Pumpkin came first. Then Cosmo and Wink...brothers. Then Lerwick, who was not sure he wanted to be separated from his girls, and then finally, the King of the Hill, Wooly Bear. The square pen gives them just enough room to move about, but no back up space or charge space. With the six of them in there, it was a little like bumper cars for awhile! They hit each other whichever way they could swing their horns or rub or bump or try to charge a short charge. Then they figured out that if two or three of them stood still in the center, the rest could racetrack around them! So around and around and around they went...taking turns as if tagging one another with a whack or rub...until tongues hung out and sides heaved. I sat on the hay and watched for awhile, to make sure all was not too "heavy-horned", while Snowy twirled around, waved his tail under my chin and nudged my mittens for pets. Then, I went in the house for a cup of coffee, pretending like I wasn't worried.

Now of course, worry is worthy, for bringing rams back together can mean injuries, farm remodeling, and chaos. They may be small, but they can really whack stuff! Here is a real test of the temperments I've been nuturing, with reved up hormones! I am always kind to my rams, showing them I'll take good care of them, but they are always strickly treated as rams. I never use horns as handlebars, even briefly, unless it's a dire emergency, even then only briefly if no other choice is safe. I always encourage heads up...thank you Marybeth for that most EXCELLENT advice! I have seen many times that rams who have their horns grabbed by a human will drop their heads, which is exactly what you DON'T want! I have also halter trained all of my rams and wethers...just makes life sooooooo much easier! Moving them is a cinch. They come running to the fence at the sound of my voice...with the exception of Wilbur who is usually wearing the fence...or climbing the fence in his usual puppydog way....I slip the halter on, taking time to get it around horns with a big loop and a quick tighten up on the left cheek. Wilbur is especially easy, for he'll come right at your level for you and stick his nose right in the halter (giggle, giggle). So moving them was really easy, that is, until we came to Wooly Bear! Turns out, his fencing was frozen in the ground and I forgot about that! OOPS! Now what?? We pondered and hemmed and hawed. What were we going to do? He let me try to lift him. I couldn't. We tried stuffing him under. Didn't work. we REALLLY want to take him over the top??? Do we really want to teach him to go right over??? No choice. So we stepped the fence down and hoped he'd trust me to follow me over what usually would give him a very unpleasant experience. He followed me over with only slight hesitation! What a good guy!! I love this ram! Problem solved.

So anyhoo, I'm in the house for some time, enjoying some acid reflux, when I decide it's time to check on the boys. I was worried. What if they break their fence? Will I find someone bleeding? Did anyone jump out? As I walked out to the barn, I listened for loose ram noises. Humm. All's quiet. Not a sound. Ok, so I open the door and walk around the corner and I saw NOTHING! WHERE are the boys???? As I gulped and walked closer, I began to CRACK UP! They were all laying down in evenly spaced out increments, against the fence...... sleeping!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok! I wasn't expecting THAT!!!!! It was a good day!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Backing up a bit...

It's a cold winter's night here on Wheely Wooly Farm! The chickens are tucked in the coop with their heat lamp while the stars are shining brightly in the deep, cold sky. Snow is headed our way sometime in the night. Wooly Bear is still with his group outside, not ready to end his three weeks of purpose. It has not been the nicest weather for romancing this year. We've had a lot of rain, sleet, snow, wind, and just general unpleasantness in the air much of Wooly Bear's girl time. Each day, we carry lots of frozen water buckets to hard ground, let them fall with a smash to break out the huge "cube", then make the mulitple treks to the hydrant for more fresh water. Truly a labor of love! They are always thankful, though, and often take a nice drink when you step back to observe how everybody is doing. Sophie (below) knows where the best place to be is!
Who's wool this time, Sophie?

So while we snuggle in the warm house, getting warm, warming up, thawing, before the next cold round of bucket smashing, I thought I'd back up a bit for our newer customers. Below is a quick picture of some of our 2010 lambs and ewes. We have achieved a wonderful range of colors within our flock, ranging from black through several lighter shades to white. You will notice the absence of spots in our flock. We love spotted lambs for they are really cute! However, for yarn making, I really like working with fading genetics, which used to be more common. Now, both spots and fading are pretty common. It's nice to have the range of fun.
2010 lambs and ewes

Below is some Shetland wool I spun this spring, which is all sold out. Several ewes have now sold out, in fact. I love this sample because it shows the lovely color changes you can get in a younger, fading fleece. The tips were honey brown, the middle was a lovely dove grey, and the cut ends are a creamy white. This color range makes for lovely yarn!
Shetland wool- notice the color ranges during fading

Next comes some knitted garments some of you have already seen. Below is a pair of half-mitts I designed, using Miss Mona's wool. She has a lovely black fiber that is beautiful paired with purply- blue shades (which is a synthetic accent yarn I happened to have a whole cone of). I wear them a lot! They are three years old now. I should take a picture of what they look like now! I've noticed that with Shetland wool garments, wear enhances the appeal, making the wool bloom and look more appealing, and feel even softer. Sure isn't that way for non-wool garments!!

Miss Mona's Half Mitts knitted three years ago

Next comes the hooded scarf. This is older than the half mitts, and is a staple in my cold weather wardrobe I could no longer live happily without! It gets worn a lot!! It was a challenge for me to knit at the time because you start it by casting on 371 stitches on a 28" circular needle. Getting that magic number right....371....took me a lot of work, because I had lots of distractions at the time! I'll never forget it. The fiber was provided by a Sheepy Hollow ewe, and is soft and cozy today, showing virtually no wear; just added bloom and appeal! I LOVE Shetland wool!

Hooded Scarf knitted years ago with fiber from a Sheepy Hollow ewe

Shetland wool and the knitted garments we've made with them have turned out to be a good deal! They are pretty, comfortable, fun to knit/crochet, cozy warm, and they don't wear out! The projects I have laid out for this winter are very exciting! I'll keep you updated as I get them going!

In the meantime, I was fascinated by the two page spread in Spin-Off Magazine regarding Beatrix Potter's interest in sheep. Who knew?!? So that lead to good snippets of reading and research into the breed of sheep she loved. Fun!! Great way to pass the time in between daily responsibilities and frozen water buckets! Also, Swifty goes in for his big snip surgery next Tuesday. He weighs 42 pounds! Perfect! I am so happy with this little dog! He's my barn buddy/farm buddy. He goes out with me many times a day for walks (now that hunting season is over), work with the sheep, and for bucket smashing. His favorite part? Doggie ice cubes! It doesn't take much to entertain a Border Collie puppy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

So Thankful!

It hasn't sunk in yet.....for we came sooooo close to losing the preservation and protection efforts by the early shepherds of Shetland sheep; efforts I've come to love and appreciate! I am so thankful to have this breed, and all of us here at Wheely Wooly Farm wish to continue those preservation efforts long after the sheep are out of the woods. Our farm goal is to pass on these special qualities for the future generations to enjoy, to the best of our ability. Just as our national early breeders strove to create that for us, we strive to create that as well. I am so deeply thankful in how our breed organization's elections have turned out! Clearly, the bashing my farm name has taken in trying to protect the diversity has paid off! Soooo many others feel as I do, that diversity within the breed is a beautiful part of Shetlands to be protected, not lost. Their voices were certainly clear in this election!

So congratulations to the newly elected board members!! Wheely Wooly Farm is soooo glad you are all coming on board!! We sincerely hope the healing for everyone else can begin now, and the enjoyment of our breed can be restored, especially as we approach the holiday season!

Speaking of stuffing:

Wooly Bear, Thanksgiving 2009

All of us here at Wheely Wooly Farm warmly wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Sweetie's Wool, near last rib

As is typical, the end of the warm weather usually means I'm ready for a break. I managed to pace myself pretty good this year, alternating hard outside work with spinning where ever I felt like it on the farm. I love spinning or knitting out by the sheep. It just seems right! :) As you can see in the picture of Sweetie's wool, she has fiber that is very fine, soft, and easy to spin. Her yarn is a family favorite. Some of her 2010 wool just went up for sale today.
Swifty's namesake? MaryBay's yarn waiting to be balled up

Wheely Wooly Lerwick's Wool; VERY fine and dreamy!

Wooly Bear and Lerwick are with their breeding groups now. I can't wait for Lerwick's fleece! Wooly Bear's lamb's fleece was really special, and is now mostly spun up. Their fleeces are nice, but it's their personalities that really make them stand out. They are both very nice rams! But the worst time is yet to come, when they have to go back into the same pen together. We'll see how that goes when the time comes.

So as the holiday season approaches, we are ready...and I didn't panic that so many of my animals were outside during the first day of the gun deer hunt this year. I usually wake up to gunshots going off every few seconds! Not this year. The hunters have been very good. HUGE sigh of relief...until a neighbor called. She watched Goldie fight off a hawk in a hayfield this afternoon. I'm not sure a hawk could carry my chunkster away, for he has soooooo many mice in his belly at any given moment and weighs such a chunk that I don't think a hawk could lift him....but just in case! I'm so relieved that one turned out alright!!! We would miss our farm clown terribly!!

On the relaxing reading topic, I've been cracking up and loving reading old ads from Shetland Island newspapers, that relate to Shetland sheep. FUN! I've learned a lot! I've also been fascinated by breeds in Scandinavia. The similarities are fascinating...holding my interest for hours, even long after I have to put it down and move on with my day. I've also loved learning about the people of Norway that migrated there from Denmark. The huge bridge linking Denmark and Sweden today is absolutely stunning! It's amazing what one little breed of sheep can do to your curiosity!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Copycat Threat!


Speaking of funny things animals do, last night after all were in bed and the house was quiet, Swifty was in the living room with me...bouncing off pillows, chasing Annabelle, bringing me countless tennis balls, and pulling the stuffing out of his little stuffed sheep. As I tried to relax in between countless giggling at his puppy goofiness, he suddenly began barking a strong, sharp of true "Who's there!!!" Made me jump and practically bump my head on the ceiling!! I leaned forward and tried to distract him, so he wouldn't wake everyone up...while he ran a circle around the sofa, still barking. Then, so quick that I didn't see it coming...while still barking a very grown up "WHO'S THERE!", "I'm a tough boy...I'll scare you away!" bark, he came wheeling around the sofa, flew through the air, and landed square on my lap, just a little unsure he wanted to handle the threat!!!!!!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yep! Ah ha! Workin' hard!

Yep! Workin' hard alright! Ahha...busy as beavers! Our little indoor sheep dog is in training as you can see. Yep! Workin' hard! Her job is to mash the poofiest, highest, cushiest pillows she can find...oh yeah...and to keep an eye out the windows to make sure someone is alerted if any sheep go boinging by!

You'd think this is sheepy Valentine's Day. Today is the day the rams get to send valentines, and take the girls out. Wooly Bear and Lerwick are each getting a group of girls this year. Below, is Lerwick. He sure looks like his sire, when his sire was this age! We are very excited about this little lamb!! His fleece is very soft, fine, wavy and nice, his horns are perfect, his conformation and tail are just right, and his personality is very desirable. He's a calm and friendly fellow who is very easy to handle. He also has a very bright expression. We are very hopeful he will pass his great qualities on to his offspring! Time will tell.

Wheely Wooly Lerwick

Lerwick is getting Honey and Gwendolyn this year as well as others. He really cannot believe his good fortune! Upon being put in with his girls, he immediately began his work.
After a long time of checking things out and chasing girls, he noticed something bright in the corner. I couldn't believe it! Pumpkins have a strong lure!! He couldn't resist a quick....quick....bite, then back to the girls! (notice the hens setting behind the fence? They are Henny and Penny, who are now 5 or 6 years old. We love having them around.)

Pictured below is Mona, Lerwick's mother. She is a very nice size for a Shetland with good conformation and a very nice fleece that is a dream to spin, and very soft to wear. Both Mona and Wooly Bear have outstanding personalities that make them friendly and easy to handle, without being Wilbur (giggle, giggle)! Mona is our flock matron, in charge of everyone. She was the last to lamb last year...saving the best for last!
Miss Mona

I'm sure things will stay really quiet around here for awhile. Wilbur is content out with Wink, Cosmo, and Pumpkin. Wink and Pumpkin have turned out to be NICE little rams as well, but we wethered them early on. Oh well! So now the Sheepy year has completed it's annual run. It's almost time to sit back and rest as far as the sheep go, until the boys all go back together. In the meantime, I'm spinning, spinning, spinning! (Have I mentioned how much I love to spin??)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's on my bobbin

This is a lovely black ram...of which I do not own. :( This fleece is the nicest single coat I've ever spun. He has bad horns though, so this might be his last full clip. This is the closest any single coat, in my years of spinning experience, has ever come to my supersoft double coats. It has been a joy to spin!
Since this is the month of giving thanks, THANK YOU to all who follow our farm blog, and support our sheep. We love being in touch with all of you! We especially love to see/hear how our yarns are used! We hope you'll continue to enjoy following our farm story and getting to know our flock of Shetland sheep.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The glorious, bright leaves have swirled and fallen...and blown away (giggle, giggle). The owls call back and forth every night. The sheep have become so quiet that I have to look to be sure they are still there...content and friendly, waiting for a scratch or a pet, chewing their cud. The high winds we've had recently blew every leaf off the raspberry canes and they became bare overnight, much to the chicken's disappointment!! Wooly Bear delightedly munched on his first pumpkin of the season. A terrible thing happened on Wheely Wooly Farm this year. In all the busyness of spring, lambs, new garden, travel, and yarn, I didn't get my pumpkin seed in!!!! Disaster! I feel like I've let my sheep down!!!!!! I've been dreading how I would break the news to Wooly Bear all summer....really....I'm serious. What was I gonna do? He loves those pumpkins so much.

So I bought (gaspppp!) one pumpkin to use for display. I figured I'd give Wooly at least one pumpkin, even if I had to pay (gaspppp) for it. It softened early on the top near the stem, so he got that one this afternoon....what a delight! The sound of the pumpkin hitting the ground made his eyes open wide with pure happiness! He is such a great ram! We really enjoy having him around! I worried though...would he let his ram lambs have some? He did! :) No hits:) Life is good. Today, a neighbor said the sheep could have their leftover pumpkin bounty. It's a GREAT day!

So we have been soooooooo busy therefore, I have no pictures for you! Soon I'll try to put up Wooly Bear enjoying his pumpkin last case you missed it. It's become a farm favorite photo. (understatement.)

So the wheel is turning and the needles are klicking A LOT...yet in all my tiredness, I cannot keep my eyes off anything to do with spinning and knitting. I finally found a copy of Mary Thomas's book...on my list for some time now but I never got around to getting myself a copy until now. Excellent writings about Shetland sheep! Long and fine! Wavy! Soft! Yep! That's my sheep! :) Excellent writings about knitting and garment construction! This author is quoted so often by excellent knitwear designers as THE book of knowledge that changed their knitting lives from ho-hum to really mastering the techniques. What a great book! What a joy to read! Especially the part about Shetland children learning to knit, and learning the rhythm of knitting 200-ish stitches per minute! She writes about mechanization of knitting and garment making...and the strongholds of the handspinning/handknitting peoples of the Shetland Islands, and the long, wavy, soft, fine fiber they protected fiercely from machinery. So sad that battle is still being fought today. The sheep are in good hands on our farm! We will stick with the historical writings for that is the fiber I most love to spin/knit/ and wear. They won the battle, for today, I have descendents of those lovely long-fleeced, soft and wavy sheep. I plan on carrying on their work and passing it forward, for the sheep are so worthy and exceptional!.

If you haven't read it yet, get a copy! FUNNNNN! The artist's illustrations are worth it alone...especially skein winding...pre-flood!

Gotta go...will be back soon with photos I hope!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Resisting the urge to...

Guess what knitters! Someone from out of our state donated a whoooooollllle stack of great knitting magazines to my local library! What a great use for them! So of course, upon stumbling over them, I immediately wanted to swoop all of them up and take them home!! No, no, no. I didn't ! But I wanted to!

So I closed my eyes and peeled one out from the pile to bring home. I kindly left the rest for the next giddy knitter to discover. Then, on my way home, I almost found myself wishing for snowy, blowy weather! How cozy it would be to jump under a poofy quilt near a fire, feet up and snug in warm Shetland socks, and read away...dreaming of expanding my knitting skills. No worries! No work! No hungry animals! Ahhhh.......

Ok, I can resist the urge! I do get to glance at the magazine here and there...maybe eye candy of a pretty ad, or a few snippets of words to read before the phone rings, or something on the stove needs me, or I have to be somewhere, or more apples need to be picked, or , or, or...

So if you'd really like to make someone's day, and you have piles of old knitting magazines cluttering up the space you have for new ones, consider donating them to your local library!
Shetland Lock

Shetland sheep are so much fun! Here is a picture of a lock from wool I'm spinning today. It's from a mature ewe (not the grey fleece I blogged about earlier). Notice how the color changes from white to grey...a beautiful soft grey. The change is very sudden. The whole fleece does not have this in the fiber, just one area where there must have been spotting. Color changes like this make such beautiful yarn! So I saved out the grey areas and will spin that separate to create a coordinating yarn that will complement the ligher yarns from the rest of the fleece beautifully. Always fun with Shetlands!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Opinions

Yea to Carole Precious!!!!!!!!!! I quote from our NASSA News p. 19 Fall-Oct. 2010 "To suggest that less of an effort was made to conform to a standard because of their rarity is completely wrong". Boy!! This rumor (about early breeders acting selfishly) has been spread, and spread, and spread around here in the midwest, and it ALWAYS drives me nuts! I believe the humans involved in the early days of the Shetland being on North American soil acted with outstanding care and regard (and we have much evidence to prove I'm thinking correctly!!). If they hadn't, I WOULDN'T HAVE HAD THIS OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE MY LIFE TODAY! These sheep are lovely, and we have them because of people like Carole! Thank you Carole!

Now on to my opinion! :) I will never again bring AI genetics onto my farm. Feel free to ask me why. I will never use modern technology such as microning to make breeding decisions on my ancient sheep. My hands are the best technology on the planet for the job of assessing fleece. I will never breed a sheep without first spinning and knitting, and wearing it's wool to be sure I fully understand it's characteristics. This will ensure I am making sound judgments in breeding. Since I only breed in the second season, this is not only easy, but pleasant!

Speaking of AI genetics, and our new little change of staple length being cut short...I believe all the rams in the breed database from the original import deserve protection from these onslaughts of change. The original import rams carried different genetics that are worthy of protection and distinction than the genetics of "short". I will be formally proposing sometime soon that if the Appendix A changes must stick, I will insist on a special designation for new lambs born under the "short" criteria...for they will be very different from the older rams in our database. I think it's only fair that prospective buyers of lambs know they would not be buying lambs from those coveted rams in the database from the Dailley descendents. For example, if a prospective Shetland buyer sees "Ole Blue's" picture on the July 2010 newsletter and likes it, then goes out to buy lambs from a "short" breeder, there is a real disparity here...Ole Blue (Z2408) has excellent, bright Shetland character, beautiful horns, bright eyes and a beautiful nose. His fleece looks lovely! That is NOT what you'd get if you bought lambs today from some breeders. I believe this disparity requires review. The old rams in our database deserve recognition and honor, so that people who want Shetlands like that today can find the right bloodlines.

I will always marvel at the skills European knitters developed. I could only hope that someday I'll be up to par with them! Each and every day is a step closer to gaining some form of true competence in spinning and knitting. It's a lifelong process of awareness and creativity. I love it!

So back to Carole's quote: it is my opinion that NASSA has a severe problem that is going to need addressing...which is the misleading of new shepherds in just the last few years away from the early breeders into a shorter fibered, differently conformed animal, with a different expression. These new breeders are just now realizing truth has been lacking and that yes, Shetlands have always been long fibered, drapey, soft and bright. What a mess! It's going to take time to heal from this one.

Wheely Wooly Farm is so happy to share the Shetland breed! We will work diligently to maintain the historical, genuine Shetland sheep, and the genuine, Shetland fiber qualities that bring amazing yarns and garments, no matter the outcome of the current political landscape! So don't forget to vote, then start knitting!

PS...if no campaigning is allowed on our breed organization's chat site...then why has a candidate been allowed to write a long letter strongly arguing for his side (campaigning), and being allowed to post without his name or flock number??? I'm confident the moderator knows him. :) Huh.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Ok, how fast can I type this and get back to what I was doing? Quick Swifty update! That's our little Border Collie puppy, who is already six months old. He is deeeeelightfullllllll! Many decisions have been made about him (with deep thought) that are all a little scary, but he is proving to be capable of handling each and every one. He is now on the's not spring yet! Yep! He's on the sheep! This has taken much thinking on my part but I decided to let the chaos begin for a couple of reasons:
1. I have really nice sheep, whom I've tamed and befriended. They are trained to move out each morning, and move back in each night, with a human border collie and...
2. He has learned and shown respect for stock that might want to turn on him. He was bonked by polite stock that just sort of gave him the idea, without any umph in it...I couldn't have hoped for better. That taught him everything he needs to know to respect the animals and get out of the way if necessary. He even practiced how close he could get, and how fast he could tuck tail and get away. He shows great respect, yet he's aware he needs to keep an eye out. I've only let him around with ewes...he has zero access to rams for safety. My rams are so personable, I don't think I'd ever need a dog for them unless they prance off to the nearby town....HA! I'll probably be eating my words in a few weeks...

oh yeah, and 3. he has never come even close to sinking teeth into wool to date! If he ever does, playtime time! Border collie goes to kennel for boring time. He has also never sunk teeth into chickens or ducks, although he has now figured out how to circle around them and make them move just in his running around in innocence. This brings an immediate "Swifty! That'll do!! He comes off the birds excellently, tail wagging! GOOD BOY!!!!!!!!!
He has already learned the commands of away and come-by, and can be headed in that correct direction to snatch a toy out of the air lickety split! He is learning sit (this is a tough one for him!!!...usually results in rolling, thrashing, tongue to side, stand, leap, sit, rollover, thumpthump sit, rolloverthumpthump, leap, oh yeah....I get it! Sit!) The split second he gets it, he's verbally praised, and tail goes thump, thump loudly! My first Border Collie, Shimmer, could hit the deck so fast, she cracked up everyone who visited...I'd say "dog break!" and she'd fall flat chin and all, tail swishing. I think Swifty will be just as good at it as she was. That comes later, though. He is GREAT! And I LOVE to watch him creep up on know!...tall rustling grasses, Queen Anne's Lace dancing in the breeze, butterflies, frogs, sheep, crickets in the barn aisle, hula hoops, and such....!

He's also learning stay. This takes enormous practice but we expect full response to this command each and every time on one command. And he's learned how to swim, fetch a stick in water (I have to admit with total shock and surprise...I miss wet dog smell in my vehicle! Life is just not right...all's not well without a wet dog!!), and go along on a variety of car rides as we run errands. He no longer barks at dumpsters or fire hydrants, and he can be trusted alone in the car for a good 15-20 minutes. He'll run right into his kennel on command "kennel!". GOOD BOY!!! When he's in the kennel and it's time to go out after rest, he has a wonderful yodel! He loves hula hoops, bubbles, kids, and his farm. He's always around, with you but not under foot as you work outside or do chores. And...drum roll....he has already saved the day with the sheep....more than once! One day, the sheep missed the gate on the way out...daily routine! They love to pretend they didn't see it so that they can play around a bit. Then, Swifty just happened to do a run out! Around to the west he went, swung wide (while my eyes were wide open and my lungs not working...visions of gonegonegone sheep in my head!), got behind and turned the sheep to the east (no no!! we want south!) then I gave him a whistle, he swung around, got the sheep going south, and they realized game time was over, so the whole flock made a straight line for the gate, ran in, and acted like nothing was wrong...with Swifty behind them several dozens of feet with the expression on his face, "ok...oh I see how this works!! This is cool!!!" Then he positioned himself where he though he'd be needed next! WOW!!!! We were ALL rolling on the ground in happiness after that one!
Another day, Gwennie veered off sharply, in full prance in good fun. Swifty on the job!!!!!! He swung wide and ran up the lane...she oh so quickly veered back into the flock! GOOD BOY!!!!!!! Then one night, Honey decided to run past the gate going in for the night...Swifty on the job!!!!!!! He swung around, gained amazing speed, and cut her off nearly 25 feet from her! She changed her mind, cut around and pranced into the gate...all fine and happy! GOOD BOY!!!!!!!!

Ok, this is FUN!!!!!!!!!!! (we won't mention the roving Swifty found one day, next to his pen...gleeful Border Collie and soft roving....or the addition of teeth marks beyond what our collie, Rollie, did to the table my great grandfather hand crafted....did I mention compost piles??) Amazing things have happened! The sheep are relaxed around him, even Lil' Rainbow, who tried to butt our cat when she first came here! All of the sheep respect Swifty, and he has figured out he makes them move just by running behind them, or swinging out around them dozens of feet away. He paces himself naturally, and is half crouched sometimes. When he's done with his sheep work, time to run in the hula hoop again! Then nap time, where he sleeps completely upside down, paws straight up in the air, dreaming of catching more overgrown cucumbers out of the air as they are sailing from garden to compost heap! is sooo good on a farm!

Meanwhile, we'll be putting our breeding groups together soon, early November. Wheely Wooly Lerwick will be getting some ewes. I can't WAIT to see what he produces! He has an amazing temperment, very soft, fine fleece, and just the conformation the standard asks for, plus, he is very twinkly bright in expression with outstanding horns. I hope he'll pass all of that on to his offspring!

Well I guess that wasn't quick!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No campaigning???

I have been SOOOOOO busy lately! I have many photos and updates to bring you! Our weather has been incredibly nice, the sheep have been so much fun, and I'm spinning like crazy! I'll update later.

In the campaigning?? Our breed organization does not allow for Board candidates to campaign on the organization's website?? So if they can't "talk" there, where CAN they "talk"??

Just think...if they have to answer questions on the official breed website, their big secret might get out!!

Don't forget to vote! After you do that, it's time to knit! The cool weather is around the corner and the warmth of wool is so wonderful in your hands! Time to get ready with those luxurious Shetland socks, mittens, hats, scarves, sweaters, and halfmitts! Hey wait...the garments you want to wear, and the sheep you raise are connected! If you want soft, durable clothes that don't wear out in a few weeks, select the candidates who aren't changing the breed to short wool.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wool on my bobbin today

The wool on my bobbin today is from a single coated Shetland sheep...well...supposedly a Shetland sheep, but I have my suspicions. It is too wirey. Unfortunately, I paid a LOT of money for this fleece, as I thought I was buying from someone I could trust. The first red flag should have been that the fleece weighs over five pounds. The second red flag was that the fleece had such heavy grease, I had to rewash it. The third red flag is that the yarn is heavy, causing fatigue to set in sooner when knitting, and causing the resulting garment to weigh more. In the end, the socks I made with this fleece didn't last me a whole winter of wear, when I get a good two winters or more of wear from my other Shetland wool. So yes, sometimes a fleece can be a disappointment. The more you work with fleece, the more you will come to know if it's genuine Shetland or not.
Here is some of the wool left (photo below), which I am finishing up spinning today. I spun half the fleece last spring, and found it tiring to spin, for it does not have that light hand I love so much. I really don't think it's pure Shetland. So I left it to finish later. Well, when something isn't as pleasant, later is easy to put off while you work on more pleasant things! Ultimately, you have to face finishing it, because wool doesn't store forever, and I like to keep my inventory revolving in a timely way.
I tried as best I can to get photos showing the grey fleece with my two recent favorites for spinning: MaryBay (nearly white doublecoat) and Iris (musket double coat). Both of these fleeces have given me very soft, fine wool that is extremely light, a dream to spin, etheral in the yarn that I cannot put down, and sooooooo soft and cozy to wear! I've made many pairs of socks out of Iris's wool and they last a long time with super soft, cozy wiggle comfort! I LOVE Iris!!

You can see how the grey looks like wire. This is a single coat with a staple length of 6 inches, and it was advertised as having "lovely crimp". The skirted fleece weighed "five pounds plus". I paid $60. for it...yes...that's $12. a pound. In my area, fleeces sell from $7. to $14. a pound raw. Like I said, I thought I could trust I was getting a good Shetland fleece, for it was advertised as "Shetland ewe". However, after washing, spinning, knitting, and wearing this wool, I think I paid way to much. It is not like my own fleeces at all. It is too large, too heavy, and to weak. And the wirey-ness makes it feel prickly. In the photo above, Iris's unwashed sample is in the lower right (you can see her tips in the photo below). MaryBay is on the upper left...whitish. The two grey samples are from the expensive fleece. This ewe was advertised as "dark grey katmoget". Katmogets, or catmogets have dark under parts from muzzle to tail and legs, so you can see since both samples are grey that I'm using midside wool to show samples, not britch.)
Iris's wool is very, very fine and strong. It has lovely handle and softness, making it a dream to spin and knit (the largest fleece she ever gave me weighed four pounds, with up to nine inch long staple at was a DREAM!). When I ply two singles, I can't get over how soft the yarn feels, slipping through my fingers. It has beautiful lustre, and is stunningly beautiful when combined with other colors, especially my favorite, purply-blues, but any color looks good with Iris's musket color. I've paired it with black, and with orangy colors, and with reds, blues, and purples. I wanted to make myself a sweater from last year's fleece, with black (from my ewe, Mona) crocheted over the edge on cuffs, but I realized it was such a nice fleece, I needed to sell it. Today, I have none left. I made something like 12 skeins of two ply at about....upper laceweight to low sport weight yarn. That's my favorite gauge to spin, for Shetland wool makes it easy to do so.

It's really hard for single coats to compete with the softness, fineness, and strength that double coats easily provide! That's the wool on my bobbin today!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ok, I ate my carrots...

"Eat your carrots!", my mother said when I was a kid. Well...maybe if they had been purple, I would have!

The world has realized the dangers of narrowing the field. For the last two decades, we've been advised to intermix plantings, eat variety, and mingle with a variety of people. We are encouraged to broaden our job skills, meet new people, and try new things. The world changes rapidly these days. You never know what will be valuable or useful in just ten years.

It is now understood that variety is healthy. Through variety, you understand people better. You eat more vitamins and nutrients. You learn more. You can do more. You can give back more.

Variety stimulates families, bringing closer relationships. Variety stimulates the economy in the many places to make/spend money. Variety brings greater education, opening doors to a more advanced culture. Variety opens jobs, healthcare, invention, and travel.

And yet, our own little sheep breed organization has a tight little group that thinks it's healthy for us all to breed and raise and show only ONE kind of Shetland sheep. Diversity is not diversity, they say; it's just a few good sheep and lots of bad sheep. So let's think for a moment about the cost of going against the good advice of so many other fields:
1. We could lose something very special, that has yet to be fully realized and appreciated
2. We could lose health in our sheep in the future
3. We could lose interest in our sheep in the future
4. We could narrow the uses of our fleeces in the future
5. We could lose our closeness with the genuine Shetland sheep-the one that is the grower of genuine Shetland textiles
6. We could lose credibility in our national flock, for one fleece type is NOT responsible for the wide variety of Shetland textile products produced over a span of several hundred years.
7. We could lose our breed mission: to preserve and protect.

If we go against the grain of outstanding advice to maintain diversity, and narrow our parameters within the breed, what is the plan to gain diversity BACK if it's realized down the road a mistake was made???

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1927 Genuine vs 2002 Appendix A

Wheely Wooly Farm has picked up on the strong tension among the Shetland sheep breeders in America. We can certainly understand the reason! A very small group of people has decided to change the definition of what a Shetland sheep looks like, and they have LOTS of lambs to sell you, so you can have your own "Shetland" sheep. Yet most of the Shetland sheep shepherds in our country like the genuine Shetland sheep we've had all along. The tension comes from this small group driving the changes, and the misinformation they've doled out to unbelieving longtime flock owners.

In picking up on this battle, we have decided that the sheep we want is the one that created the real textiles that made the breed famous. As a spinner and knitter who works professionally with the fiber every day, I've come to exact certain standards on my sheep, fiber, and the textiles we create from our farm and flock. We have decided we want to re-create those genuine textiles as best we can given our abilities. Therefore, we cannot support Appendix A type sheep.

Appendix A is a document that was created by peoples OUTSIDE the Shetland Islands, and does not reflect the ideals of the Shetland Island crofters who raise the genuine Shetland sheep. It is a document that restricts fleece length to a range that would be unsuitable for a premier handspinning breed of the world. It is a document that was accepted by the organization OUTSIDE the Shetland Islands in the year 2002. We do not feel that people OUTSIDE of the Shetland Islands can adequately be "experts" of the breed.

As producers of fine Shetland wool and knitted items, we here at Wheely Wooly Farm believe in bringing you, our customers, the truth. We are not supporters of short fiber that would be:

a) difficult for a sheep to survive in over 100 inches of rainfall and windy conditions,
b) too short to be adequately handspun without milling or additional processing before spinning and
c) create fiber that is too fuzzy for clarity in graphic symmetrical and asymmetrical designs of fair isle knitwear.

Our farm is committed to bringing you fiber that is like the fiber still produced in the Shetland Islands today. We are fully committed to adhering to the Breed Standard of 1927, because it accurately defines the fiber type you need to make excellent quality fair isle garments.

On final note, we have discussed this topic at length with MANY early owners of Shetlands in America. All of them have described fleeces that are long, with waves, extra fine fibers, with drapey fullness that extends down to the knees at 12 month clip time, and bright eyes/expressions, active gaits, and perky, friendly personalities. Some of these shepherds go back to the very first sheep here in North America. So am I inclined to believe a very small group of people, many of whom don't spin or knit, who have very different information than even the shepherds on the hill in the Shetland Island have, or am I inclined to believe the Shetlanders themselves, and all the early American shepherds I had lengthy conversations with?

Rest assured. We are sticking with history. We will continue to strive for the 1927 Genuine Shetland sheep in all it's bright beauty!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Solving the Problem!

The more I think about it, it's a great idea! We could have two categories at shows! One for the genuine, true Shetland sheep who exhibits fleece just as the 1927 Breed Standard says: extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well know...the sheep with the lovely drapey soft and fine, wavy fleeces that appeal to everyone and draw people to our breed...and the originators of the genuine Shetland textiles! This category is perfect for handspinners and knitters, for genuine Shetland sheep are one of the world's premier handspinning breeds! These sheep are so appealing in their twinkling expressions, balanced faces, and refined bone. Their "alert and nimble, with a smart active gait" character positively glows not only in the show ring, but in photos as well. They endear a lot of people, and it really isn't fair for the other category to have to compete with that in the ring!

The other category can be the breeders who are breeding for 2002 Appendix A type commercial, more modern sheep. They would be better in a class of their own, as their sheep have a hard time competing with the brightness of the genuine Shetland and it's soft, wavy, draping fiber. Since Appendix A wool is not the original fiber of the famous Shetland textiles, but rather a creation from people outside the Shetland Islands to the south, they should not be represented as genuine Shetland sheep, for that would be deceiving the public. This category is perfect for those wishing to send their wool out to be milled, for it is short and harder to handspin. Since Appendix A is written by non-Shetlanders, in more modern times, in a country where handspinning is barely breathing, it would be most accurate to call Appendix A sheep modern, for milling. And since they often manifest characterics closely resembling other breeds, they would find fairer competition in challenging each other, rather than the bright genuine Shetland of the famous textiles. After all, this is what this group has been complaining about for a few years now, that their sheep have a tough time competing against the authentic, historic sheep.

I think this might be the very solution! Two categories within our breed! Genuine Shetlands with 1927 Breed Standard expressions, gaits, refined bone, and soft, fine, longish and wavy fleeces who produce fine handspinning fiber, and 2002 Appendix A Modern Shetlands with short fleeces, more muscling, heavier bone, dished backs, and crimp head to tail who produce fiber better suited to milling.

Now the judges would have an easier time judging, the public would no longer be misinformed about which sheep created the famous textiles, and the 2002 Appendix A Modern sheep breeders would have fairer competition!

Shetland textiles

So much to say! Wheely Wooly Farm encourages each and every person interested in Shetland sheep to explore spinning and knitting (crocheting, too, although I've not read of crochet in the famous Shetland textiles). How do you know you are raising genuine Shetland sheep? By the textiles you create. If you are not making these textiles, that's ok! Shetland yarns are lovely in a whole range of uses, and are to be enjoyed to the fullest! But if you are not making these textiles, you are not educated enough to redefine the Shetland breed.

Many people do not realize that each breed of sheep has specific characteristics to it's fiber. While fiber can vary from sheep to sheep, in a broader sense, you can define unique characteristics to each breed of sheep. For example, Border Leicester is curly and open, rambouillet is square and blocky, etc. These characteristics will cause the yarn to also have it's own characteristics. These characteristics will determine how a garment performs on the human body. Many people don't know this. The best way to develop a fascination and understanding of this is to spend a lifetime spinning and knitting wool from a variety of sheep (and other fiber animals/plants). Your hands (seriously old fashioned concept here!!) will be your best teachers.

Now can you tell how good or bad a fleece is by just feeling it for a few seconds? No. While your hands may detect quick assessments, it is really just the tip of the iceberg. To really understand how a fleece will convert to a wearable garment, you must have a lot of experience spinning and knitting. Trust me. You'll learn much greater depth of understanding if you do this.

Now when it comes to Shetland sheep, textile history is extremely important. The sheep became famous and have a stunningly interesting history based on the link between fiber and knitted items/garments. HOW the wool was spun and used tells the story. Because Shetlands have this rare and amazing history, unmatched by nearly any other breed on the planet, it is critical that us Shetland Shepherds embrace this history, and highlight it. It's what separates us from all the other breeds on the planet. That's why, even though Shetland Showcase was stolen and renamed, I am very happy it became reality (as the Handy Shepherd), for the link BACK to textiles was re-established. That is a HUGE success in my mind! Plan your yarns and knits now! I hope many of you out there will enter something in these contests next year! It's not about winning, although winning is fun! It's about getting the fiber back into people's hands and onto their bodies again. Spin it, knit (crochet) it, wear it! You won't be disappointed!!

I know this is hard for some shepherds here in the midwest. They trusted some breeders when they were new, and unknowingly bought sheep that were not genuine Shetlands: sheep with unusually short fleeces at a 12 month clip, and bodies that clearly indicate crossing with another well known breed. That is a hard realization. If those newer breeders like that type of sheep and wool, great! That's ok! If you want to develop that style of sheep, great! I have never heard anyone say you can't! However, it's something else when those breeders change the language of our breed to force genuine Shetland breeders to switch over to crossbred, too. NASSA has a real problem in this regard in how this will be fixed. One suggestion was have a crossbred class (stocky sheep with short, crimpy fiber head to tail), and a genuine Shetland class (with beautiful, historically correct drapey fine, soft, wavy fleeces that create the genuine textiles, and twinkly expressions). My experience showing was that being in the ring with so many crossed sheep made it unfair to the owners of the crossed sheep. This is something breeders of those sheep have been complaining about for the last few years and I can understand that. Genuine sheep cannot be present before the judge for crossed sheep to win. Our sheep just are different. If I was in the ring with other genuine Shetlands, I would be a lot less confident I'd win! I guess we'll all have to stay tuned to see where this all goes....

To make a fair isle garment, you can use any yarn. All you need is two different colors of yarn in a row, both of the same gauge. That's it. However, the type of yarn you use will make or break your fair isle garment. If you choose short fibers that "pop out" of the yarn, you will not be successful in fair isle. (Shorter fibers have more ends, more frequently placed in the yarn. Therefore, more ends means greater density of "pop outs". More pop outs means fuzzier yarn. Does this mean your garment will look fuzzy from the get go? No. But will it get fuzzy quickly upon each wear. Yes.) Why don't short fibers create historical fair isle? Because fair isle utilizes symmetrical and asymmetrical graphic designs to create interest with just two colors. If you are mathematically minded, read....FUNNNN! The possibilities are endless...a source of a lifetime of fascination. Fuzz will blur your images more and more as the garment is worn. The fair isle sweaters made from genuine Shetland wool do not get fuzzy, rather, they maintain clarity of the design...and are famous in maintaining that clarity often for years and into decades. Why? Because they are made with long, strong, fine, soft fiber. Long fibers sit in the yarn nicely, with fewer ends to "pop out", thus less fuzz is created, even over time. Long, strong, wavy fibers do not break apart in the yarn as easily when the yarn is stretched and returned over and over, thus less fuzz is created. Long and strong creates less bulk because you can easily spin, with no carding (although you can card if you want to) very fine singles yarns that hold together very well. The shorter the fiber length, the weaker and thus fuzzier the yarn will become. Simple.

Another factor: the technique of fair isle knitting was not original to the Shetland Islands, rather the concept is thought to have been imported from Norway, Sweden, etc. and western Russia (Ural Mountains) by people moving around on the sea...Lerwick was a major port for centuries and a frequent stop for ships from the above mentioned countries. While Shetlanders have designs to call their own, it's important to remember that fair isle techniques were originally knitted using cashmere goat undercoats (straight fibers) and Villseau, Spalseau, and other breeds of sheep in the Northern European Short Tailed Group...animals found in Norway, Sweden, and western Russia. Those sheep are double coated with very fine undercoats of wavy fiber. These fibers gave rise to fair isle techniques because the FIBER could create it. The Shetland people really brought fame to the technique with their skill and location on the North Sea, and the fact they had powerful royalty to advertise it for them. Note: when talking about the island Fair Isle, you capitalize the first letters. When talking about the knitting technique of fair isle, you don't capitalize the first two letters, even though the knitting technique was made famous by the residents of Fair Isle.

The other thing in fiber you need to create successful, genuine fair isle garments is just the right ease in the fabric. Fiber with high crimp can be lovely. However, it is also more elastic. It creates a yarn with more bounce. It makes GREAT yarn for baby clothes! Babies look great in bouncy yarn! You can achieve this type of yarn by using the crimpier neck wool of Shetland sheep. Babies are not hard on their garments, wear wise. They rarely "wear out" their clothes. Therefore, durability is not so much a concern. Crimpy neck wool is the perfect wool for the job. However, to make successful fair isle garments that can stand up to hard outdoor labor by adults, you need LESS bounce. First, most fair isle textiles created on the Shetland Islands were for sweaters, socks, gloves, and hats, primarily for older, more mobile children and adults. The adults ranged from rich to poor, homebound to working at sea to on the golf course. To create fair isle, you are stranding the yarn along the back of the fabric when you are working two colors. This stranding gives a second layer to the garment. The strands must retain their shape without too much elasticity, yet they need to provide some stretch for ease in the garment. Ease means that the garment can stretch and return as you flex your body in different positions...move with you without bagging or pulling taut. Now bouncy yarn creates a pretty thick and bulky stranded fabric. The first rule of fair isle is to not use yarn that creates thick and bulky fabric. Why? Because fair isle creates a DOUBLE fabric...your knitted stitches, plus the stranding on the backside. What fiber creates ease without bulk?? Long and strong, with wave. Waves create just the right amount of ease in a garment, without too much elasticity. Long and strong fibers sit in the yarn with greater strength because there are fewer "overlaps" of fiber strands. There are fewer ends to "pop out", therefore, your graphic designs will stay more in focus. When looking at pictures of Shetland fair isle garments in archived photos, you will notice common characteristics in them all...they fit relatively close to the body, they are always worn over other garments (hats and socks being the exceptions), and they are not bulky. What fiber creates this image? Long, strong, wavy. Can you picture a prince in his golfing pose out on the green with his fair isle socks pooling around his ankles? I can't. Too much ease (greater crimp) is not accurate for fair isle.

So to create fair isle garments that most resemble the real stuff of history, you need fiber that is longish, wavy, soft and fine textured. Hey! That's the language on our Breed Standard! Huh! There must be a connection..................

Where can you obtain fiber like that? From shepherds who raise authentic, genuine Shetland fiber, shepherds who are dutifully following, to the best of their ability, the 1927 Breed Standard. Their sheep will have lovely drapey fleeces come 12 month clip time, fleeces that gracefully fall to the knees of the sheep. The fleeces on these sheep will completely hide the sheep's torso curves, so much so that you will not be able to assess the sheep's conformation very well until it's sheared. These fleeces will have crimpy neck wool that is shorter; longish and wavy midside; and hopefully, not too britchy britch wool (the wool at the back of the sheep's for that because overly coarse wool in the britch area is a disqualification. It should be unlike the wool on the rest of the body, however, because this is the biggest asset in defense of high winds and driving rain..."bums to the wind" as Lenice Bell likes to say.)

I've spun a lot of fiber now. And I knit a lot too! And I cannot stop designing little things I crochet. I've learned that I cannot make clear fair isle patterns in fuzzy wool. I've learned that neck wool is best for garments that I won't wear often. I've learned that midside wool makes the most luxurious socks you'll ever put on your feet! I've learned that britch wool makes GREAT yarn to hook rugs with, although most of my britch wool goes into yarn because it is not very "britchy". I've hooked christmas ornaments and wall hangings out of yarn off the very back of the legs, basically running down the "tail pipe". It is all still very characteristic Shetland wool with wonderful handle and unique feel.

So what about those people raising crossed Shetlands? Well, if you like the results, that's great! Enjoy them, for that is what it's all about! However, when defining a breed, and in keeping a breed true, you must stick with the facts. If you are new to Shetlands, or have Shetlands and do not spin or knit or crochet, we fully encourage you to give it all a try! If you like it, you'll be hooked for life!! :) And warm!

And for the lone breeder of crossed Shetlands, if you don't like reading about genuine Shetlands, you don't have to read my blog. :) But you are still welcome to. :) We welcome everyone.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More for new shepherds

If you are looking to "see" the difference between a genuine Shetland, and one not genuine, just look to the sheep's body. Dr. Sponenberg (someone the camp would REALLY like for everyone to forget about!!) so nicely sums it up like this: "To me the tail type, horn character, and overall body type are likely to be more accurate indicators of ancestry than are the colors and the fleece type." (bold print my emphasis)

If a sheep is heavy in bone, wide in head and body, and stocky with duller expression, that's a problem. A sheep like that would certainly have trouble surviving on rocky, hilly terrain, such as that found in the Shetland Islands. This is also true in other animals, such as Arabian horses. Arabians are known to have the strongest equine bone on the planet, and they are also the most refined. That's why refined bones on Arabians are what make them THE endurance breed everyone covets. Shetland bone should be refined, like it's always been, not chunky.

However, as is typical, the camp would like those less informed to believe FLEECE TYPE is the main indicator of crossbreeding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, if a sheep looks like a merino's body, it probably has merino in it. The archived photos show delicate sheep with small bone. Sorry campers, I just can't responsibly believe heavy bone is right. The ram at the festival with the wide head, queer fleece, and extremely heavy bone and wide body was clearly manifesting crossing. If his papers say he's purebred, then someone wasn't honest along the way. So here's advice to new shepherds: train your eyes first, before you buy. Then strive to train your eyes BEFORE you make breeding choices!

On to double coats...I happen to lay eyes on something in the newsletter that I hadn't caught before...a staple on page 18 of our current newsletter. It is labeled as "rough". Well, if a lock IS rough, it IS a bad fleece. (By the way, what exactly is meant by "rough"??) However, I have never experienced a "rough" lock from a double coated Shetland. They have all been very, very fine...finer than any single coated fleece I've ever worked with, and my sheep don't get to snack on seaweed at the beach all day. If that fleece staple was "rough", then it was a poor representative of that fleece type. So why is it being used as an example?

The double coats are my favorites to spin, knit, and wear for they are exceptionally fine and soft, and do not produce excessive stretch in a fabric...excessive stretch leads to garment sagging (elasticity) and comes from more compact crimp (merino-like). Now the person who judged this fleece is near retirement, and under great duress to do what he's told. The American individual who brought us this information is linked to a large number of people SOUTH of the Shetland Islands. I have never experienced "hairy" from a double coated Shetland, but I have from an Icelandic! The two fleece types are amazingly different. Anyone who tries to tell you double coated Shetlands and Icelandics are the same in fleece are smacking of inexperience. The fleece assessor does not spin for a living. I do. THAT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE! It's one thing to touch fleece everyday. Does the newspaper reporter tell the foreman how to run the paper press? It's another to spin and knit it. I have been very concerned with this lack of accurate information in our breed organization newsletter of late. Who are they fooling?? Everyone's complaining about it! If it was accurate, I'd be onboard!!! (To get me onboard you have to first be credible, and then you have to be right. Neither is the case here, so I'm not on board!) But it just isn't! It concerns me a lot. Wheely Wooly Farm is focused on keeping Shetlands a true, varied breed...we EMBRACE that variability and we will have no part in narrowing our sheep down to manufactured cookies with chunky bodies and super short wool! Homemade cookies just taste SOOO much better!! :)