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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Things in America's Shetland flocks are about to change in a BIG WAY! So far we've seen:
1. wool that doesn't grow (gets "stuck")
2. super crimp head to tail (worth an average of 55 cents a pound in my local wool pool as it is arguably the most common fleece type in the world)
3. vanishing horns (I decided to keep horns after hearing from a shepherd who's polled ram got in with her ewes unknowingly. She was out walking in the pasture with her ewes and got whacked because she didn't realize he got in there. That whack landed her in the emergency room with a broken leg. Horns tell you a ram is present and to watch him. Someone else had to care for her flock for weeks while she healed.) and
4. conformation that redefines the breed...

...and now we have something new coming! I'm so glad I didn't support all of the above. I'm SOOOOOO thankful MY flock is BIOSECURE!!!


  1. Stick to your guns , girl! Fashion trends will come and go. You and your sheep are not a trend but classics. Check out "Food Inc" ( a great movie) to see where screwed up genetics land us. Margie

  2. Oh I am going to be a hater here but I LOVE MY POLLED BOYS......HANDS DOWN!!!!! I started with horned Shetlands and though they are definitely beautiful to look at and can add size and mass to the flock genetics, the polled rams are by far THE BEST FOR ME! I love their fleece, I love their temperments, and I do like the way they look. It is truly a personal preference and should not be mocked or put down by those who prefer horned Shetlands. It is an individual choice but just remember they are all Shetlands! Horned Shetlands are not vanishing by any means, its just that polled lines are becoming a more viable option and those people who are establishing polled genetics in their flocks are talking more about it. If I believe in it, I will defend it and though I do not want horns in my flock, I would never knock those who do. I agree with many of your points on wool Amy but I love my polled boys:)

  3. I've been reading your blog with quite a bit of interest. Mostly because I can't wait to see what you are going to say next!

    As an avid spinner, knitter, felter, and farmer for the better part of my life (65 years) it amazes me that you have such knowledge in just a few years! I am always learning and still am. Having read your posts for the past several months I can respect and appreciate your views and welcome diversity, however it seems that anyone that has an even slightly different view that yours, is immediately put down and put through the ringer. You obviously feel threatened by them? And for what reason? Why would they care what a newbie thinks?

    I personally do not raise Shetlands for the very fact that I could not find any seedstock that was fine enough for me (and yes they are VERY different in fleece than a Merino or Cormo crimp too). I now raise Angora goats instead of sheep so can appreciate those who raise fine crimpy shetlands.

    I guess if I were looking for carpet or rug wool I would purchase Kwool, not try to tell the world that Shetland is a rug breed.

    Its unfortunate that someone like yourself who is apparently new to sheep and to Shetlands is so narrow minded that you have to bash the rest of the Shetland community. I live in Wisconsin and do not see many sheep like 'yours', but mostly the finer and softer crimpy fleeced animals you loathe.

    I've actually traveled Scotland and been to the Shetland Isles on several trips to visit family back in the motherland. I've not seen 'your shetland' there. I've traveled to at least 10 different state wool festivals and I must disagree that people do not know what a Shetland is, or its fleece. I refuse to use it, since I've found only scratchy, extremely long and straight fibered wool available when I was looking for it. Its great to know there are still soft crimpy fleeces available to purchase.

    I would encourage you, although I'm sure you won't, to attend other state wool festivals and please do travel to the west and east coats to see your Shetlands. They are not as you say they are (you, Wisconsin and the west and east coast being the home of the double coated and true Shetlands, which I thought extremely funny), but they are a mix of all fleece types. I've seen finer fleeces now in more recent years, thanks to these hard working people who are out there trying to raise fine fleeces.

    On another note: Horned ewes, and Polled rams do exist. Its all about diversity. In older posts of yours you say that you hated certain markings or patterns (spots in particular) and that is your right to not like them, but you shouldn't argue with others that they cannot have them. There is a reason the Shetland is so diverse. Why would YOU of all people want to CHANGE the breed into having something its known for??

    I could say a lot more but I fear that after the first few sentences you stopped really 'listening' and won't change your ways.

    And that's fine.

    Just make sure it be known that I have stopped reading your blog at this point forward, and will make sure to tell my friends not to read it, or purchase your 'true' shetland fleeces.

    Next year maybe you'll have Icelandics or Breyer horses for that matter. I wish you luck in your next endeavour.

    Margarie in WI

  4. "... and now we have something new coming! I'm so glad I didn't support all of the above. I'm SOOOOOO thankful MY flock is BIOSECURE!!!"

    What do you mean?

  5. Back from my 4-H knitters and wow! Thank you to all who commented! I knew emotions would run strong, and that is certainly represented here!
    You are right about the Shetland Island sheep today Margarie. There have been some amazing changes in the sheep there too, and I'm confidant you won't see a whole lot of heritage there, either. We live in such a modern, commercial world. If you have to make your sole living on a farm, you pretty much have to go with the flow to be competitive and sell your product. It is really tough to preserve history in that environment of modern production. This has been proven. I'm sure you know that, from your experience. For example, if you look at pictures of Holstein cows even just back in the fifties, and then stand next to one today, you realize real quick that changes have happened. Big changes. That is why I feel so passionate to preserve history myself. It's about collective indicators that things are changing. Once history is lost, it's gone. Sheep are not immune to this. Keep your eyes on the future Margarie, not my blog or the opinions you think I have. Learning that today's breeders are being misled IS upsetting. I am shocked at how many people are breeding and making decisions but don't spin or knit, or even know where their NASSA Handbooks are, or if they even ever had one, and don't keep their Breed Standard next to their records, and don't even keep wool records beyond weight of sheared fleece for pricing. At what point did Shetland shepherds lose those skills of good management? Seems a fairly recent development. I think most newer breeders have never even thought about it. Keep your eyes on the sheep in the future, then research the archives. It's like looking at those cows.

    Now. Go to the archives. Really. Go to the Shetland Museum Archives. Click on photo library. Then click on index. Click on the letter S. Find "sheep". Click on it. Go through the pictures and find photo number JB00090, or picture number 156. It is a photo of a book page provided by Dr. James Bowie around 1910, showing three fleece staples described as NON-Shetland. It specifically mentions Merino. It also specifically discusses WAVE, NOT CRIMP, of the three fleece samples. Blocky super crimpy fleeces don't usually have wave, but Merinos have crimp AND WAVE. These are three fleece types with wave that are NON-Shetland. If this doesn't convince you....

    then look at picture number F00053 or number 96. It's a picture of a sheep (a tup)owned by Dr. James Bowie himself!! You will see my sheep in that sheep.


  6. Shetland Sheep Standard 1927:
    (last page of your NASSA Handbook)
    "Wool: Extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well closed."
    Wave (to curl) does not mean "crimpy" (to wrinkle; corrugated). Many breeds of sheep were developed in this region of the world and I sincerely doubt they didn't understand the difference between wave and crimp, nor do I believe they used "wave" to mean "crimpy" as this photo reveals the word wave to mean wave. Shetlands ARE a breed with longish, wavy fleece, but are not to be mistaken for other breeds that were common in that area at the time whom also had wave.

    Nor has longish and wavy ever been synonymous with coarse; the contrary actually. Longish and wavy can be exceptionally fine and soft. You will see that in my sheep.

  7. One more note: :)
    For those debating the "coarse and open" (disqualification listed in breed standard, last page of NASSA Handbook), keep this in mind: Border Leicesters and Lincoln Longwools (among others) originated in that region of the world before the standard was written, and they were frequently transported by boat to other places in the region. Both of those breeds (and others) can have very open fleeces...some so open, the locks part to skin you can easily see. You really wouldn't want that on a Shetland, but the crossbreeding was everywhere. It is clear to me what is meant by disqualifying a Shetland for "coarse, open". It does NOT mean, very fine, soft, densely packed, wavy fiber so thick you need two hands and a good hold of the sheep to burrow down to the skin.

  8. I looked at the Shetland Museum and found several pictures of double coated sheep, but also found several of SINGLE coated sheep.
    Here are the numbers for a few if you care to see them: #286 girl with a single coated Shetland ram, #347 pen wth a group of single coaed Shetland sheep, #408 a very single coated Shetland ram, #481 single coated Shetland ewe. There are more, but this is a start! By the way extreme double coats are rather strait not wavy. Single coated Shetland are and were purebred Shetlands. I'm not saying that fine double coats did not exist, but rather that single coated Shetlands are and were genuine purebred Shetlands too!!!

  9. The standard is easily found on the NASSA web sight as well and can be easily refered to there.

  10. Good point, Kara! I like having a copy on paper so I can take it out to my flock with me when making assessments. I also carry a copy with me whenever I visit farms to shop.

    and Dear Anonymous...why are you anonymous? Thank you for sending more pictures to look at. I love them all and could stare at them all day! Remember, though, that not every picture of a sheep on the Shetland Islands is a purebred, historical sheep. Yes, single coats ARE Shetlands (no one said they weren't). Also, I've never seen "extreme double coats are rather strai(gh)t". So I would think that if the wool is not "longish and wavy" as the standard advises, then something is not right, just like if the wool is super crimpy head to tail. Shetland wool should be "extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well closed." You will notice the absence of the language single or double.