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 20, 2010

Miss Mona

Oh Miss Mona! This picture is so typical! That is my boot in the lower right...and this is where Miss Mona usually is, close by. She is a very special ewe. And she's hard to get a picture of, because we really like each other!

Miss Mona is a purebred Shetland ewe of whose bloodlines are very special now. She carries a lot of emsket in her line, but hasn't yet shown much of that herself. Sometimes she lightens to a little greyishness under her neck, but then it reverts back to blackish again. Some areas of her wool show the brownish color, but upon shearing her and spinning up her yarn, she makes a knockout black yarn that is very, very soft and silky. (See the half-mitts in the picture below.) It is very special know...the kind that locks you up because your afraid of "wrecking it"!

I shear her myself, and usually cannot put the wool in storage for awhile as I find it so personally appealing. Her fleece is crimpy around her neck and very, very fine, then the crimp progresses to more wavy-like at midside with some crimp, and carries on like that to her britch, where the locks are longer and wavier, with a little more brown on the tips. She is sort of a double coat, and her staple length gets quite long, yet is stays incredibly fine, soft, and doesn't take on the clearly distinctive doublecoated dual fiber. It's a fleece that's hard to describe. All I know, is my sensory abilities pick up on it!
I like her conformation. She has a nice topline, well set legs, and a perfect tail. She also has that bright expression with softness added in. Her wool is lustrous. I particularly like that her rump is not overly rounded, like a corn-fed meat sheep. She has wide hips, but has a trimness front to back that is very pleasing to the eye, giving her body a sense of balance. She looks more like the sheep I see in old museum photos in Europe.
This picture was taken a few weeks after I sheared her. You can see how nicely the wool grew back. She roos quite a bit around her head and neck, so catching the right timing to shear is tricky. Last spring, I sheared her in perfect timing for all of her body except the hip! So I had to cut some of the rooed fiber off her new growth in one spot! She is also a special ewe in that she is the leader of my flock. I hate those days when order is being established or someone challenges their place in the flock! I am always as watchful as I can be, and sometimes separate sheep to ensure no one gets knocked too hard. But Mona knows what she's doing, and does her job well, and I've learned that I can trust her instincts. Because she is my head ewe, I can halter her and let all the rest of the sheep run free when they are rotated around the farm. Nobody in the flock goes where Mona doesn't tread. All the sheep respect her, and playfully follow her. I fear what would happen if Mona ever got whole flock would be gone if she decided to go exploring!
Here are the half-mitts. After shearing and washing her fleece, I spun the wool, then knitted these up without a pattern. I double-stranded the cuffs with a fine purply/blue accent yarn. I knit the first round of the cuff in just Mona's wool. The cuffs are K2P2 with one strand Mona, one strand accent yarn, then the mitts are knitted down to the finger line, where I double-stranded again. That double strand gave a nice flexibility to the end of the mitt for nice elasticity, giving the bind off a nice look. When being worn, the mitts stay on your hand nicely, without gaping or being too tight.

Miss Mona is very tame and friendly. She greets all the visitors to our farm and leaves a lasting impression. She seems to have that genuine Shetland character and loves people. Anyone can pet her and feel her fleece. It's Mona that people remember and ask about months after a visit. She was handled a lot as a lamb and it shows...again without compromising her imprint that she's a sheep! :) She is also the most communicative, and always greets me when I step out the door, whether it's the house or car. I love that! She has sort of become the mascot of the farm. I particularly love to take time off, camp out on the lawn in a chair with my knitting, and just sit by her. I always intend to knit during these warm moments! However, I always end up just scratching her chin while she rests her nose in my hand and we talk. Yep, Miss Mona is special!


  1. Amy, Do you use hand shears on all of your sheep? Do you like it better than electric shears? Do tell. I've been tempted to try hand shears on mine.

  2. Yes, I handshear all my sheep with blades. I've never used electric shears for a variety of reasons:
    1. Shetlands were historically blade sheared...some with tin can lids!
    2. Shetlands are very easy to blade shear
    3. Electric shears are very expensive, and must be used near an outlet, with messy cords to deal with (and get tangled in..we won't go there :)!)
    4. combs and cutters need sharpening...more expense unless you can learn to do it yourself, and I'm not really into that, but guys are
    5. powerplant shears work better. I could never afford a powerplant. (Generators that allow the clippers to maintain their cutting ability through a fleece by generating greater levels of electricity)
    6. those shearer guys are good for a reason...they've built up strength and skill over many shearings over many years. The average person would find it tough to reach their skill level
    7. I have more control over the biosecurity on my farm
    8. I have more control over quality of shearing...usually! :)))LOL!
    8. Since Shetlands typically roo, I have more control over the timing of shearing.

    The most important thing about shearing your own sheep is respecting your learning curve! The first sheep you shear will be a circus and will not come out looking what you think is "respectable"! Keep your faith up, and sense of humor, and your friendly forgiveness, and soon you'll develop a personal routine that works for you and your sheep. Nothing is perfect the first time around...or two...or three. Plan on doing just one sheep first, then another a different day to give yourself time to think about things. Remember too, that you are training your sheep as you are training yourself. I shear my sheep with them standing up. With Miss Mona as the exception (she seems terribly ticklish!), they chew their cud while they wait! Even the first fleece I sheared, which came off in MANY pieces (LOL!) spun up beautifully and had hardly any second cuts. However, the first time I did it, I was afraid to get too close to the skin, so a good 1 1/2 inches was left on the sheep!! (LOL) That problem goes away with experience, too! :) It's been fun to learn and now I'm a lot better at it. I have deep respect for prof. shearers, and feel too humble to ask them to my farm for a small flock. We have one outstanding prof. shearer near us and I stay in touch with him as much as possible. I would imagine most of this would apply to ouessant sheep. Gotta run...I'm teaching someone to knit in about one hour! More later. Amy

  3. Hi Amy,

    Mona grew up nicely! She looks nice and dark. Oh her dam Chickadee was hard to shear as she would butt at me and wiggle and wiggle. Family trait?

    Oh on Wilber he will probably be ok. The BFL ram did shiver more than my other sheep, but he was fine. The BFLs do have an open type fleece.I would guess that his fleece is growing, but just not as fast.

    How did you find out about people shearing with can lid?! Who is the shearer near you?

    Hi Diane,

    Amy's points are good, but I have more too add.

    I blade shear standing up (I am trying to learn how to blade shear with to sheep sitting and practice on a few as I think it may be faster.) I do flip the sheep to do the belly. I did take a shearing class on shearing with electric shears and it is harder to not make second cuts. I also am so used to blades that the electric clipper feels awkward. The clipper is also heavy unless one has a professional shearing machine, but as Amy says they are expensive-$1000's of dollars. One other benefit is the freshly blade shorn sheep has a little more wool left on than the on electric clipper shorn sheep.

    The only down side of blade shearing for me as I have a bigger flock than Amy (I shear about 80+ animals a year) is my hand gets sore ofter shearing about 6 or 8 sheep in a day. Once my hand was so sore that I had to stop shearing half way through a sheep- I just could not cut any more.

    As far as sharpening, blades do need sharpening, but I can shear all my animals on 2 pairs of blades. I have gotten them sharpened, but they are never as good as they were when new so I think I'm just going to buy new ones each time. (I had some sharpened and I sheared 9 goats and they were dull-normally can can shear about 30 before they get dull.) I know it is a waste, but I don't know what else I can do!

    Good luck shearing!


  4. Hi I just found your blog - what a treat!

    Have you tried a different person to sharpen your blades?

  5. Excellent points Laura! I, too, love that the sheep have a little wool left on after shearing for bug protection and a little less shock on their metabolisms. I, too, turn the sheep over to clip the undersides. Yes (LOL), it must run in the family with Mona! She's never butted me, instead, she wiggles around incessently! When I do her, I save a big window of time, when I'm in a patient mood.:) We love her so much, though, and her fleece is so nice, we put up with it. It's her only fault in our eyes.

    Last spring, I sheared a huge crossbred ram at a nearby farm, and my hands were covered with blisters by the time I was done. Turns out, he had 18 inches of staple length, and hadn't been sheared in three years. I did it out of mercy, for the ram couldn't hold his wet fleece up anymore, and was laying down or falling down too much.

    For all the readers out there, Laura does an exceptionally good job at hand shearing her flock, and she helped me learn how to do it. You, too, can learn with patience and self-forgiveness the first few sheep! I, too, have trouble with the sharpening...I'm on my own as I sharpen my hoof knives for my horses. I trim their hooves myself so have to keep my hoof knives nice. So I've tried to transfer my "skill" (LOL!) to my shears. So far, they are ok, but not as good as new.

    Tin can lids were discussed in a fair isle knitting book...but I don't remember which one...Alice Starmore? Not sure. It was written how blades were expensive, and difficult to carry. So some shepherds would use the tin can lids because they were sharp, and small...easy to carry, and affordable. This was earlier in the last century. Amy