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.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Shetland Showcase

After the great fun we had at the MSSBA Show in Jefferson last year, we took our sheep home and had a good night's sleep. The next day, we strolled around the festival grounds, still in disbelief at what a special day we'd had the day before, as a family. I returned to the barn where the Shetlands are housed, as I often do. But Sundays are so different from Saturdays, the day of the show. Saturdays are bustling (well, used to be...that's a story for some other time) with laughter and baas, hugs and good cheer. Sundays are empty. Quiet. There was only one pen with sheep waiting to be picked up. Nobody was around, even though the festival was in full swing. Shetland people were around, but everyone was scattered, searching for a place in the festival where the action was. In the Shetland barn, there was only the wind.

I sat down on the bleachers and took it all in. The day was warm, pleasant. I could hear announcers and baas faintly in the distance. I could hear cars coming and going onto the grounds. Everything was busy except here. I began thinking what a shame it was that this barn, such a nice barn, was empty and unutilized. The day before, there were endless questions about my sheep. People wanted to know what they were called, what their wool is like, how to care for them, where they came from, how to use the wool, can it be spun, on and on. We were swamped with interest. We had Grandmas. We had vet students. We had mom/daughter pairs searching for something they could do together, we had breeders who wanted to know how to get a sheep to walk nice on a halter, we had new shepherds who had lots of questions. We could barely address them all! Excitement was high.

Sitting there on the bleachers, looking out over the empty show ring, I wondered how our breed could be such a mystery yet to soooo many people, and how even vendors at the festival that weekend were unaware of the Shetland sheep's presence on the grounds. Remembering what a special day we'd had, I wished other families could have such an experience. How nice it would be to see other families with farms and Shetland sheep put together a flock name, come up with sheepy products, and become their own little farm business. What fun it is for families to be together, building, creating, and working; sharing. Then an idea hit me. The Shetland Showcase!

That day, I scribbled notes all the way home. I scribbled notes all through the night. I scribbled notes and drew diagrams for a few more days. I realized I couldn't do something like this alone. I needed help. So in my communications with then NASSA Education Chair, Juliann Budde, and the current NASSA President, Maureen Koch, I boldly shared my thoughts. Juliann referred me to the person in charge of the Midwest Shetland Sheep Breeders Association (MSSBA), Chris Greene. Chris wrote that she really liked the idea.

Well, that was a few months ago. Not much has been discussed. It was a busy time of year, over Christmas and all, but I was surprised at the quietness about the idea. I'm hoping that as the spring picks up, dialogue will return regarding the promotion of the the idea of having a Shetland Showcase event in the Jefferson barn, where families and shepherds can create farm booths, advertise their flock names, and sell their fleeces/wool products. How fun it would be to utilize the barn, and possibly the neighboring barn to put on short seminars (say 45 minutes long) on topics specific to Shetlands such as halter training, how to show your sheep, how to skirt a fleece, how to knit Shetland lace patterns, how to feed your Shetlands, how to trim hooves, how to know! Shetland sheep are not like meat breeds (even though they can be used for meat). We don't show them in the same position, and we to use their wool for handspinning and handknitting. Seminars could also include a mini trip the the Shetland Islands (where enviously, there are no coyotes!), breed history, NASSA history, import history, and the breed standard. Families could design and set up farm booths to advertise their sheep and wool products. There could be a Shetland yarn competition, and a knitted goods competition. There could be two categories: one for adults, one for kids. Maybe more would show their sheep. The ideas are endless, and such fun to think about! There is so much to this breed in rich history, rich textiles! I dream of bringing it all alive!

Well, as I ponder all this excitement, and my desire to bring other families and shepherds into the fun, I've pondered my own geographical area. Over Christmas, my family talked about how to get the word out about Shetlands existing, and what makes them unique. So we put together a plan for the upcoming year as we tour around again to farm markets, craft fairs and festivals. We've decided to begin building the Shetland Showcase right in our own farm booth; from the ground up! What fun! The people of the Shetland Islands gave us a precious gift. We want to express our appreciation! And maybe someday, my dream of a Shetland Showcase can become a happy and bustling reality. Stay tuned for more details!


  1. That is a great idea and I think you should run with it. I've been to Shepherd's Harvest in Lake Elmo MN and there is a sheep/goat barn with some(not many) animals there. One year, there was a shetland breeder ther with some yarn samples and I would have liked to chat with her, but she had this look on her face like "yikes..another tire kicker." You have a ton of enthusiasm, as well as knowledge, so I say GO FOR IT!! Yea! Margie

  2. Thanks Margie! I do think I exasperate my DH and anyone near enough by being so bubbly about our sheep! I really love getting out to farm markets because we make contact with so many wonderful people who want to make wise purchases, but have never thought of wool as a local product. It is so fun to answer their inquiries and see their delight and surprise! Better yet, it is such a treat to see our yarns made into garments that are suddenly treasured! To these people, we are a new discovery. I would love to see other families finding the Shetland Showcase, and utilizing it to showcase the breed in all it's richness, and to build family memories as well. Shetlands are rich history, rich textiles...right? :) Thanks for your support! Amy

  3. Please move ahead to March 11's blog entry. Seems the planning of my idea has gone on without informing me! Amy