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, February 24, 2010

Yarn, yarn, yarn!

Just as I had hoped, the yarn is starting to pile up. I could spin all day! The white yarn is from Sweetie's fleece this year. The moorit-ish yarn is from lovely Gretl. She is an older ewe. The yarns are mostly spun light worsted to worsted weight, although Gretl's neck wool was spun laceweight (about 20 wpi). I like bloom in finer yarns so this yarn might bloom just enough to pass it into the fingering weight grist...needle wise.

The new fleece I'm spinning is from an even older ewe yet...the oldest I've ever spun. Her name is Mammy and she's nine! I spun her britch wool first to see what it would be like, at that age and after being a reliable mother year after year. Not bad! Her midside is very nice, and her neck wool will be a real treat to spin, when I get there! Her fleece came in around four pounds, so it will take me awhile to get up to the neck wool! Her color comes up as a grey, but it has hints of cinnamon on the tips in places, and a stunningly beautiful light, bright silver on other tips! The wool closest to her skin is a darker soft grey. Some areas of her fleece have black wool. (The fleece is washed and has dried here, so the lock structure is blurred...sorry about that! I never think to take pictures of fleeces before they hit the wash!)

I don't know how well you will see the color on the monitors, but Mammy's yarn is on the right (Gretl's is on the left). The yarn comes up this beautiful black/grey tweedy look that is really rustic and outdoorsy. The britch wool and near midside would make a great sweater to layer, and the neck wool would make great rounds of hats, mittens, scarves...the wool is so soft there.
Gretl's yarn is such a pretty natural color, I was thinking of using it for handbags. It, too, is a natural, outdoorsy, unflashy color perfect for casual days and everyday errands. I can't decide if I should just sell the yarn, or if I should make something out of it to sell.....

So many tough decisions! :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When it rains, it pours: the other cat story

Well, you know how that goes...your cruisin' along in life, cat free...

Then the next thing you know, it's pouring cats and cats! That's what happened to us! We were happily cat free, in the middle of moving, and had plenty to do everyday already. Then, to unwind after a busy day, we decided to go for a bike ride. Ohhh boy!

We pulled our bikes into my Grandmother's driveway. She greeted us like always, coming out the front door and giving us warm hellos and giggles. As we got off our bikes, she told us she had something to show us around back. So we walked along the path beside the garage, out to the stunning gardens in the back. You see, she had a lovely daylily garden back there, so she spent a lot of time there. Now with Gramps gone, she was getting pretty lonely in her weeding and pruning. Since a garden tour was mandatory in every visit, we thought nothing of her request. We thought she was going to show us a blossom of something, like always!

She walked us to the back corner of her yard, and down this little woodland path she had created years earlier. What? A wildflower blooming now? No! Look!!! As we approached the end of the path, four little kittens were leaping about and chasing each other. Suddenly they saw us and POOF! They were all gone, with leaves swaying quietly just where they had been. "Gram! You don't like kittens!" I proclaimed! "Well, they've been keeping me company this fall, and I thought they were really cute...especially the white one! Just thought you'd want to see them!"

I was shocked! My Grandmother didn't have much use for cats. Gramps had trapped them out of their garden for years. How is it that this little litter, especially this little white one, made her change her mind? This seemed so out of character for her...but then I realized how these feral kittens gave her something to look forward to; someone to see; someone to talk to everyday. Then I knew... these little kittens were special! They were bringing delight to a newly opened heart. As soon as this realization washed over me, I realized something else...winter was coming!

"How long have they been around?" I asked. She said just a couple of weeks. Humm....

Then she filled me in. The mother kitty had been around all summer, watching her weed, with very quiet eyes. She was a good mouser, and seemed to enjoy just hanging around the garden. Then one day, Gram noticed the kitty looked like she was going to have babies. So she started asking the neighbors who owned the kitty. The neighbors said she used to be someone's pet, but some boys in the neighborhood had abused her, and now no one could catch her. She lived on her own. Then one day, she was gone. Gram had figured she had given birth to her kittens. For over a week, Gram had worried about that kitty...wondering if everything was ok. We later found out, the momma kitty had given birth to the kittens in a tree trunk right at the edge of that woodland path in Gram's garden. As the kittens grew old enough, slowly Gram would see the kittens come out of the tree trunk and climb around, chasing one another. There were four of them, she said. And the little white one was her favorite.

Hummm...boys; abuse; winter coming; feral cats; roads....this was not adding up for me. As my mind began pondering how to solve this problem, my DH began turning pale. "We're on our bikes!" he protestingly reminded me!!!

Ok, ok...let's all breathe deeply! As we(I) pondered what to do next, the kittens leaped out, flew up in the air, and disappeared once again, with leaves softly swaying with their disappearance. Upon protests and giggles, I asked Gram for a box. I've never seen her move so quickly! I think she was relieved deep down that I would help the kittens! (If you know me, you are totally, totally cracking up right now!!)

When she returned with the box, I ordered my pale DH and family into the back know...just in case the kittens are mean or scared! They went, giggling and protesting something about bikes all the way, with a faint "Good luck, MOM" in there somewhere....

In a few moments, I had hid myself near the tree trunk and hunkered down like a silent hunter. As the kittens checked it out, they decided it was safe and came back out to play. I swiftly scooped up two of the kittens right away! I ran off to the back porch and placed them in the box, under guard. Then I ran back for the other two. That took awhile! I got one pretty quick, but I was certain there was one more. When I spotted him, I grabbed him and pulled him up to me. It frightened him so much, we BOTH got suddenly wet! EWWWWWWW!!!!! Sigh.....

So after all the kittens were in the box, DH rode his bike the short distance home to get our vehicle. When he arrived back by us, we loaded up the rest of our bikes, and our little box of kittens (!) and off we went....straight to my Mother's garage!

Since we were in the middle of moving, we were in temporary quarters! So shock of all shocks, my mother gave us space in her garage for the kittens! (If you know me, you are really, totally cracking up right now!) There the kittens were fed milk replacer and given room to safely play. At risk, they all had to wear bells so we could find them if they got out. We suddenly became the most popular house in the neighborhood!

This little kitten was named "Goldilocks" by a little girl. Later, that changed to "Goldie". :) He is the one that made us both wet back on that little garden path! Turned out, he is a real sweet, loving kitty with excellent mousing capabilities!
This is little Snowflake (also named by a little girl!). "Snowy" was also an exceptional mouser and also very affectionate, but not as much of a clown as Goldie. The other two kittens were adopted out so I didn't put pictures up. We named them 'Lil Pumpkin and Mixie. We loved them all! As they were fed and given time to adapt to us, they stopped hissing and began playing. We set up a dreamy play area with things to hide in, climb on, and soft, cushy places to sleep. As they got used to people, the neighborhood kids were allowed to hold them and play with them. They got gentle rides in doll carriages and were passed around a lot. They seemed to drink it all up and not mind! It was a fun time, but boy! That was A LOT of work!!!

Today, Goldie and Snowflake live on our farm. The day the barn door had been opened and all those feral cats swarmed in the aisle, I turned green with "WHAT am I gonna do now?" After MUCH hard work, and tender loving care, it all worked out. Soon our "boys" had the farm to themselves and everything fell into place, with little Sophie in the house. Both boys were fixed in a timely way so they stayed loving brothers. They are very close and stay together all day, everyday. They chase each other, eat together, watch out for each other, and stay warm together.
Goldie has become the farm clown. He loves climbing this weedy acer maple tree next to the chicken coop; a tree we left there just for him. He loves purring and doing somersaults up there! He adores rides on stall doors, hanging upside down off the coop roof, and skidding his paws around a corner in the barn at dinner time each night.
Snowflake has excellent conformation, with a broomstick straight topline, sitting nice and square on his legs....oooops! He's not a sheep! Anyway....Snowy loves the front porch, and spends many days up there, sniffing the breeze. He loves spying on his brother, sleeping on the highest haystack he can find, and also skidding his paws in the barn. Both love to follow us on our farm walks...falling behind and racing ahead, falling behind and racing ahead...
Our vet collectively dubbed them "The Cupcakes". It stuck. They are together always. They are very loving and social. They are very kid safe and don't mind baby bonnets. They follow me everywhere, especially when I'm working in the garden. They stalk each other, chase around, roll in the dirt, and chew on my herbs. They are such a delight to have...I can see why they penetrated my Grandmother's heart all those years ago! With her house and stunning garden gone now, and her health failing, she still asks about that little white one......"Don't worry Gram..." I tell her, "...he's still safe with me..."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sophie's story

February always brings the first hints that spring will come...but not yet. The chickadees are singing their calls back and forth. The roosters are crowing like crazy. We are buried in eggs from the hens. The willow catkins are getting puffy. There are tracks all over the farm from night time prowls. The wild bunny's hops are further away, and wider apart. And just out the window, our favorite hint of spring...long, long, long icicles!

There are drifts of snow in crevices on the porch roof, which get the warmth of a slight hint of sun each day. The skies have been mainly overcast for several days, with slight lightening here and there. The result is drippy snow oh so slowly dripping down, down, down. Each day we look out to see if the icicle is still there.
You know, I was thinking about how funny it is that Sophie sleeps in so many funny places. It dawned on me that I've never shared her story. She is one lucky duck...I mean princess....I mean kitty.

Several years ago, Sophie was born in the barn, on this farm. Neighbors filled us in, as we did not own the farm then. They told us some kittens had been born in the wall near where a horse had been kept, but was now gone. How many there were, no one really knew. How they got out of the wall, no one really knew. But one day, the barn door was swung open wide for me. The instant the door opened, I gasped one of the biggest gasps of my life. The floor of the barn was SWARMING with feral and semi-feral cats!

The first night the farm was ours, I headed out to investigate this I had dreaded from the moment that barn door swung open that night weeks before. I had heard one of the kittens had starved to death...a loss that weighed incredibly heavy on my mind, and still does to this day. That dead kitten was Sophie's littermate. I had held it, as it pleaded for milk, screetching for food. My heart had done flip flops. I felt anguish. Yes, the lady said, she would give it milk replacer that night. I trusted her. She never did.

So here I was, standing in the aisle of the barn, with all these terrified and suspicious cats glaring at me from all beams, rafters, and hay pockets in the barn. Some were growling. Their glares penetrated my confidence. The stench was strong. Can I fix this? As I walked forward, some began to hiss at me. Hummm.... Ok. Here kitty, kitty! I fed them food. They all came running and things got better. No one was really allowed in the barn much. I knew none of these cats had been vaccinated. They were all small and thin. Some were sneezing. You couldn't touch any of them. Fights broke out frequently, scaring the daylights out of me with their unpredictability. One day, a tomcat I had never seen before sent me running from a beam in the haystack. I had climbed up to investigate the wiring...and was electrified in a different way! Ok. HE had to go, NOW!

As we slowly trapped the cats and removed them, I had noticed this gray shadow, smoothly moving around like a ghost, ever so slight as if to make you think you were imagining MORE cats. This shadow was always in my peripheral vision. I sometimes wondered if it was real. Then one night, I actually SAW the gray thing...a kitten! A terribly small and thin kitten! How in the world was I going to catch that one? By now, I had tamed a couple of the adult females and could actually rub their ears, but no more. But this little kitten, after discovery, couldn't be approached by at least 10 feet! Hummm...I had never seen it eat at the dish. It was very small. I knew that kitten was in trouble. So one night, I waited it out. That was before my wool sock days, and my toes were numb. I was dressed like a zombie, all in synthetic bulk. I was FREEZING. But I knew I had to get to that kitten. After a couple of hours of keeping myself busy, an AHA! moment came. The kitten, barely visible, had darted behind a rusted, trashed metal cabinet used once to store filthy horse brushes! I reached my hand in and swipped the kitten up! HISSSS!!!! I had this all planned out, so in one feld swoop, I swung it up in the air and down the open zipper of my coat. Plunged into sudden warmth and darkness, the kitten was stunned. Just as I had hoped, things in my coat got REAL quiet. So I went about my business!

About 15 minutes later, I decided I better peek. The kitten could not harm me in there, unless she made a wet spot, but I didn't think that would happen. I was so bulked up, nothing was exposed to bites or scratches, except my face. So I wrapped up my face, and slowly opened my zipper to peak inside. Here was the fuzziest, cutest, sweetest little gray kitten I had ever seen!....hissing sweetly and terrifiedly at me!!! My game plan was to allow the kitten to warm up, and feel a moment of relief from the cruel conditions of subzero weather and no adequate food. This kitten was SMALL! None of the adult females were nursing. Humm.....

I knew I had to let this kitten go. If I didn't, it would never trust and would spend it's lifetime manifesting meanness. So after it stopped shivering, I released it, noticing that it was a female as it went down the hay and ran away. That was a hard moment, but I was confident it wouldn't die or get away, at least for another day. I was right. The next day, game plan intact, I approached the barn again, in all my bulk. I was ready.

That night, I caught the kitten again (after a few hours of waiting for that AHA! moment). Down into the coat she went, NO PROTEST!!!! PROGRESS!!! Only this time, I turned out the lights, and headed up to the house whistling. This little kitty's life was about to change!

First battle was dehydration. Her eyes were drifting back and forth, and she was alarmingly weak. Shock. (Me.), and gross malnutrition. I was angry again at the lady. This kitten had been born nearly five months before! She easily would have fit in the palm of my hand. I eased her on diluted milk replacer, taking it away and giving it back in short, regular intervals to prevent problems. Slowly, she was allowed free choice milk, then food, over a period of many, many days. Each time I approached, she hissed; sweetly. I was angry at the lady. Maybe the lady should live with so much fear!

Within hours, the kitten had box trained herself. She had warm towels to sleep on, and a dark, safe, warm box in a quiet place. After a couple of weeks, she finally stopped hissing. Not one person besides myself and my back up (DH) had access to her. I found myself calling her Sophie. A trip to the vet meant pills and shots. She weighed nothing. She had a respiratory infection and ear mites. Her voice was fried meowing for food and her mother...her meows were merely whispers (and still is to this day). She got all doctored up, and I walked out with much less money and a pale husband. Soon, kitty-loving visitors came, happy to volunteer Sophie snuggle time. With a clean bill of health some time later, she was slowly introduced to the house and the two dogs we had at the time. Today, Sophie lives a fairytale life. She busys herself swatting plastic easter egg halves all around the house, tiptoe-ing over the piano keys, racing up the stairs and back, getting into ALL KINDS of yarn trouble, attacking unseen boogiemen from under the curtains, and sleeping on the new dog's bed, so the dog has to sleep on the floor nearby. She loves people, is never mean, and exhibits a gleeful personality! It all worked and now we have this sweet, undersized kitty that we love with all our hearts! And she's living happily ever after....

Sunday, February 14, 2010

You'll never guess where Sophie is this time... nice it is to have a break away from the farm! I'm tired now. Today was one of those sleepy grey days where eyes just don't want to stay open. It's hard to imagine, as I deny my eyes their wish out of guilt, that on a normal nice day, I'd be outside, getting involved in any number of pulling those weeds over there, or cleaning out something, or digging up and replanting something, or moving a fence, or scrubbing every water container within half a mile, or studying an interesting bug on my vegetables, or brushing mud off my knees for the umpteenth time, or pruning off those branches that sunk too low, or checking fruit on the trees, or running to the hardware store, or exploring a newly dug hole somewhere (that I didn't dig), or racing the hens to the raspberry canes, or putting in a new gate, or getting the tape measure to run up my sunflower stalks, or hanging laundry out, or picking tidbits out of fleece, or fixing the fence in the bad corner, or hauling those interesting rocks I found, or.....

Sigh...this time off is so nice! And we have been having a very well behaved winter thus far; well, maybe I better be careful in saying that, as we have several weeks of winter to go...and still no cardinal love songs.

So I finished up this lovely scarf in time for Valentine's Day...then forgot to wear it! Silly me....!:)

I've also been spinning a lot this month (except when gone). I've been working on Gretl's Lace. That's Gretl, the lovely ewe, and her lovely neck wool. I decided to spin laceweight for a Shetland project. Laceweight yarns always take forever to fill bobbins because the grist is so fine, so I don't have the opportunity to work on them very often. However, I now have two lovely skeins all washed and dried. I'll put a picture of them up soon. I've also spun several skeins of fleeces we might keep for our own projects.

In the meantime...just look at this! That is Sophie, sleeping on a new sweater, folded up and placed briefly on the kitchen table!! That kitty is so funny! She will sleep a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e! :) Oh Sophie!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweet Valentine

What? You forgot to send your sheep valentines? Chocolates? Roses? It's not too late!

From all of us at Wheely Wooly Farm.... Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 5, 2010


Oh Gwennie! She is always seeking a chin scratch! If it was a good idea to kiss sheep, I'm sure she'd like that, square on the nose. Wish my camera took nicer photos without the eye reflection. This little ewe is a purebred, registered Shetland. She really struggled with parasite attacks as a lamb, and into her first year. It's been about 11 months now since we've had any problems, so I'm really hoping that her maturity will help her get past those parasite issues now for good. I learned fast with your body condition checks, do more checks, and do more checks! It really pays to get out with your sheep and feel how they are doing. You'll notice right away if someone feels thinner.

Her fleece was sheared with her standing by the fence, chewing her cud on a warm, sunny day. She asked to keep her forehead wool, so I left it. Don't ask. :) She's a very gentle, playful ewe who loves to play gate games in the summer when the flock is rotated around on grass. She loves to pounce on all fours, over and over, just out of reach of the gate. Then, when she senses your fatigue at the silly games, she primly pounces right into the paddock, as if to tell you she didn't mean to exasperate you! We love Gwennie!

If you'd like to see pictures of her wool spun up, and made into something, search back on my blog for the brown socks. Her wool was washed the day I sheared her, and was spun up in it's entirety as soon as it was dry. About 7 days after shearing, I was trying on those wonderful socks, which now that I think about it, I'm wearing right now!

Today was a special day...we saw the first cardinal of the season. He was lean and the brightest Valentine red I've ever seen on a bird! The last couple of years, we've had a pair living on our farm all winter, but they haven't been here this year, and believe me, we miss them! The earliest I've ever heard a cardinal sing his spring song was Feb. 4th; the year I planted my potatoes and peas on March 12th! Well, I later learned what an oddity that year was! In reality, we're lucky to get potatoes planted by early May!! To see that bright fellow on the shepherd's hook feeder just out the window was really, really nice! He may not be singing his love songs yet, but at least he's here!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Will you be mine?

Gwendolyn, the moorit ewe, is wondering WHAT on earth Lil' Rainbow has on her head! Lil' Rainbow is not sure what to say back, being the shy ewe she is and wondering herself about our mischief! I don't know why I got it in my head to do this. Turns out, just as we were in the midst of giggling and getting too stopped by in the middle of it all! Isn't that always the timing? :) So Gwennie had a few extra moments to make guesses at what Lil' Rainbow was wearing. I was distracted with my company because I didn't want Gwennie to try eating the heart. I wasn't very good at visiting at that moment and Lil' Rainbow was a very good sport about it all.

Lil' Rainbow is an iset, purebred Shetland. She is my only non-registered ewe because her teeth are not on pad. I know, I know! She is an efficient eater/grazer and probably will be for years to come, so I'm not too worried about it. I bought her for her amazing color. I could watch her all day! She really brightens up the flock, and looks so.....not modern! She's usually the first sheep people notice in my flock, and I get tons of questions on her.

Her wool was pretty coarse when I bought her, but I knew her life had been pretty stressful up to that point. So after deep thinking, I decided to dive in and bring her home. I sure haven't regretted that!! We've worked to train her, and get her used to people to reduce her daily stress. We've also given her good care, and protection. I've been rewarded with this lovely fleece, that is softening to the best of it's ability as it gets longer. Daily management can definitely affect your fleeces, just as I'd learned in seminars. We've also noticed that she is incredibly sweet and gentle, great for being around lots of kids. Below is a picture taken the day after she came home (last summer, just a few weeks after shearing).
We've received many comments that she looks like a black sheep, wearing a sheet. Kids love to see that. So we treasure her, even though we will never register her.

You know, the other day, I took our winter wreath off the front door, and laid it on the back of a nearby chair when hanging up Valentine stuff. As you can see, it only took MOMENTS for little Sophie to move in! This kitty will sleep anywhere! As I write this, she is napping on top of the printer here on my table. Oh Sophie!

...and you know, just when you think you're gonna sit down and relax with some knitting you can't wait to work on, you realize that just the process of getting the yarn out and spread out on your lap is like blowing into a duck call for cats. HERE KITTY, KITTY! I hadn't seen her all day, but the minute I'm ready to knit, there she is, swirling around, accidentally dunking her tail into my nice hot tea, biting and pulling at my yarn, rubbing on the needle ends, and trying to weasel her way under the sleeve I was trying to knit, all while purring! How does that work? If only I could develop and sell kitty duck calls....