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 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....


  1. Lovely story! And what a beautiful (& lucky) Sophie.

  2. I too have a furry gray kitty that looks an awful lot like Sophie. She doesn't have a voice either. She is however, normal size and was not a barn kitty. I've always wondered about her voice.

  3. Interesting! The little kitten that died was long haired, just like Sophie, but was a smashing tortoise color...which I felt confident was adoptable. It had a flatter face, but it's voice was very strong. Sophie's voice must have failed her early on as we've never heard it...only meowspers. As an adult female (who's fixed), she weighs less than five pounds, and has free choice food! She's turned out to be a lovely kitty. Amy

  4. What a tremendous story. Only truly good people would do so much for a kitty. I commend you and your husband. Sophie so resembles our late Ashe (she lived to age 17 as the "Queen" of all the pets), whom we still miss mightily. Just recently we adopted 2 neutered tomcats rescued from horrible conditions at the hands of a hoarder, who kept them locked up in containers. They've adapted quite well to their new home in my DW's "bunny barn" (a climate controlled building), keeping the mice out of her fiber. Again what a great story . . . thank you! Ken and Mary Berry of Fancyfibers Farms

  5. Thank you! Here's to a long and happy future with your two new kitties! Amy

  6. It is sad though how some animals get treated. I'm glad you rescued them. There are some pretty cool barn cats out there one farm has Siamese barn cats. A friend had 3 barn cats then a tom cat moved in and one had kittens (they have spayed them now.)Anyway the cat (short haired) had 4 kittens and one has long hair. He and his mom are now house cats and the other three kittens were given away.

  7. We have three kitties. Two are "barn" kitties, but they were raised on milk by me (HARD WORK!), and are brothers with another interesting story. I'll blog about them next. Funny how we ended up with all three of them...