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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I saw the future and...

...wait...did I? Well, I can share what I saw at our Midwest regional Shetland sheep show last year. I decided to show for the first time, as many of you know. We drove down that morning with no expectations or hopes of winning anything. We were just coming for the experience. After setting up our pens and sheep nicely, I walked around the other Shetland pens to see who would be my competition in the classes I'd signed up for. It's always fun to look at sweet sheep!

I expected to see sheep that looked like mine, (and some did), as my sheep closely match the 1927 Standard. That's why I chose and brought them. It would never have occurred to me to enter a show with anything less than that. They both had longish/wavy fleeces with fine, soft texture (although Sweetie's was less so), nice conformation, correct tails, and bright expressions. As I walked around the pens and looked over the sheep, I had to stop. Pen after pen, I had to stop and look harder. Were these the sheep that were entered in the show? They didn't look like what I'd expect. They were very different. They had virtually no wool. Their conformation was not what I thought it'd be. The boys had horns unpleasing to the eyes...broken off, tinseey..., some going the fatal route...not what I'd expect to see coming to the showring. I guess I thought that sheep coming to show should look desirable, nice. Hummm. So why the broken and fatal horns, bad conformation? One change promoter told me that fleece was the top breeding goal. Everything else was "fixable" some other time. In the meantime, they were breeding for oodles of lambs with these other problems, just to get the fleece they wanted, and culling dozens and dozens. didn't add up to me. Why not fix these problems now? Surely if that fleece WAS the breed, you wouldn't have to throw away everything else to get it? Surely you could get fleece and the rest of the package, right? Were they selling these lambs with all these other undesirable things, just to say that lamb had the "desired" fleece? Yes! Why I could buy one that minute if I'd wanted. Turns out, there were PILES of lambs like that to choose from!!!

I did see a couple of ewes that I thought were very pretty. I also saw a grey ewe I liked very much, but it was wearing a husky harness. When I saw that, I was shocked. A husky harness on a sheep?? That sheep, as well as others, later made appearances in the ring wearing their harnesses.

As I looked over my competition, I knew it was going to be ok. My sheep were halter trained and ready. If those other sheep were "better", then why weren't they better??

My point is not to be critical of other people's sheep. Rather, I think I saw the future that day. I saw what those in favor of the changes are breeding, selling, and showing. Most of the people proposing these changes live here in the Midwest and have been breeding for these changes for awhile. I saw sheep that are very different from what we used to see. I knew I didn't want to go there. I don't like weak backs, short wool, wrinkly noses and dull expressions. And I don't like the inefficiency of breeding for lambs only to "cull" most of them. I feel fortunate to have been given that look into the future. I can see things with greater clarity. If I hadn't seen that, I wouldn't have believed it if someone else had told me.

I saw the future. I saw a glimpse of what's to come if the changes stick and deepen. Only one word comes to mind over and over as I ponder where that would lead the breed...decline.

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