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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fiber, heavy culling, and Wheely Wooly Farm

Fiber is IT for us. We strive to produce genuine Shetland fiber that the 1927 Breed Standard calls for, which is "Extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well closed" (2004 NASSA Handbook, last page). The word "crimp" is not there. Nor do any of these words mean crimp. If someone tries to tell you wavy means crimp, think door to door salesman!!

Back to our farm's breeding goals: we strive to produce the genuine Shetland fiber that was documented back in 1927. Why? Because that is the fiber you need to make genuine Shetland textiles. What are textiles? Things that are made WITH the fiber...socks, sweaters, hats, mittens, gloves, nightcaps, lace, items for the home, etc.

You cannot make genuine Shetland textiles with fiber that does not match the historic wool definition. Therefore, you cannot make, OR CLAIM, to have genuine Shetland products if you are not using genuine Shetland wool!!! If you breed for "crimpy", you are raising a more modern type of fiber. That is NOT the fiber that made Shetland textiles famous!!!!! If you are raising crimpy fiber, you are raising something less historical. If you claim your farm is producing historic, genuine fiber with crimpy, short fleeces, you are misleading the public. That is why I don't like the term "classic" on crimpy-fibered sheep. It's a misnomer.

Wheely Wooly Farm strives to keep the textiles in the picture. The textiles tell the truth. Longish, wavy fiber makes the correct yarn for the textiles. Short crimpy yarn does not. Experienced (meaning not casual hobbyists) spinners and knitters understand this. While it seems to be getting better, we were very alarmed at recent attempts in the past months to separate the textile history from the fiber...for the two are a package that cannot be separated! Why would you want to separate fiber from textiles???? Because the textiles reveal the truth, that crimpy short fiber cannot produce genuine Shetland textiles, only longish, wavy fiber can.

On to heavy culling. Sheep need to be culled. The reasons for culling vary from farm to farm. Our culling is based on the following, and is not an all inclusive list: kemp, disease, fatal horns, bad conformation (severe enough to prevent the sheep from a fair and thrifty lifestyle). While we are a "young" farm, I have never had to cull for any of these things. We spent two years of educating ourselves with professionals, analyzing the NASSA database, and visiting Shetland farms before selecting a ram to breed with our flock. We carefully selected only a few ewes to breed...we do NOT breed everything that wiggles. Our breeding ewes were all at least two years old. The result??? Wow!!! This is a great breed that has it all!!!!!!! We were amazed at our results!! This is NOT testimony of my own personal greatness....sorry to disappoint those of you who try to make that claim....giggle, giggle!) Rather, this is a testimony of the strength of our breed!!!!

If I "culled" for short, crimpy fiber...I'd have to cull my whole flock!!!!!!!! Why?? Because that IS NOT WHAT THE BREED IS!!! This is a long-fibered breed that has wavy locks. The wool is smashingly beautiful and unique. This is the lamb you will produce. If you are trying to breed for shorter, crimpier fleeces, you WILL have to "cull heavily", because you are misdirected in your breeding, and throwing away the very thing the breed IS. Again, the word "cull" becomes a misnomer.

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