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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wool on my bobbin today

The wool on my bobbin today is from a single coated Shetland sheep...well...supposedly a Shetland sheep, but I have my suspicions. It is too wirey. Unfortunately, I paid a LOT of money for this fleece, as I thought I was buying from someone I could trust. The first red flag should have been that the fleece weighs over five pounds. The second red flag was that the fleece had such heavy grease, I had to rewash it. The third red flag is that the yarn is heavy, causing fatigue to set in sooner when knitting, and causing the resulting garment to weigh more. In the end, the socks I made with this fleece didn't last me a whole winter of wear, when I get a good two winters or more of wear from my other Shetland wool. So yes, sometimes a fleece can be a disappointment. The more you work with fleece, the more you will come to know if it's genuine Shetland or not.
Here is some of the wool left (photo below), which I am finishing up spinning today. I spun half the fleece last spring, and found it tiring to spin, for it does not have that light hand I love so much. I really don't think it's pure Shetland. So I left it to finish later. Well, when something isn't as pleasant, later is easy to put off while you work on more pleasant things! Ultimately, you have to face finishing it, because wool doesn't store forever, and I like to keep my inventory revolving in a timely way.
I tried as best I can to get photos showing the grey fleece with my two recent favorites for spinning: MaryBay (nearly white doublecoat) and Iris (musket double coat). Both of these fleeces have given me very soft, fine wool that is extremely light, a dream to spin, etheral in the yarn that I cannot put down, and sooooooo soft and cozy to wear! I've made many pairs of socks out of Iris's wool and they last a long time with super soft, cozy wiggle comfort! I LOVE Iris!!

You can see how the grey looks like wire. This is a single coat with a staple length of 6 inches, and it was advertised as having "lovely crimp". The skirted fleece weighed "five pounds plus". I paid $60. for it...yes...that's $12. a pound. In my area, fleeces sell from $7. to $14. a pound raw. Like I said, I thought I could trust I was getting a good Shetland fleece, for it was advertised as "Shetland ewe". However, after washing, spinning, knitting, and wearing this wool, I think I paid way to much. It is not like my own fleeces at all. It is too large, too heavy, and to weak. And the wirey-ness makes it feel prickly. In the photo above, Iris's unwashed sample is in the lower right (you can see her tips in the photo below). MaryBay is on the upper left...whitish. The two grey samples are from the expensive fleece. This ewe was advertised as "dark grey katmoget". Katmogets, or catmogets have dark under parts from muzzle to tail and legs, so you can see since both samples are grey that I'm using midside wool to show samples, not britch.)
Iris's wool is very, very fine and strong. It has lovely handle and softness, making it a dream to spin and knit (the largest fleece she ever gave me weighed four pounds, with up to nine inch long staple at was a DREAM!). When I ply two singles, I can't get over how soft the yarn feels, slipping through my fingers. It has beautiful lustre, and is stunningly beautiful when combined with other colors, especially my favorite, purply-blues, but any color looks good with Iris's musket color. I've paired it with black, and with orangy colors, and with reds, blues, and purples. I wanted to make myself a sweater from last year's fleece, with black (from my ewe, Mona) crocheted over the edge on cuffs, but I realized it was such a nice fleece, I needed to sell it. Today, I have none left. I made something like 12 skeins of two ply at about....upper laceweight to low sport weight yarn. That's my favorite gauge to spin, for Shetland wool makes it easy to do so.

It's really hard for single coats to compete with the softness, fineness, and strength that double coats easily provide! That's the wool on my bobbin today!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ok, I ate my carrots...

"Eat your carrots!", my mother said when I was a kid. Well...maybe if they had been purple, I would have!

The world has realized the dangers of narrowing the field. For the last two decades, we've been advised to intermix plantings, eat variety, and mingle with a variety of people. We are encouraged to broaden our job skills, meet new people, and try new things. The world changes rapidly these days. You never know what will be valuable or useful in just ten years.

It is now understood that variety is healthy. Through variety, you understand people better. You eat more vitamins and nutrients. You learn more. You can do more. You can give back more.

Variety stimulates families, bringing closer relationships. Variety stimulates the economy in the many places to make/spend money. Variety brings greater education, opening doors to a more advanced culture. Variety opens jobs, healthcare, invention, and travel.

And yet, our own little sheep breed organization has a tight little group that thinks it's healthy for us all to breed and raise and show only ONE kind of Shetland sheep. Diversity is not diversity, they say; it's just a few good sheep and lots of bad sheep. So let's think for a moment about the cost of going against the good advice of so many other fields:
1. We could lose something very special, that has yet to be fully realized and appreciated
2. We could lose health in our sheep in the future
3. We could lose interest in our sheep in the future
4. We could narrow the uses of our fleeces in the future
5. We could lose our closeness with the genuine Shetland sheep-the one that is the grower of genuine Shetland textiles
6. We could lose credibility in our national flock, for one fleece type is NOT responsible for the wide variety of Shetland textile products produced over a span of several hundred years.
7. We could lose our breed mission: to preserve and protect.

If we go against the grain of outstanding advice to maintain diversity, and narrow our parameters within the breed, what is the plan to gain diversity BACK if it's realized down the road a mistake was made???

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1927 Genuine vs 2002 Appendix A

Wheely Wooly Farm has picked up on the strong tension among the Shetland sheep breeders in America. We can certainly understand the reason! A very small group of people has decided to change the definition of what a Shetland sheep looks like, and they have LOTS of lambs to sell you, so you can have your own "Shetland" sheep. Yet most of the Shetland sheep shepherds in our country like the genuine Shetland sheep we've had all along. The tension comes from this small group driving the changes, and the misinformation they've doled out to unbelieving longtime flock owners.

In picking up on this battle, we have decided that the sheep we want is the one that created the real textiles that made the breed famous. As a spinner and knitter who works professionally with the fiber every day, I've come to exact certain standards on my sheep, fiber, and the textiles we create from our farm and flock. We have decided we want to re-create those genuine textiles as best we can given our abilities. Therefore, we cannot support Appendix A type sheep.

Appendix A is a document that was created by peoples OUTSIDE the Shetland Islands, and does not reflect the ideals of the Shetland Island crofters who raise the genuine Shetland sheep. It is a document that restricts fleece length to a range that would be unsuitable for a premier handspinning breed of the world. It is a document that was accepted by the organization OUTSIDE the Shetland Islands in the year 2002. We do not feel that people OUTSIDE of the Shetland Islands can adequately be "experts" of the breed.

As producers of fine Shetland wool and knitted items, we here at Wheely Wooly Farm believe in bringing you, our customers, the truth. We are not supporters of short fiber that would be:

a) difficult for a sheep to survive in over 100 inches of rainfall and windy conditions,
b) too short to be adequately handspun without milling or additional processing before spinning and
c) create fiber that is too fuzzy for clarity in graphic symmetrical and asymmetrical designs of fair isle knitwear.

Our farm is committed to bringing you fiber that is like the fiber still produced in the Shetland Islands today. We are fully committed to adhering to the Breed Standard of 1927, because it accurately defines the fiber type you need to make excellent quality fair isle garments.

On final note, we have discussed this topic at length with MANY early owners of Shetlands in America. All of them have described fleeces that are long, with waves, extra fine fibers, with drapey fullness that extends down to the knees at 12 month clip time, and bright eyes/expressions, active gaits, and perky, friendly personalities. Some of these shepherds go back to the very first sheep here in North America. So am I inclined to believe a very small group of people, many of whom don't spin or knit, who have very different information than even the shepherds on the hill in the Shetland Island have, or am I inclined to believe the Shetlanders themselves, and all the early American shepherds I had lengthy conversations with?

Rest assured. We are sticking with history. We will continue to strive for the 1927 Genuine Shetland sheep in all it's bright beauty!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Solving the Problem!

The more I think about it, it's a great idea! We could have two categories at shows! One for the genuine, true Shetland sheep who exhibits fleece just as the 1927 Breed Standard says: extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy, and well know...the sheep with the lovely drapey soft and fine, wavy fleeces that appeal to everyone and draw people to our breed...and the originators of the genuine Shetland textiles! This category is perfect for handspinners and knitters, for genuine Shetland sheep are one of the world's premier handspinning breeds! These sheep are so appealing in their twinkling expressions, balanced faces, and refined bone. Their "alert and nimble, with a smart active gait" character positively glows not only in the show ring, but in photos as well. They endear a lot of people, and it really isn't fair for the other category to have to compete with that in the ring!

The other category can be the breeders who are breeding for 2002 Appendix A type commercial, more modern sheep. They would be better in a class of their own, as their sheep have a hard time competing with the brightness of the genuine Shetland and it's soft, wavy, draping fiber. Since Appendix A wool is not the original fiber of the famous Shetland textiles, but rather a creation from people outside the Shetland Islands to the south, they should not be represented as genuine Shetland sheep, for that would be deceiving the public. This category is perfect for those wishing to send their wool out to be milled, for it is short and harder to handspin. Since Appendix A is written by non-Shetlanders, in more modern times, in a country where handspinning is barely breathing, it would be most accurate to call Appendix A sheep modern, for milling. And since they often manifest characterics closely resembling other breeds, they would find fairer competition in challenging each other, rather than the bright genuine Shetland of the famous textiles. After all, this is what this group has been complaining about for a few years now, that their sheep have a tough time competing against the authentic, historic sheep.

I think this might be the very solution! Two categories within our breed! Genuine Shetlands with 1927 Breed Standard expressions, gaits, refined bone, and soft, fine, longish and wavy fleeces who produce fine handspinning fiber, and 2002 Appendix A Modern Shetlands with short fleeces, more muscling, heavier bone, dished backs, and crimp head to tail who produce fiber better suited to milling.

Now the judges would have an easier time judging, the public would no longer be misinformed about which sheep created the famous textiles, and the 2002 Appendix A Modern sheep breeders would have fairer competition!

Shetland textiles

So much to say! Wheely Wooly Farm encourages each and every person interested in Shetland sheep to explore spinning and knitting (crocheting, too, although I've not read of crochet in the famous Shetland textiles). How do you know you are raising genuine Shetland sheep? By the textiles you create. If you are not making these textiles, that's ok! Shetland yarns are lovely in a whole range of uses, and are to be enjoyed to the fullest! But if you are not making these textiles, you are not educated enough to redefine the Shetland breed.

Many people do not realize that each breed of sheep has specific characteristics to it's fiber. While fiber can vary from sheep to sheep, in a broader sense, you can define unique characteristics to each breed of sheep. For example, Border Leicester is curly and open, rambouillet is square and blocky, etc. These characteristics will cause the yarn to also have it's own characteristics. These characteristics will determine how a garment performs on the human body. Many people don't know this. The best way to develop a fascination and understanding of this is to spend a lifetime spinning and knitting wool from a variety of sheep (and other fiber animals/plants). Your hands (seriously old fashioned concept here!!) will be your best teachers.

Now can you tell how good or bad a fleece is by just feeling it for a few seconds? No. While your hands may detect quick assessments, it is really just the tip of the iceberg. To really understand how a fleece will convert to a wearable garment, you must have a lot of experience spinning and knitting. Trust me. You'll learn much greater depth of understanding if you do this.

Now when it comes to Shetland sheep, textile history is extremely important. The sheep became famous and have a stunningly interesting history based on the link between fiber and knitted items/garments. HOW the wool was spun and used tells the story. Because Shetlands have this rare and amazing history, unmatched by nearly any other breed on the planet, it is critical that us Shetland Shepherds embrace this history, and highlight it. It's what separates us from all the other breeds on the planet. That's why, even though Shetland Showcase was stolen and renamed, I am very happy it became reality (as the Handy Shepherd), for the link BACK to textiles was re-established. That is a HUGE success in my mind! Plan your yarns and knits now! I hope many of you out there will enter something in these contests next year! It's not about winning, although winning is fun! It's about getting the fiber back into people's hands and onto their bodies again. Spin it, knit (crochet) it, wear it! You won't be disappointed!!

I know this is hard for some shepherds here in the midwest. They trusted some breeders when they were new, and unknowingly bought sheep that were not genuine Shetlands: sheep with unusually short fleeces at a 12 month clip, and bodies that clearly indicate crossing with another well known breed. That is a hard realization. If those newer breeders like that type of sheep and wool, great! That's ok! If you want to develop that style of sheep, great! I have never heard anyone say you can't! However, it's something else when those breeders change the language of our breed to force genuine Shetland breeders to switch over to crossbred, too. NASSA has a real problem in this regard in how this will be fixed. One suggestion was have a crossbred class (stocky sheep with short, crimpy fiber head to tail), and a genuine Shetland class (with beautiful, historically correct drapey fine, soft, wavy fleeces that create the genuine textiles, and twinkly expressions). My experience showing was that being in the ring with so many crossed sheep made it unfair to the owners of the crossed sheep. This is something breeders of those sheep have been complaining about for the last few years and I can understand that. Genuine sheep cannot be present before the judge for crossed sheep to win. Our sheep just are different. If I was in the ring with other genuine Shetlands, I would be a lot less confident I'd win! I guess we'll all have to stay tuned to see where this all goes....

To make a fair isle garment, you can use any yarn. All you need is two different colors of yarn in a row, both of the same gauge. That's it. However, the type of yarn you use will make or break your fair isle garment. If you choose short fibers that "pop out" of the yarn, you will not be successful in fair isle. (Shorter fibers have more ends, more frequently placed in the yarn. Therefore, more ends means greater density of "pop outs". More pop outs means fuzzier yarn. Does this mean your garment will look fuzzy from the get go? No. But will it get fuzzy quickly upon each wear. Yes.) Why don't short fibers create historical fair isle? Because fair isle utilizes symmetrical and asymmetrical graphic designs to create interest with just two colors. If you are mathematically minded, read....FUNNNN! The possibilities are endless...a source of a lifetime of fascination. Fuzz will blur your images more and more as the garment is worn. The fair isle sweaters made from genuine Shetland wool do not get fuzzy, rather, they maintain clarity of the design...and are famous in maintaining that clarity often for years and into decades. Why? Because they are made with long, strong, fine, soft fiber. Long fibers sit in the yarn nicely, with fewer ends to "pop out", thus less fuzz is created, even over time. Long, strong, wavy fibers do not break apart in the yarn as easily when the yarn is stretched and returned over and over, thus less fuzz is created. Long and strong creates less bulk because you can easily spin, with no carding (although you can card if you want to) very fine singles yarns that hold together very well. The shorter the fiber length, the weaker and thus fuzzier the yarn will become. Simple.

Another factor: the technique of fair isle knitting was not original to the Shetland Islands, rather the concept is thought to have been imported from Norway, Sweden, etc. and western Russia (Ural Mountains) by people moving around on the sea...Lerwick was a major port for centuries and a frequent stop for ships from the above mentioned countries. While Shetlanders have designs to call their own, it's important to remember that fair isle techniques were originally knitted using cashmere goat undercoats (straight fibers) and Villseau, Spalseau, and other breeds of sheep in the Northern European Short Tailed Group...animals found in Norway, Sweden, and western Russia. Those sheep are double coated with very fine undercoats of wavy fiber. These fibers gave rise to fair isle techniques because the FIBER could create it. The Shetland people really brought fame to the technique with their skill and location on the North Sea, and the fact they had powerful royalty to advertise it for them. Note: when talking about the island Fair Isle, you capitalize the first letters. When talking about the knitting technique of fair isle, you don't capitalize the first two letters, even though the knitting technique was made famous by the residents of Fair Isle.

The other thing in fiber you need to create successful, genuine fair isle garments is just the right ease in the fabric. Fiber with high crimp can be lovely. However, it is also more elastic. It creates a yarn with more bounce. It makes GREAT yarn for baby clothes! Babies look great in bouncy yarn! You can achieve this type of yarn by using the crimpier neck wool of Shetland sheep. Babies are not hard on their garments, wear wise. They rarely "wear out" their clothes. Therefore, durability is not so much a concern. Crimpy neck wool is the perfect wool for the job. However, to make successful fair isle garments that can stand up to hard outdoor labor by adults, you need LESS bounce. First, most fair isle textiles created on the Shetland Islands were for sweaters, socks, gloves, and hats, primarily for older, more mobile children and adults. The adults ranged from rich to poor, homebound to working at sea to on the golf course. To create fair isle, you are stranding the yarn along the back of the fabric when you are working two colors. This stranding gives a second layer to the garment. The strands must retain their shape without too much elasticity, yet they need to provide some stretch for ease in the garment. Ease means that the garment can stretch and return as you flex your body in different positions...move with you without bagging or pulling taut. Now bouncy yarn creates a pretty thick and bulky stranded fabric. The first rule of fair isle is to not use yarn that creates thick and bulky fabric. Why? Because fair isle creates a DOUBLE fabric...your knitted stitches, plus the stranding on the backside. What fiber creates ease without bulk?? Long and strong, with wave. Waves create just the right amount of ease in a garment, without too much elasticity. Long and strong fibers sit in the yarn with greater strength because there are fewer "overlaps" of fiber strands. There are fewer ends to "pop out", therefore, your graphic designs will stay more in focus. When looking at pictures of Shetland fair isle garments in archived photos, you will notice common characteristics in them all...they fit relatively close to the body, they are always worn over other garments (hats and socks being the exceptions), and they are not bulky. What fiber creates this image? Long, strong, wavy. Can you picture a prince in his golfing pose out on the green with his fair isle socks pooling around his ankles? I can't. Too much ease (greater crimp) is not accurate for fair isle.

So to create fair isle garments that most resemble the real stuff of history, you need fiber that is longish, wavy, soft and fine textured. Hey! That's the language on our Breed Standard! Huh! There must be a connection..................

Where can you obtain fiber like that? From shepherds who raise authentic, genuine Shetland fiber, shepherds who are dutifully following, to the best of their ability, the 1927 Breed Standard. Their sheep will have lovely drapey fleeces come 12 month clip time, fleeces that gracefully fall to the knees of the sheep. The fleeces on these sheep will completely hide the sheep's torso curves, so much so that you will not be able to assess the sheep's conformation very well until it's sheared. These fleeces will have crimpy neck wool that is shorter; longish and wavy midside; and hopefully, not too britchy britch wool (the wool at the back of the sheep's for that because overly coarse wool in the britch area is a disqualification. It should be unlike the wool on the rest of the body, however, because this is the biggest asset in defense of high winds and driving rain..."bums to the wind" as Lenice Bell likes to say.)

I've spun a lot of fiber now. And I knit a lot too! And I cannot stop designing little things I crochet. I've learned that I cannot make clear fair isle patterns in fuzzy wool. I've learned that neck wool is best for garments that I won't wear often. I've learned that midside wool makes the most luxurious socks you'll ever put on your feet! I've learned that britch wool makes GREAT yarn to hook rugs with, although most of my britch wool goes into yarn because it is not very "britchy". I've hooked christmas ornaments and wall hangings out of yarn off the very back of the legs, basically running down the "tail pipe". It is all still very characteristic Shetland wool with wonderful handle and unique feel.

So what about those people raising crossed Shetlands? Well, if you like the results, that's great! Enjoy them, for that is what it's all about! However, when defining a breed, and in keeping a breed true, you must stick with the facts. If you are new to Shetlands, or have Shetlands and do not spin or knit or crochet, we fully encourage you to give it all a try! If you like it, you'll be hooked for life!! :) And warm!

And for the lone breeder of crossed Shetlands, if you don't like reading about genuine Shetlands, you don't have to read my blog. :) But you are still welcome to. :) We welcome everyone.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More for new shepherds

If you are looking to "see" the difference between a genuine Shetland, and one not genuine, just look to the sheep's body. Dr. Sponenberg (someone the camp would REALLY like for everyone to forget about!!) so nicely sums it up like this: "To me the tail type, horn character, and overall body type are likely to be more accurate indicators of ancestry than are the colors and the fleece type." (bold print my emphasis)

If a sheep is heavy in bone, wide in head and body, and stocky with duller expression, that's a problem. A sheep like that would certainly have trouble surviving on rocky, hilly terrain, such as that found in the Shetland Islands. This is also true in other animals, such as Arabian horses. Arabians are known to have the strongest equine bone on the planet, and they are also the most refined. That's why refined bones on Arabians are what make them THE endurance breed everyone covets. Shetland bone should be refined, like it's always been, not chunky.

However, as is typical, the camp would like those less informed to believe FLEECE TYPE is the main indicator of crossbreeding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, if a sheep looks like a merino's body, it probably has merino in it. The archived photos show delicate sheep with small bone. Sorry campers, I just can't responsibly believe heavy bone is right. The ram at the festival with the wide head, queer fleece, and extremely heavy bone and wide body was clearly manifesting crossing. If his papers say he's purebred, then someone wasn't honest along the way. So here's advice to new shepherds: train your eyes first, before you buy. Then strive to train your eyes BEFORE you make breeding choices!

On to double coats...I happen to lay eyes on something in the newsletter that I hadn't caught before...a staple on page 18 of our current newsletter. It is labeled as "rough". Well, if a lock IS rough, it IS a bad fleece. (By the way, what exactly is meant by "rough"??) However, I have never experienced a "rough" lock from a double coated Shetland. They have all been very, very fine...finer than any single coated fleece I've ever worked with, and my sheep don't get to snack on seaweed at the beach all day. If that fleece staple was "rough", then it was a poor representative of that fleece type. So why is it being used as an example?

The double coats are my favorites to spin, knit, and wear for they are exceptionally fine and soft, and do not produce excessive stretch in a fabric...excessive stretch leads to garment sagging (elasticity) and comes from more compact crimp (merino-like). Now the person who judged this fleece is near retirement, and under great duress to do what he's told. The American individual who brought us this information is linked to a large number of people SOUTH of the Shetland Islands. I have never experienced "hairy" from a double coated Shetland, but I have from an Icelandic! The two fleece types are amazingly different. Anyone who tries to tell you double coated Shetlands and Icelandics are the same in fleece are smacking of inexperience. The fleece assessor does not spin for a living. I do. THAT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE! It's one thing to touch fleece everyday. Does the newspaper reporter tell the foreman how to run the paper press? It's another to spin and knit it. I have been very concerned with this lack of accurate information in our breed organization newsletter of late. Who are they fooling?? Everyone's complaining about it! If it was accurate, I'd be onboard!!! (To get me onboard you have to first be credible, and then you have to be right. Neither is the case here, so I'm not on board!) But it just isn't! It concerns me a lot. Wheely Wooly Farm is focused on keeping Shetlands a true, varied breed...we EMBRACE that variability and we will have no part in narrowing our sheep down to manufactured cookies with chunky bodies and super short wool! Homemade cookies just taste SOOO much better!! :)

Midwest Breeders

For the new shepherds looking to get away from the camp style short, bodybuilding sheep, check out two midwest breeders with outstanding flocks: Bluff Country Shetlands and Windswept Farm. Both of these farms have lots of pictures of what Shetland expression and wool should look like. They are absolutely dreamy sheep!! I would LOVE adding these sheep to my flock! Windswept has a horn guarantee, which is so great for new shepherds! Many farms in the midwest not only do not provide that, but will readily sell you fatal horns, and fatal horn bloodlines. Buyer beware!

In fact, on that topic, two rams at the WI Sheep and Wool Festival definitely disturbed me. One had fatal horns nearly to the skin, and was being sold "in transit" as a breeding ram. GULP!!! You wouldn't believe who that one belonged to!!!! The other ram was not being shown, and was "in transit" but called a "display" sheep. He had a nice, but too wide head, nice horns, absolutely queer fleece on him that looked more rambouillet-like yet super short, and huge bone. His leg bones were soooooo thick and heavy, his pasterns were breaking down. Clearly, he was in ongoing pain. He, too, was being sold as a "breeding" ram to a new farm with an "outstanding" fleece. I was shocked. No matter HOW much you like the fleece, you should never breed fatal horns or broken down bones.

Edit: Walking around the pens in Jefferson Friday night, I was even more confident that Wheely Wooly Lerwick is a fine ram is Wheely Wooly Wink and Wheely Wooly Pumpkin. Last year's competition was easy. This year, people brought sheep that were a little better, but there was still much room for improvement...sheep way too small and way too large, for instance. However, if these two farms mentioned above would have been in a ram class, I'm not so confident anymore! I'd have true competition to worry about!

'Nother edit!!: Silly me! My ewe, Honey is descended from Bluff Country Patriot, MSSBA's Grand Champion Ram back a few years. Honey's got it! She has an excellent level top line, a bright expression, is the correct size, and has a LOVELY fleece that makes me melt! You can see Honey's fleece on my blog backaways...I have lovely pictures of her locks still on her, and of the amazing color dynamics you can get in Shetlands. She is a high quality ewe.

Check this out!

There it is folks! (Giggle, giggle). Yep. The camp (the term I use to collectively describe a very small group of people, for simplicity) put it in bright red letters for all to see! That's the Shetland Showcase I authored and designed and presented to Julianne Budde, former NASSA Board Member responsible for Education back in September of 2009, MSSBA member, and good friend of Chris Greene. The camp LOVED my idea, so much so, that they decided to steal it and use it without my permission (and renaming it Handy Shepherd), then MSSBA President Chris Greene wrote an email to me stating I was not welcome!!!! (giggle, giggle) Nice try!!

Well, I am aware of how things went. It was unfortunately not well attended....wonder why? In taking the temperature of the Shetland farms in my region, my idea was well received and generated a lot of excitement and interest. Some even started spinning skeins to enter and began knitted projects. I had advertised it heavily. I encouraged everyone to enter yarns and knitted items in the contests and to attend the seminars. But when the final hour came, not one decided to make the trip to Jefferson. :(( I got the same response from all of them....they don't like the camp!!!!!!! Ok, that frustrates me! I was really hoping that despite the camp's unpopularity, people would come anyway. So I've learned that many people love the sheep, and the Shetland Showcase, but no one wants to support the bad behaviors of the camp. I can clearly see the decline continuing within our breed if this continues. That worries me.

On Sunday, I strolled the barns during "the events". Boy. It was pretty much camp roll call. That was about it. I was disappointed that more people didn't come. I can design fun things and a good package of material...I AM a teacher after all! But I cannot change the climate of the people. Humm.....

One disappointment I had was that the contests were not distinctively one for Youth, and one for Adults, as I had designed. I think this distinction is important in pulling youth into our breed....a breed so fitting for families and kids!! Plus, there are a few kids every year that arrive just before the show starts, and leave promptly........not wanting to even look at the camp. I was hoping that by softening the activities with more fun, the tension would get better. Guess that did not work this year.

The other disappointment I had was a shepherd (camper) telling people how to handle breeched lambs in a "lambing demonstration". I think that even though we acquire experience with our own flocks, breech births are not overly common with Shetlands. I think the advise on how to handle breech births is best doled out by a qualified veterinarian. So I was worried about that, too. It had never occurred to me to design "lambing demonstrations" into Shetland Showcase, because I do not know of any vets who specialize in Shetland lambing, and it's just not an easy thing to make judgments on if it happens to your ewe.

(Hours later edit!!! It just dawned on me that there IS a vet that knows A LOT about Shetland sheep and lambing issues, in Michigan! I can't believe I forgot about that! You can find her by looking up Windswept Farm. She has LOVELY Shetland sheep, and she writes excellent articles about Shetland health for our breed association newsletter. Amy)

One other disappointment... the joking around of a sheep in the show ring who went down in fear. Funny?? No. Bad ambassadorship of the shepherd and the shepherd's friends. But that's what you can reliably expect from the camp!! If you are not willing to handle your sheep ahead of time, then don't bring them to the show and tell everyone they are wild. If they do go down, and sometimes they do, gently deal with it and move on. Bad ambassadorship. I guess I've raised the bar too high for this particular shepherd (giggle, giggle)! I'll never forget a longtime breeder who two or three years ago sat on the lower seat of the bleachers at the show, with her stunningly cute, longish and wavy coated lamb. It was on a halter and very comfortable with the circumstances for the breeder always prepares ahead of time,. This breeder sold a lot of future lambs that day!!!!!!! That little lamb endeared the WHOLE CROWD! We all tried not to covet. :)

On the good side, some great things came about as a result of the theft of Shetland Showcase! First, the judges of the skein and handknitted classes had a great opportunity, albeit hard one! And good things came to their lives as a result of my idea and design! And the people who won the classes had a good experience, so that is good too, even if they are campers! And I'm sure the people watching had a good experience having a little more of something Shetland sheepy to do! All in all, I think the link from sheep and fiber to spinning and textiles was successfully re-established! For that I'm very happy!!!!

So where do we go from here? Promote, promote, promote!!!! I'm going to really push for a division in the skein and handknitted contests for Youth and Adult categories. The camp obviously loves my ideas!! Most of them are older and either have no kids or grown and gone kids. I think they've forgotten the importance of pulling youth into our breed. Eliminating the youth sector was sort of a selfish move I thought, again, reliable camp behavior! I'm going to work hard to try and get more people there!! And I've bought myself a two year calendar to be SURE I don't double book myself on that weekend!! We'll probably be camping on the grounds next year, like we have before.

Lastly, I've had a question by a new shepherd on where you can see pictures of genuine Shetland sheep with drapey, silky fleeces with correct lock structure. If you look back on my blog, you'll see lots of photos like that. Also check out blogs from the east, west, and southwest United States regions. Their sheep look stunningly beautiful, as the camp sheep have not infiltrated their flocks yet. But don't just take MY word for it!!! Demand a copy of the NASSA Handbook!!! This handbook drives the camp nuts because it has real pictures of Shetlands in it, not pictures of camp-type sheep! They argue these photos are of "throwbacks" to "cull" (kill). These are photos of what the breed actually IS...beautiful long, wavy, drapey fleeces that practically hide the knees by 12 month clip time, fleeces that hide all torso definition. A 7 year old ewe named Bronwen (submitted by E. James) is a knockout, and so are Magnolia (2 year old ewe...a shaela) and the knockout ram Maestro, both submitted by Shannon Fletcher. Then, to make comparisons, check out any of the Shetland blogs from the midwest. You'll be shocked by the difference! Look at lock structure (short, compact, close to the body), length of fleece (no drape, every curve of body clearly visible at 12 month clip time), conformation (body builders...unusually large shoulders and rears, way-too-heavy bone, caved in toplines to accommodate extra heavy shoulders and rears), and expression (harsh, mean-looking, huge, broad, wrinkly noses, sometimes horns way off, dull eyes (sleepy, bored, not alert, not ready to react, continuous state of half-napping, not thinking), merino-wide heads). It's hard to believe the sheep are in the same breed. A good ram will have, among other things, a bright, soft look in his rounded eyes, of sweetness, youthfulness, attentiveness and intelligence...awake, aware, ready to spring to action. There should be no slanted eyes. It's really hard to explain, until you see it absent! Then it's easy to learn good Shetland ram expression! Blue, who is on the cover of one of the most recent NASSA News had great Shetland ram expression! There is a picture of his whole body in an earlier 90's NASSA News that shows his twinkly expression even clearer. I sure wish I could have seen him in real life.

Our 1927 Standard (NASSA Handbook, last page):
eyes: full, bright, and active look
carriage: alert and nimble, with a smart active gait
chest: medium width and deep
face: medium length of face from eyes to muzzle, nose prominent but not Roman, small mouth

Here's the thing: If people want to breed away from these words of the standard, you can do that! There is nothing wrong with that, and I believe you should breed for what you like most, for you will be looking at the sheep everyday, and utilizing the fleeces you raise. However, it's totally different when the words are given new meanings and the sheep are given new definitions, and then everyone is told to cull all their sheep and start with this new stuff! After many lengthy conversations with founding breeders and those who've had Shetlands a long time, I know what I want to do!
a) re-establish the link between the fiber raised and the genuine Shetland textiles
and b) continue spinning and knitting and marveling at the wonders of long, drapey, silky, super fine fleeces!!
:)'s cold and windy today, with rain. Too warm for heating the house, too cold for thin cotton summer socks. Wooly Shetland sock time!!!!!!!!! Now THAT's soooooo luxurious!!!!!!!!!! :) If you don't have a pair, hurry up and get someone to spin/knit a pair for you. Expect to pay a lot of money for them! Then, be prepared to never take them off in cold weather again! Be prepared to burn calories wiggling your toes so much to experience such warm softness!!! Sock time is here!!!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Game Changer

This is an expression I've been hearing a lot lately. Maybe the term has been around a long time, but I'm not good at knowing those things, as I'm a little culturally deficient. I'd much rather be spending time outside on my farm than in the city learning new lingo. This fact about me often leads to good jokes and laughter within my family:)! Seems everyone has adopted "game changer" to describe the economy in our country, and how they are reacting to keep their lives together. On a recent interview, Sheryl Crow used it. Politicians use it in trying to wrangle legislation. Reporters use it when discussing all the new media outlets people are using. Well, I guess as a Shetland sheep enthusiast, I can use it, too! I feel like recent events have created a "game changer" within our breed. Our cheese has been moved.

The problem has actually been growing for a little while now. Here in the midwest, the sheep have changed at a pretty rapid rate. They range from super small, to nearly unrecognizably large. They have other sheep's fleeces on them, their bone ranges from normal to super thick, and their conformation has taken a serious dive. As breeders propagate these faults, new flock owners unsuspectingly propagate them too, not realizing they are carrying on the problems and creating futher deviation from the ideal Shetland.

Now along comes this new "document" called Appendix A. This is a game changer. I know, I know, I know the supporters of Appendix A like to call it a "guideline", but the fact remains, legally, it's become a game changer. This modern document does not fit the historic, genuine Shetland. I saw first hand, what the "new" Shetland is going to look like, under this new document, for these new Shetlands already exist. I'm confident I will never raise that Shetland, for they look sooooo different!! For starters, they are just not as pretty with their short, tight fleeces. I miss the drape that shows off the silky lustre and fine, wavy locks, glowing with outstanding color. Second, they look like the "Arnold's" (body builders) of the sheep see every definition of their bodies...the super bulked up shoulders and super muscular rears that stick up quite high, and satallite dish backs. I'm not into that, and I think it looks less appealing. This body definition is still visible even when the fleece is ready to be sheared at 12 months. The old photos in the archives show level toplines, and drapey fleeces that hide body definition. I like that. Third, I want to raise fleece. Nice fleece. Long, silky, soft, bright fleece. So WHY would I start raising SHORT fleece that doesn't grow?? My long fleeces are very soft. I don't need short fiber length to get soft. So what's the advantage???? I see short fiber as a disadvantage! Short fiber is not any softer, or any more desirable to work with, in fact, short fiber is harder and more time consuming to spin. Harder to shear, too. It doesn't match the history of the ladies spinning on the Islands. They did not have large amounts of time to spin. They were raising families and caring for the animals and crofts, usually without their men, whom the Queen sent out to sea each summer.

Game changer. That's what we have in Appendix A. No thanks. I'll stick with my pretty, drapey fleeces that show off the uniqueness of the genuine Shetland. I WANT my sheep to be apart from modern commercial breeds, for the two types of sheep are VERY different in many visible, and invisible ways. To pull Shetlands more into the realm of modern commercial breeds by propagating shorter fleece and greater muscling is to deteriate the very characteristics that make Shetlands unique and special. Game changer.

So everyone knows now that Wheely Wooly Farm is sticking with the genuine Shetland sheep in fleece and body style. Everyone knows that we deem the 1927 Breed Standard to be a worthy and fascinating document in it's simplicity. Everyone knows that it is all that is needed to create the correct Shetland sheep. Everyone knows we have great respect for the people of the Shetland Islands, Col. Dailley, The Doanes, and the early breeders within our country who carefully made sure "shepherd descendents" like me could enjoy what they had the opportunity to enjoy. And everyone knows we are not afraid to bring integrity BACK to our breed organization.

So how do we handle our critics? First, if someone criticizes our farm, they are clearly not believing in the things mentioned in the above paragraph. I've heard the game changers say some pretty rotten things about the early breeders. I've heard them try to change the facts about Col. Dailley. And of course, they've tried to change the 1927 document by adding on a new piece. What have they said about our farm? Lots!!! (giggle, giggle!) You know you are effective when the game changers try to attack back!! My favorite yet is that our farm is a puppy mill of the sheep world! Obviously, the person spreading that around forgot to count how many lambs or sheep we've sold off our farm...NONE! :) (giggle, giggle!!) We have never offered a sheep for sale. Oops on their part! We are confident that our efforts to keep the truth accurate are working! The more complaining from the game changers we hear, the more we know we've been effective!

Remember about the sheep: To be pleased, look for no knees in the spring breeze!

We'll be keeping our fleeces historically correct in color, length, and staple dynamics. We strive to produce level toplines and bright, twinkly expressions. We avoid heavy bone and large, merino-type wide heads and heavy bodies. We desire long, drapey fleeces that hide body definition. We require historically accurate fleeces so that we can spin and knit up our Shetland fiber as historically accurate as my skills can pull off! No game changer here! So where does your farm place itself?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Miniature Shetlands?

As I cruised around the Country Store at the festival last weekend, I often got distracted by something...usually yarn or fiber. Stopping to touch everything and marvel at the things sheep can produce, and the amazing things people do with raw materials, I often find myself in conversation with someone I've never met. Having a streak of my father in me, talking to strangers comes extremely easy, and it's certainly not hard with sheep people! Sheepy people tend to be very friendly and kind. So it's no surprise that I often end up talking to people who know nothing about Shetland sheep.

I had stopped to admire this lovely, lovely, lovely shawl with a ruffled edge that REALLY caught my attention, when quickly, I found myself talking to a "stranger". We laughed, shared, and giggled, even though neither of us had really met. When she asked me what kind of sheep I have, I told her Shetlands. I always love waiting for the response I get when I tell people I have Shetlands. Sometimes, I can visibly see respect drop with a thud (old farmers). Other times, people light up like a lightbulb (young city people). But usually, I get a washover of no recognition. This time, things lit up! This person I was talking to had heard there were "mini Shetlands" on the grounds this year! WHAT were THEY good for, she mused?? Mini Shetlands? Uh oh.

There is no such thing as miniature Shetlands. Yes, Shetlands are smaller than most breeds, but they are not miniature! Mature ewes need to be 75-100 pounds and rams up to 125 pounds. A good Shetland's back should be higher than an adult human's knees. A mature ewe can be picked up by a strong adult, but it should be a challenge. I can pick up my ewes on days I eat my vegetables. When I'm tired, I can't. (How's that for technical! :)

Turns out, I knew exactly what my new friend was talking about. On Friday night, I had the chance to look at a bunch of Shetland sheep that had arrived early. FUN!!!!! It is always fun to talk with Shetland Shepherds, and look at sheep! I have to admit I was stunned by the size differences in the whole group. I can see why it would be extremely confusing to someone who doesn't know the breed! On one end of the spectrum, there were mature ewes that had lambed that looked to be around 40 pounds, stood lower than my knees, and were the size of my current lamb crop...yes, mature ewes with a lamb. I immediately thought of the 1927 Breed Standard that lists undersized as a disqualification at the bottom of the document. Undersized Shetlands are to be disqualified. Clearly, this was an example of that, no matter how the fleece is. These animals should not be registered, nor promoted as breeding stock. Sadly, they are both. Sadly, there were many of them in pens at the festival, almost all from the same farm!

Then on the other end of the spectrum were sheep that were hardly recognizable! They were huge for Shetlands! I'm not sure what's going on there, either. While large sheep are not listed as a disqualification, I really am confused as to how such large sheep fit into the breed, technically. These large sheep's backs stood at my hip (I'm of average height). Confusion! In all the farms I've visited, I've not seen either end of this spectrum anywhere. Only here at the show do I see such extremes in size. Funnier still, both breeders insist their sheep are pure and correct, insist with passion!

Later, on the ride home, I was thinking about the size differences. So if a 40-ish pound mature ewe with a lamb at her side is "right", then what would be "undersized"? Those small sheep were shorter than my Shetland Sheep Dog! In the photos I've seen dating to the early 1900's, the dogs were smaller than the sheep, not the other way around!! The sheep laying over the laps of the women rooing them covered all of their laps, and lots of ground around them (not including the rooed fleece, which was typically piled up next to the person rooing). These tiny sheep couldn't do that, even with a small person! And having now visited numerous Shetland sheep farms, I have NOT seen such small sheep ANYWHERE, except amongst the small group of breeders touting them as correct. Lastly, if such tiny sheep were "correct", then why don't the early breeders/owners of Shetlands in our country agree that they are correct? One early breeder told me she thinks they are undernourished, for she has NEVER had sheep so small, and she is one of the first to have this breed in the US. I've now called many early breeders. None agree the breed is that small. So I believe, with validity, that my instincts are right. Something is wrong here, and those sheep should be politely placed last in the class. They are undersized, and to be disqualified from breeding and registering.

On Sunday, as we meandered around the curves and bends in the road that annoyed us on the way down, we talked about our own flock. We got into the sheep very slowly. We read, visited farms, and learned as much as we possibly could. We recognized early on the tension at our local show, and the arguing among groups. This seems to be Shetland history here in the midwest! But now past the beginnings of building a flock, we can look back with pride. We found the pitfalls, and avoided them! Whew!!! I'm sure that even the tiniest Shetland sheep would warm my heart over, and I know I'd feel sick to have fallen in love with and cared for sheep that were not right for the breed. It would make me feel sick to have to change what I initially invested in. It would have especially made me feel sick to know I trusted a breeding farm, only to find out later we were mislead for selfish reasons. We are both very thankful we took our time and got it right! Our sheep are not tiny, nor are they large. They are just right. They match what all the early breeders described. They match the size proportions I see in the photos taken nearly 100 years ago in the Shetland archives. For this, I am very thankful, and I'm confident when I sell my yarns that I'm selling genuine Shetland fiber.

It all left me pondering a huge question. The people who are left at our local show have the sheep that look the most off to me. The show is where I see the most variances. The show is the only place I see tiny sheep, or super huge sheep. The show is where I see super short, blocky fleeces. The show is where I see huge, huge bone. The show is where I see the worst conformation, and believe it or not, the most fatal horns. When I go out to little farms all around my region, I don't see these things. I see refined bone, drapey fine fleeces of outstanding softness and color, I see bright eyes twinkling back at me. I don't see tiny or huge. Hummmmmm..............the show is where I'm supposed to see the best, but instead, I'm seeing sheep that are all over the place in bone, fleece, size, expression, and conformation. I've come to learn that if you want to train your eye on what a good shetland is, go to the show! You'll see a lot of what a good shetland isn't!

So back to my new friend in the Country Store! I explained the Breed Standard, and what a good Shetland looks like. She didn't want miniature of anything, and mentioned miniature cows as an example. I assured her that while some people like the small sheep, that they are not normal for the breed. The beauty of it all is anyone can breed for what they really like, and if someone really likes such tiny sheep, and finds them worthy of feeding and shearing, so be it! That's ok! She promptly spoke of sticking to standards and how important that was to not lose what makes the breed correct. I agreed! My new friend was very wise!

(P.S. Awhile back, a friend had emailed me saying she'd seen a picture of a ram in the Wisconsin Shepherd magazine...the publication of the Wisconsin Sheep Breeders Co-op...the organization that puts on the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Was that Wooly Bear (the ram we took to the show last year)? At first, I said no...couldn't be. Well, I picked up a copy of the Wisconsin Shepherd at the festival, opened it up and explosive laughter!!!!!!!! That's my ram!!!!!!!! His photo is being used to promote the festival, and is several inches across and tall!!!!!!!! Black sheep, blue sheep............yep! That's our purebred Shetland ram lamb, Wooly Bear (sire of all our lambs this year), resting in his pen on the festival grounds September 2009! Ok! That was FUN!!)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shepherd's End of Year

I can hardly believe it, but the end of our flock year has come already! The time has come to prepare for winter, and decisions regarding who to breed has come, something we think endlessly about as we mull about what we want to do and all the possibilities. Meanwhile, we have lots to share regarding the busyness of the last few days!!

This weekend was the big event for us shepherds' here in the midwest, the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. As usual, the event was highly anticipated, and not disappointing in fun and camaraderie!! Last year, we set up a vending booth/farm display, and showed two Shetland sheep. FUN! Great fun! This year, as our business grows, we faced a big decision. Should we return to the festival and do what we did last year, or should we do our farm market that Saturday? The volume of people is definitely greater at the farm market, by manyfold. Thus, the decision was made, by accident, to be at the market. And of course, MSSBA President Chris Greene had made it explicitly clear that I was not welcome to attend the show, heaven forbid I bring my bright-eyed sheep! (Giggle, giggle!) Well, that didn't stop the fun! I was there anyway!

Friday morning, bleary-eyed from many hours of spinning, we headed out the door with our shopping list safely stashed in our pockets and the sheep safely out on fresh grass. The drive down always seems long. Every year, I can hardly wait to see all the spinning, yarn and knitting in the store there. I can't wait to see all the sheep, and all the Border Collies, hear all the baaing and Bordie Collie happy barks. I can't wait to talk to all the sheepy friends I've made over the years, and hear how their lives, farms, and flocks are progressing. So much to cram into such a short time!! Plus, new this year, was the dairy sheep!!! FUN!! We got to watch the sheep being milked, and taste excellent locally produced sheep cheese. I confess, I went back for more than one...two....three....samples.....! AND, we got to bring our Border Collie puppy, Swifty, along on Sunday!

So Friday morning, as we approached the grounds, we noticed a huge new highway project...mental note for next year! Leave extra time to figure out the new roads. As we pull into Jefferson, as usual, my stomach turns with excitement...I just can't wait to get there! After parking, we raced into the Country Store and made a bee line for the items we HAD to shop for...roving, a swift, new bobbins. I did pretty good, considering a bee line is hardly possible with all the distractions and so many friends to talk to! So when the critical shopping was done, it was back to a day of browsing and talking, many giggles and smiles, hugs, and fun! Every year, I make new friends, too! I am never disappointed in what sheep can do to a human's life! The warmth they give doesn't end at the skin!

Friday night, we left the festival quite late in darkness, bursting with the fun of the day. The drive home was good after a tall order of Culver's caffeine. By the half way point, we were singing harmony together and playing around with songs. The roads were clear and the evening beyond memorable. At home, the skies were warm and clear, with the big dipper hanging low over our silo, just as it always does in the early fall...reminding us the changes of season to come.

Saturday morning, we were up and out of the house by six. Rain was pouring down gently but steadily. Our farm market is never cancelled, and we had customers coming to pick up orders, so off in the dark we went, barely functioning in the low light and steam from the coffee cup! After we set up and quietly ate our "special day" donuts, we waited. Rain was dripping off our canopy and the street was dark. All around were these lovely bright bouquets of flowers with glads, sunflowers, mums, zinnias, and other outstanding colors. The Hmong family next to us always has the most outstanding vegetables and things I've never seen before. The smell of dill and sweet basil drifts so pleasantly on the air! A truly rich experience! Then, before my eyes was a customer! The market didn't open for 20 minutes yet, and there she was! Happy to see us, she made her selections (Iris, no surprise!), and was off as quick as she had come! We smiled. It was going to be a good day!

On Sunday, I had a commitment in the morning that I wasn't expecting the call for until next year. But a few weeks ago, some rearranging occurred, and the call came early. Sunday morning was a special moment that I really enjoyed. Then home quick to change, swoop up Swifty, and head back to the festival! The sun was warm, the air a mix of the heat of summer and the dim light of fall. Swifty met many look alikes, and learned that the dogs on the field hear whistles, and obey the commands as the shepherd gives them out.....:) He sat straight up, all eyes and ears, watching as things unfolded before him! Fun! We again filled the day with catching up, lots of laughter, hugs, and promises of visits. The festival never disappoints! I never cease to be amazed at how sheep bring people together. Goats, cows, dogs, horses....doesn't matter....they all bring people together to share life with. What a special thing that is!

The trip home on Sunday is always less urgent. As we meander around the curves and bends, we talk about sheep, farms, and our time on this earth. This year, we talked a lot about Shetland sheep and our progress. We are very proud to bring you the results of this extremely careful breeding! Our sheep are so carefully selected, based not on trends or fashions, but on genuine documented history. They have long, soft fleeces that create wonderful yarns that bring our customers back, and back, and back. Our yarns are going into a range of textiles that speaks volumes of the usefulness of the Shetland breed. Repeat customers, and a high range of usefulness of the wool is what kept the Shetlands so famous for so many centuries. No other breed that I am aware of can compete with that history, although I must admit the Icelandics have an amazing cultural/textile history that truly rivals the Shetlands in it's own right in terms of usefulness, cultural identity, and length of time this has been true.

As daylight faded Sunday evening, the air was warm and fresh. Everything was so green and the flowers so bright. The animals were all content and quiet, the crickets were slowly chirping. Then, as the big dipper started gently glowing over our silo, we heard something that stopped us in our tracks...geese. Calling out as they flew west, a flock of geese passed by, wings sounding swift and efficient in the dim light. We all looked at each other and smiled at the same time. Life is good! Sheep are good! Our farm is good! And the sheepy year is done. What a year it has been!

Stay tuned for more about what we saw at the festival, and Shetland sheep! Can't wait to share!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Not now Swifty!

This puppy just turned five months old! Five months!! And look what he figured out today! This is one I'll have to not encourage, or I'll never get to spin again (giggle, giggle). Looks like I might be needing a single treadle wheel in the future....:)

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Whew! Summer has been flying by at an alarming pace! We have been very busy here at Wheely Wooly Farm! It all started with float building, hay, strawberries, getting the garden in, lambs, shearing, pasture rotations, Farm Fun Days, and end of school stuff. All that progressed into family gatherings, parades, farm markets, travel days off and trips, tours of farms, fun times with friends, weeding, weeding, weeding (well, not really :) then full blast into our fair, more hay, start up of school, more farm markets, more trips, weaning, fencing, putting up tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, and boatloads of peaches from our little peach tree, pears, and now apples. I still have dried beans to harvest, onions to pull, more tomatoes and peppers to bring in, oodles of raspberries to pluck from canes every day, and more pears to pick (and eggs to gather, coops to clean, water buckets to scrub and fill, fences to move, hooves to trim, bridle paths to neaten up, flymasks to scrub, nettle to pull, grass to mow, rocks to move, gardens to clean up, herbs to harvest, cobwebs to sweep in the barn, roses to sniff, and oh yeah...a great little puppy to train!!). Life here is NOT boring!!

Shetland Felted purse with crocheted flowers

The purse above is one I made awhile back from a lovely Shetland ewe I do not own. The design is one I created, based on my own needs in a purse. Then I crocheted some pretty flowers (also of my own design), and laid them on to see how they look. It's a keeper! So next, I have to sew the flowers all my free time! I'll probably have it done by tomorrow.

Did I mention I spin non-stop?

Yarn has been coming off my wheel at a nice clip. Notorious for overloading my bobbins, this bobbin will get more yarn before I wind off. Yes, I've had to superglue the ends back on all of my bobbins :). On nice days, I spin outside. On humid days, I spin under the fan. When I'm tired, I spin in front of the TV...doesn't matter...I spin wherever. When I'm not spinning or checking something off my friendly list above, I'm knitting, or trying to knit, or thinking of knitting....

Pumpkin's Scrapbook-picture pending!

Lil' Pumpkin went to the fair this year...well sort of. His little exhibitor is not allowed to take animal exhibits to the fair until next year. So he went in the next best way, on paper. The judge loved it, and learned about great little sheep at the same time...had never heard of Shetlands! The bows on the side are tied with Gwendolyn's yarn, which is a similiar moorit color (at the time) as Pumpkin is now. Included in the scrapbook is a lock of wool. Judging by the condition of it when fair week was over, a lot of people must have experienced the beauty of Shetland wool!

Wheely Wooly Gracelyn

Gracie is generating lots of excitement around here, as we drool over her wool. I've already had trouble sleeping, as I begin imagining what I'll use the lovely wool for (should I sell it, or should I make myself ...fill in the blank)! Boy, these sheep sure do grow on ya! (That's Pumpkin peeking over Gracie's back.)

Swifty has been an absolute delight! He's five months old now, and progressing in his training right on track! He is free to run around the farm, even without constant supervision, as he has proven very trustworthy. He loves his farm!! When I weed the garden, he snitches the clumps and clods of overgrown weed with roots, and takes off for the nearest shade tree. I frequently have to clean up from there, for he creates piles of weeds under that tree! Silly puppy!! When I take him for rides into the city, he barks at dumpsters and fire hydrants...all the big spooky stuff. He's also discovered the sheep water tank...on a hot summer day (tank-diving). I wondered how long it'd take him to find that one! The other day, he ducked under the horse fence in the upper pasture (horses were out grazing in back) when his back touched the fence and gave him the surprise he'll never forget! He yelped like a tornado siren non-stop all the way up to the house, scaring the daylights out of us, getting shocked again on the way out of the pasture, too!! I ran to catch him and found him panting by the back door, pleading to go inside but smiling and wagging his tail. So fragile, these puppy days!
And he certainly has an affinity for staring down anything he wants (top photo). It is emotional for me, for it is like having a little of Shimmer back for just a moment. In the bottom photo, he is demonstrating the infamous 'Border Collie Lean'...puppy style. He has remarkable springs in those strong hind legs that can burst into action in a blink! His ears are always on...but hearing is a tad selective at this the brushing teeth or combing hair! He's on a great puppy chow now and his muscles are responding much to my amazement! This photo was taken a few weeks ago. Today, you can see the muscles developing around his shoulders and rear legs. Border Collie in training!! I'm lovin' every second of it!

What's in store for tomorrow? COOL AIR! Can't wait!!