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 16, 2010

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!!!!!

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