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, 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?

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