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

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!! :)

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