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.

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!

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