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.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The glorious, bright leaves have swirled and fallen...and blown away (giggle, giggle). The owls call back and forth every night. The sheep have become so quiet that I have to look to be sure they are still there...content and friendly, waiting for a scratch or a pet, chewing their cud. The high winds we've had recently blew every leaf off the raspberry canes and they became bare overnight, much to the chicken's disappointment!! Wooly Bear delightedly munched on his first pumpkin of the season. A terrible thing happened on Wheely Wooly Farm this year. In all the busyness of spring, lambs, new garden, travel, and yarn, I didn't get my pumpkin seed in!!!! Disaster! I feel like I've let my sheep down!!!!!! I've been dreading how I would break the news to Wooly Bear all summer....really....I'm serious. What was I gonna do? He loves those pumpkins so much.

So I bought (gaspppp!) one pumpkin to use for display. I figured I'd give Wooly at least one pumpkin, even if I had to pay (gaspppp) for it. It softened early on the top near the stem, so he got that one this afternoon....what a delight! The sound of the pumpkin hitting the ground made his eyes open wide with pure happiness! He is such a great ram! We really enjoy having him around! I worried though...would he let his ram lambs have some? He did! :) No hits:) Life is good. Today, a neighbor said the sheep could have their leftover pumpkin bounty. It's a GREAT day!

So we have been soooooooo busy therefore, I have no pictures for you! Soon I'll try to put up Wooly Bear enjoying his pumpkin last case you missed it. It's become a farm favorite photo. (understatement.)

So the wheel is turning and the needles are klicking A LOT...yet in all my tiredness, I cannot keep my eyes off anything to do with spinning and knitting. I finally found a copy of Mary Thomas's book...on my list for some time now but I never got around to getting myself a copy until now. Excellent writings about Shetland sheep! Long and fine! Wavy! Soft! Yep! That's my sheep! :) Excellent writings about knitting and garment construction! This author is quoted so often by excellent knitwear designers as THE book of knowledge that changed their knitting lives from ho-hum to really mastering the techniques. What a great book! What a joy to read! Especially the part about Shetland children learning to knit, and learning the rhythm of knitting 200-ish stitches per minute! She writes about mechanization of knitting and garment making...and the strongholds of the handspinning/handknitting peoples of the Shetland Islands, and the long, wavy, soft, fine fiber they protected fiercely from machinery. So sad that battle is still being fought today. The sheep are in good hands on our farm! We will stick with the historical writings for that is the fiber I most love to spin/knit/ and wear. They won the battle, for today, I have descendents of those lovely long-fleeced, soft and wavy sheep. I plan on carrying on their work and passing it forward, for the sheep are so worthy and exceptional!.

If you haven't read it yet, get a copy! FUNNNNN! The artist's illustrations are worth it alone...especially skein winding...pre-flood!

Gotta go...will be back soon with photos I hope!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Resisting the urge to...

Guess what knitters! Someone from out of our state donated a whoooooollllle stack of great knitting magazines to my local library! What a great use for them! So of course, upon stumbling over them, I immediately wanted to swoop all of them up and take them home!! No, no, no. I didn't ! But I wanted to!

So I closed my eyes and peeled one out from the pile to bring home. I kindly left the rest for the next giddy knitter to discover. Then, on my way home, I almost found myself wishing for snowy, blowy weather! How cozy it would be to jump under a poofy quilt near a fire, feet up and snug in warm Shetland socks, and read away...dreaming of expanding my knitting skills. No worries! No work! No hungry animals! Ahhhh.......

Ok, I can resist the urge! I do get to glance at the magazine here and there...maybe eye candy of a pretty ad, or a few snippets of words to read before the phone rings, or something on the stove needs me, or I have to be somewhere, or more apples need to be picked, or , or, or...

So if you'd really like to make someone's day, and you have piles of old knitting magazines cluttering up the space you have for new ones, consider donating them to your local library!
Shetland Lock

Shetland sheep are so much fun! Here is a picture of a lock from wool I'm spinning today. It's from a mature ewe (not the grey fleece I blogged about earlier). Notice how the color changes from white to grey...a beautiful soft grey. The change is very sudden. The whole fleece does not have this in the fiber, just one area where there must have been spotting. Color changes like this make such beautiful yarn! So I saved out the grey areas and will spin that separate to create a coordinating yarn that will complement the ligher yarns from the rest of the fleece beautifully. Always fun with Shetlands!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Opinions

Yea to Carole Precious!!!!!!!!!! I quote from our NASSA News p. 19 Fall-Oct. 2010 "To suggest that less of an effort was made to conform to a standard because of their rarity is completely wrong". Boy!! This rumor (about early breeders acting selfishly) has been spread, and spread, and spread around here in the midwest, and it ALWAYS drives me nuts! I believe the humans involved in the early days of the Shetland being on North American soil acted with outstanding care and regard (and we have much evidence to prove I'm thinking correctly!!). If they hadn't, I WOULDN'T HAVE HAD THIS OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE MY LIFE TODAY! These sheep are lovely, and we have them because of people like Carole! Thank you Carole!

Now on to my opinion! :) I will never again bring AI genetics onto my farm. Feel free to ask me why. I will never use modern technology such as microning to make breeding decisions on my ancient sheep. My hands are the best technology on the planet for the job of assessing fleece. I will never breed a sheep without first spinning and knitting, and wearing it's wool to be sure I fully understand it's characteristics. This will ensure I am making sound judgments in breeding. Since I only breed in the second season, this is not only easy, but pleasant!

Speaking of AI genetics, and our new little change of staple length being cut short...I believe all the rams in the breed database from the original import deserve protection from these onslaughts of change. The original import rams carried different genetics that are worthy of protection and distinction than the genetics of "short". I will be formally proposing sometime soon that if the Appendix A changes must stick, I will insist on a special designation for new lambs born under the "short" criteria...for they will be very different from the older rams in our database. I think it's only fair that prospective buyers of lambs know they would not be buying lambs from those coveted rams in the database from the Dailley descendents. For example, if a prospective Shetland buyer sees "Ole Blue's" picture on the July 2010 newsletter and likes it, then goes out to buy lambs from a "short" breeder, there is a real disparity here...Ole Blue (Z2408) has excellent, bright Shetland character, beautiful horns, bright eyes and a beautiful nose. His fleece looks lovely! That is NOT what you'd get if you bought lambs today from some breeders. I believe this disparity requires review. The old rams in our database deserve recognition and honor, so that people who want Shetlands like that today can find the right bloodlines.

I will always marvel at the skills European knitters developed. I could only hope that someday I'll be up to par with them! Each and every day is a step closer to gaining some form of true competence in spinning and knitting. It's a lifelong process of awareness and creativity. I love it!

So back to Carole's quote: it is my opinion that NASSA has a severe problem that is going to need addressing...which is the misleading of new shepherds in just the last few years away from the early breeders into a shorter fibered, differently conformed animal, with a different expression. These new breeders are just now realizing truth has been lacking and that yes, Shetlands have always been long fibered, drapey, soft and bright. What a mess! It's going to take time to heal from this one.

Wheely Wooly Farm is so happy to share the Shetland breed! We will work diligently to maintain the historical, genuine Shetland sheep, and the genuine, Shetland fiber qualities that bring amazing yarns and garments, no matter the outcome of the current political landscape! So don't forget to vote, then start knitting!

PS...if no campaigning is allowed on our breed organization's chat site...then why has a candidate been allowed to write a long letter strongly arguing for his side (campaigning), and being allowed to post without his name or flock number??? I'm confident the moderator knows him. :) Huh.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Ok, how fast can I type this and get back to what I was doing? Quick Swifty update! That's our little Border Collie puppy, who is already six months old. He is deeeeelightfullllllll! Many decisions have been made about him (with deep thought) that are all a little scary, but he is proving to be capable of handling each and every one. He is now on the's not spring yet! Yep! He's on the sheep! This has taken much thinking on my part but I decided to let the chaos begin for a couple of reasons:
1. I have really nice sheep, whom I've tamed and befriended. They are trained to move out each morning, and move back in each night, with a human border collie and...
2. He has learned and shown respect for stock that might want to turn on him. He was bonked by polite stock that just sort of gave him the idea, without any umph in it...I couldn't have hoped for better. That taught him everything he needs to know to respect the animals and get out of the way if necessary. He even practiced how close he could get, and how fast he could tuck tail and get away. He shows great respect, yet he's aware he needs to keep an eye out. I've only let him around with ewes...he has zero access to rams for safety. My rams are so personable, I don't think I'd ever need a dog for them unless they prance off to the nearby town....HA! I'll probably be eating my words in a few weeks...

oh yeah, and 3. he has never come even close to sinking teeth into wool to date! If he ever does, playtime time! Border collie goes to kennel for boring time. He has also never sunk teeth into chickens or ducks, although he has now figured out how to circle around them and make them move just in his running around in innocence. This brings an immediate "Swifty! That'll do!! He comes off the birds excellently, tail wagging! GOOD BOY!!!!!!!!!
He has already learned the commands of away and come-by, and can be headed in that correct direction to snatch a toy out of the air lickety split! He is learning sit (this is a tough one for him!!!...usually results in rolling, thrashing, tongue to side, stand, leap, sit, rollover, thumpthump sit, rolloverthumpthump, leap, oh yeah....I get it! Sit!) The split second he gets it, he's verbally praised, and tail goes thump, thump loudly! My first Border Collie, Shimmer, could hit the deck so fast, she cracked up everyone who visited...I'd say "dog break!" and she'd fall flat chin and all, tail swishing. I think Swifty will be just as good at it as she was. That comes later, though. He is GREAT! And I LOVE to watch him creep up on know!...tall rustling grasses, Queen Anne's Lace dancing in the breeze, butterflies, frogs, sheep, crickets in the barn aisle, hula hoops, and such....!

He's also learning stay. This takes enormous practice but we expect full response to this command each and every time on one command. And he's learned how to swim, fetch a stick in water (I have to admit with total shock and surprise...I miss wet dog smell in my vehicle! Life is just not right...all's not well without a wet dog!!), and go along on a variety of car rides as we run errands. He no longer barks at dumpsters or fire hydrants, and he can be trusted alone in the car for a good 15-20 minutes. He'll run right into his kennel on command "kennel!". GOOD BOY!!! When he's in the kennel and it's time to go out after rest, he has a wonderful yodel! He loves hula hoops, bubbles, kids, and his farm. He's always around, with you but not under foot as you work outside or do chores. And...drum roll....he has already saved the day with the sheep....more than once! One day, the sheep missed the gate on the way out...daily routine! They love to pretend they didn't see it so that they can play around a bit. Then, Swifty just happened to do a run out! Around to the west he went, swung wide (while my eyes were wide open and my lungs not working...visions of gonegonegone sheep in my head!), got behind and turned the sheep to the east (no no!! we want south!) then I gave him a whistle, he swung around, got the sheep going south, and they realized game time was over, so the whole flock made a straight line for the gate, ran in, and acted like nothing was wrong...with Swifty behind them several dozens of feet with the expression on his face, "ok...oh I see how this works!! This is cool!!!" Then he positioned himself where he though he'd be needed next! WOW!!!! We were ALL rolling on the ground in happiness after that one!
Another day, Gwennie veered off sharply, in full prance in good fun. Swifty on the job!!!!!! He swung wide and ran up the lane...she oh so quickly veered back into the flock! GOOD BOY!!!!!!! Then one night, Honey decided to run past the gate going in for the night...Swifty on the job!!!!!!! He swung around, gained amazing speed, and cut her off nearly 25 feet from her! She changed her mind, cut around and pranced into the gate...all fine and happy! GOOD BOY!!!!!!!!

Ok, this is FUN!!!!!!!!!!! (we won't mention the roving Swifty found one day, next to his pen...gleeful Border Collie and soft roving....or the addition of teeth marks beyond what our collie, Rollie, did to the table my great grandfather hand crafted....did I mention compost piles??) Amazing things have happened! The sheep are relaxed around him, even Lil' Rainbow, who tried to butt our cat when she first came here! All of the sheep respect Swifty, and he has figured out he makes them move just by running behind them, or swinging out around them dozens of feet away. He paces himself naturally, and is half crouched sometimes. When he's done with his sheep work, time to run in the hula hoop again! Then nap time, where he sleeps completely upside down, paws straight up in the air, dreaming of catching more overgrown cucumbers out of the air as they are sailing from garden to compost heap! is sooo good on a farm!

Meanwhile, we'll be putting our breeding groups together soon, early November. Wheely Wooly Lerwick will be getting some ewes. I can't WAIT to see what he produces! He has an amazing temperment, very soft, fine fleece, and just the conformation the standard asks for, plus, he is very twinkly bright in expression with outstanding horns. I hope he'll pass all of that on to his offspring!

Well I guess that wasn't quick!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No campaigning???

I have been SOOOOOO busy lately! I have many photos and updates to bring you! Our weather has been incredibly nice, the sheep have been so much fun, and I'm spinning like crazy! I'll update later.

In the campaigning?? Our breed organization does not allow for Board candidates to campaign on the organization's website?? So if they can't "talk" there, where CAN they "talk"??

Just think...if they have to answer questions on the official breed website, their big secret might get out!!

Don't forget to vote! After you do that, it's time to knit! The cool weather is around the corner and the warmth of wool is so wonderful in your hands! Time to get ready with those luxurious Shetland socks, mittens, hats, scarves, sweaters, and halfmitts! Hey wait...the garments you want to wear, and the sheep you raise are connected! If you want soft, durable clothes that don't wear out in a few weeks, select the candidates who aren't changing the breed to short wool.