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.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

All's quiet on the Swifty Front

Lil' Swifty is settling down so nice now, since he had his "quiet" restriction lifted after being neutered. Can you believe....I ACTUALLY crocheted, with a coffee cup nearby, while he was OUT of his kennel?!? Read big smile! I love this dog!

So now that he can be outside and off the leash with us again, he is getting lots of snowy playtime. We've done some good leash training, too. Seems he's forgotten some important things in those long two weeks, such as no jumping on people! In his happy puppy exuberance, he can knock you right over! So WAIT A MINUTE! Training time!!!!! I'm confident we can fix this...with repetition....a lot....

In the house, he's being worked on the leash to sit, stay while I walk away, how to sit pretty, how to lie down properly for work, how to walk up on command. Work! He's so smart, but his natural exuberance nearly gets the best of him every time. But patience brings him around and soon, he is doing what you wish with a very sweet look on his face. He's gonna be a nice dog! Meanwhile, if you don't give him something to do out in the barn, he'll fill in for you! Even if there is no animal to "herd", he'll go to work. One quiet morning, he was in the pole shed and it was very quiet in there. That's where the sheep, chickens and ducks are. Humm....quiet border collies are not good things! So I peeked around the corner without calling him and guess what he was doing! Running back and forth, stopping, circling, and creeping up on ghost sheep! Yep! There were NO sheep out, yet he was "working", with the happiest look on his face!! A memorable moment for sure! Silly boy!

On a different subject, iset fibers in Shetland sheep (black with grey and white fibers mixed in on body only, giving a blue-ish hue from a distance...different from shaela or emsket or gray fleeces) are very beautiful and unique! I was really hoping to get that hue in my yarn! I have not spun a whole lot of iset, for it is hard to find. Many people want it and can't get it. Some think it's dominant. I disagree! Dominance only comes when certain lines get bred over and over, making a color appear dominant (This is NOT the technical version! :). Truth is, Shetlands are full of diversity and if you breed properly, iset will not take over your farm (unless you want it too!) Even though Lil' Rainbow's fleece takes on that lovely blue-ish hue on hoof, her yarn spins up as black slightly speckled with white...a testimony to the fact that she has extensive black soft, fine, long, dense undercoat, and that undercoat rules the yarn. The yarn takes on the characteristics of that lovely undercoat. I like to joke that it's my "Border Collie Yarn". :) Fun! Here at Wheely Wooly Farm, we are VERY interested in the diversity the Shetland sheep have to offer, and enjoy utilizing all the colors. What a shame it would be to discriminate against genuine fiber or color, as long as it's "soft and fine, longish and wavy". In some places in the world, Shetlands are only allowed to be white. Other farms keep moorits only. If that works for some farms, great! But that's not me. I LOVE the colors of Shetlands and would miss not having any of them! As stewards of this awesome breed, we must be VERY careful to not believe politically charged "education" so as to not fall prey to the narrowing of the breed and all it's beauty.

We hope all of you are having a happy and joyful holiday break!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More on Lil' Rainbow

Dear, dear Michelle...sigh! Let's look at what deformity means for a minute. I would consider a jaw deformity to be a structural problem in a sheep that prevents it from living a normal, fair, and thrifty life; free of ongoing extra care. For example, last spring, meat lambs were born just down the road from me with NO lower jaws. I would call that a deformity. Unable to nurse, they were not able to live a normal, fair, or thrifty life. Teeth that are off pad are just that; certainly not a jaw deformity. Lil' Rainbow's jaws are completely normal, as is her face and head. She tears grass, chews cud, and snorkels hay just like all the rest. In fact, the shepherd who owned her before me is well respected in agricultural circles, has an advanced education from an outstanding, world-influencing agricultural university, and knows sheep better than most. That shepherd also chose to breed this ewe. After easily shearing her, spinning her beautiful fleece, and wearing the resulting garment, I have chosen to breed her, too. That is a change of mind for I originally thought I wouldn't. Wheely Wooly Lerwick was the lucky ram.

Our breed standard protects us from deformities by disqualifying stock who birth lambs with no lower jaws or misshapen, severe underbites as also sometimes happens. I cannot speak for other breeds, but apparently, that is not a priority outside Shetlands. I have not heard of a Shetland sheep being born with a jaw deformity and I've talked at length with many Shetland shepherds over a period of years now, but I hear of it every spring, every year from commercial breeders. If it has happened in the Shetland breed, it's rare. Teeth off pad in a thrifty ewe would be a loss of points in the show would legs not nicely straight, or ears a bit too high. In fact, in some breeds of animals, the toothy smile is considered an endearing trait...such as in llamas and some breeds of dogs; not a deformity.

This ewe has never required deworming in my one and a half years of care, nor has she ever been inflicted with any kind of health issue. She manages her parasite load on her own and has the cleanest health record of all the ewes in my flock. A healthy, thrifty older ewe who is in excellent condition on grass in summer and hay in winter is not "deformed". But I know you know that.

So if you take out your handy NASSA Handbook and turn to the last page, you will see the 1927 Breed Standard. Near the bottom, it says 'Disqualifications' which are: broad heavy tail, coarse and open bad wool, very coarse wool on britches, deformities of jaws, undersized animals, defective colors, and badly shaped animals as sires. Boy! I've seen all of that in our local show ring!! Especially badly shaped sires! I've seen terrible tails, uncharacteristic wool that more resembles other breeds, severe under bite (once), broken down beefy bones, very weak backs, massive heads, tiny adult ewes, and fatal horns...all in the ring. But I've never seen Lil' Rainbow there (giggle, giggle). I've never taken her. I personally would be much more leary of purchasing lambs from a breeder who uses a ram for a season or two, then "gets rid of him" because he's "mean". Mean?? That can be a far worse consequence in the breed than a sweet ewe with a glowing, toothy smile!!

Lil' Rainbow is an excellent specimen of the breed with her outstanding fleece, sweet temperament, strong mothering instinct and thriftiness with excellent conformation and size...and nice tail, too. She is very easy to care for, which the genuine Shetlands have earned a reputation for, and she contentedly lives behind a three foot fence (well...except for the day she tried to steal Gwennie's lamb for herself in her despair at losing her own lamb the year before.) Her one fault is that silly, toothy smile. It's not desirable, but every sheep has a fault or two. But I know you know that, too. :) And thanks for the compliments on the socks. I hope you are enjoying sock making, too!

Meanwhile, I hope all is well with our Shetland friends in California and up the coast! Gettin' a bit o' Shetland weather there I see!

Speaking of the Shetland Islands...they are in a lot of darkness now! I don't know how they do it up there with no sunlight! I admire you Shetlanders, for sticking out the darkness and faring well! We are currently getting about 10 hours of daylight.

So everybody... guess what today is? Swifty is restriction free! It's a GREAT day! He is currently tearing around the house like a wild banshee........

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lil' Rainbow's Socks

Well, here they are! Lil' Rainbow's socks, that I've been waiting for since I bought her summer of '09. Lil' Rainbow is a very sweet ewe with excellent conformation; except for her toothy smile! She has a black head, black legs, and a "ghostly" fleece covering her body. Her fiber is black, with grays and whites mixed in, giving it a blue-ish hue from a distance that is remarkably cool to look at! She adds a lot of color to our flock, and stands out as a visitor favorite, for nearly no one has seen such remarkable color in local, commercial sheep! Actually, she brings gasps, people are so surprised. The Shetland word used to describe her color is actually a Norse word: iset. The colorful Shetland sheep are mostly given color description names that root out of the Norwegian language, for many of the people on the Shetland Islands stretch back to family ties in Norway. My guess (this is just a personal guess!) is that the sheep have such ancestry as well.

Anyway, Lil' Rainbow has this remarkable color to her fleece that would look so nice with jeans! So I couldn't WAIT to shear her and begin spinning!
Lil' Rainbow's Sock with crocheted flower

Below is a photo of her the day after she arrived on our farm. She was a purely spontaneous purchase from a shepherd looking to move into other breeds of sheep. (named after the rainbow we enjoyed the day we bought her, and for the line she's out of) She is perfect size, had been well cared for and was very healthy! She has been the "cleanest" acquisition to our farm we've ever had. She also came with some emotional sadness, for she had lost her little lamb the prior spring. Despite her toothy smile, we bred her to Wheely Wooly Lerwick in hopes of twins from her next spring. I didn't think I''d ever breed her because of that smile, but her fleece convinced me to change my mind! She is also VERY hardy, cheap to feed, and very sweet. She passes all of our picky criteria, EXCEPT that SMILE! :) Notice her perfectly straight topline! I like!
Lil' Rainbow recently sheared; summer of 2009

In the above photo, she was wearing a bell, just in case she jumped the fence and took off. Bells...handy things!!
Lil' Rainbow in full fleece; spring of 2010

By the time spring rolled around, I was drooling with anticipation! She has the classic "soft, fine textured, longish and wavy" fleece our breed standard requires us to maintain. Her fleece draped to her knees and was about 5 1/2 inches long all together, with neck wool slightly shorter, britch being slightly longer.
Close-up of Lil' Rainbow's midside fiber on the hoof

Her fiber has coarser ends, giving her remarkable hardiness. Her fleece sheds water like a duck! Underneath is extremely fine, black softness that makes you pause with surprise! It has very light handle and is very responsive yarn! FUN!!!! I sheared her myself, then washed the fleece. It barely had time to dry before I was spinning it! The skeins I didn't keep for myself all quickly sold in summer. I only have enough for myself to make socks, but I have it!

So while I was working on these socks, Swifty was getting more things to do. Pretty soon, our psychotic Border Collie was getting back to normal and things were calming down around here!

Good boy, Swifty!

I couldn't WAIT to try the socks on! I love to knit in the round on double-pointed needles! It is very relaxing and easy. Here, I just have to close up the toe with the kitchener stitch....very easy once you get the swing of it.

I absolutely LOVE the color dynamic! These are no ordinary, plain socks! Yet they are not the dizzying colors we are all enjoying lately, either! The color is bright, yet subtle; harmonious, peaceful. I like that! It will also never fade, bleed, or wash out...meaning the color will look nice for a very, very long time! I like that, too!

I'm thinking of crocheting a pretty edge along the top of the cuff just for fun. We'll see! The crocheted flower (from our Shetland ewe Iris) is my exclusive design created right here on Wheely Wooly Farm! They make such wonderful accent pieces, add a very nice touch, and are very popular! Iris's flowers have whitish yarn with grey undertones, perfect for harmonious matching with iset fibers! Have I mentioned how much I love Shetland sheep and their fiber????Now it's your turn! A knit-along has been suggested, but I've never done anything like that! And I don't think I'd be much help knitting socks on circulars. I LOVE circular needles and use them a lot, but I knit my socks on wooden doublepoints. Any suggestions on how to get a knit-along going?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

We are only five days away from being restriction-free with Swifty!!! Woohoo!! Keeping him from jumping or just being his natural exuberant self has been a real challenge! I love his natural exuberance and miss him flying around outside around me as I work. We have really developed his "radar", so he is continuously tuned in to me seeking direction or guidance. Meanwhile, he is always doing his work, as he thinks he should be doing it. He moves the ducks from point A to point B, he stands guard by the gate, and he "holds" the pile of footballs and sticks he's rounded up, as if they were sheep he needs to keep in one spot. All the while, he's looking at me and moving his ears, waiting for the next command! Our goal over the next few months is to turn that radar into predictable movements on command. We'll see if that works! :)

In the meantime, one very effective way to hold a Border Collie still is the trick of holding the ball like you're just about to fling it. This worked great with Shimmer (my last stock dog) when my arm was tired of flinging stuff. That keeps him still for quite awhile! Below, you see a dog poised to go like a loaded spring! He is so fast, sometimes he catches the ball in his mouth before he realizes it, and looks around for it briefly, then realizes it's IN his mouth!! Funny boy!
Like a loaded spring, ready to catch the ball!

Then comes the "big lean", where he leans way over his center of gravity, in anticipation of the chase. The more intense it becomes, the higher his tail goes and the bigger around his eyes get. Sometimes his whiskers twitch in the intensity of it! Here, we are just getting started in the "big lean". While he is doing this, he is frozen still...for however long it takes. That's what I love about Border Collies! They take their jobs so seriously and they are the masters of concentration! They make great examples to my human students on how to tune things out and concentrate.
So after his Border Collie therapy session on the sofa, there aren't many pillows left ON the sofa!'s a tip if you are young, buying furniture, and love dogs and kids. NEVER buy a sofa with loose pillows!!!!!!!!! You will spent the rest of your life picking up those pillows and straightening them....everyday....all matter what! WHAT was I THINKING when I bought that sofa?!? (giggle, giggle) Sigh........

Notice Swifty's ears in the above picture? Shimmer went through this phase when she was this age as a pup. I call it the "flying nun" phase! See how his ears are nearly straight out and seemingly weightless? So cute! Such a puppy look!

Eventually, he settles down. Confession. Keeping him off the sofa......just doesn't work! Why? Me. I was thinking about that last night. Poor Rollie and Simon (our Collie and Sheltie) were never allowed on this sofa. It saddened them, but they accepted it. Here now is Swifty, and he thinks the sofa is just for him! Makes for some emotions. What am I doing?? I let him go up there and I'm not sure why.

On to another thing...does anyone out there know who made these tracks in the snow?? Creeps me out! They were big, with the foot toe-ed in. There are no body drag marks in between the footsteps so whatever made the tracks was tall enough to walk through a few inches of snow without dragging quills or fur. There are no tail drag marks, either. Hummm..... and they led to a brush pile where there is a nice door that faces the south, protected from the wind. They lead to the apple trees and back to the brush pile. Even though the tracks are freshly made here, it had sleeted just enough of little round balls to cover the toe marks, so we could not see how many toes or if there are claw marks. Does anyone out there recognize who made these tracks??Creepy mystery tracks

On to the last topic...last night I nearly finished my pair of Lil'Rainbow socks! Exciting! In my next blog, I'll put up a picture of her again and the socks! I can't believe it's been a whole year since my last sock blogs!! Those of you who know me, know I'm absolutely nuts about Shetland socks! I've had them (socks from other sheep) on my feet everyday now for quite some time and oh how soft and warm they are!! My current socks are from Iris, Gwendolyn, and Sweetie. If you haven't learned how to knit Shetland socks yet, ya gotta get started, for you're missing out on a very wonderful sheep pleasure!! Stay tuned!

PS...owls are hooting a lot, and calling back and forth! So relaxing at night to hear them all around!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bound Border Collie; in blizzard!!

Well let's see....the rams are doing great. The beginning tusseling was about it. They've been very well behaved since...let's hope that continues! Then along came the massive storm that has affected so much of the midwest. Deep drifts are everywhere! The wind howled, the snow was heavy with mixed sleet and freezing rain coming down at times in between the heavy snows. We canceled all our plans, like everyone else, and stayed home. The house has been very cozy and the food good...warm apple cider after chores and scrumptious soups made from our garden produce. First I made chili with tomatoes that tasted fresh picked, then a kettle of potato vegetable chowder from those remarkable home-grown potatoes! And let's not forget the Chex Mix! House smells soooo good while that is baking!

Now Swifty (that's our seven month old Border Collie puppy) has been another story! You see, last Tuesday, he had his surgery. The big surgery. You know. So anyhoo, the vet sent me home with STRICT instructions to keep him....shall we say....that word that doesn't exist in a Border Collie's vocabulary....QUIET!! Ha!.....Ha!!!! Right! We'll keep him quiet! HaHa! OK! How many sticks can I find in a blizzard?!? Our strict instructions said no jumping. HOW am I gonna do that??

So that means Swifty was not allowed to leap, or tear up stairs, or drift-dive, or sail off drift crests, or tear around the barn, or chase stickshoolahoopsducksfootballssheeptennisballschickenstugtoysicecubessnowflakes or children on sleds! Oh no! How on earth was I going to entertain him?? He's stuck on the leash, cannot jump up, cannot go on the furniture, or up stairs, or chase anything because of his natural exhuberance! Terrible! So we slid his kennel into the living room; right under the christmas tree. Then, we tried to console him. We brought in sticks for him to chew up. They each lasted only about ten extremely delighted minutes. We gave him a ball to chase around inside the kennel. We threw tiny treats in through the gate so he'd have to sniff around and find them. Anything we could think of to keep him "quiet" and thinking. Sometimes he'd bark or bite on the kennel, or put his paws on the door with pleading glances to pleeeaaassseeee let him out! I started wondering if he needed a trip to the psychologist's couch. I think he was actually starting to think I didn't love him. Usually however, he rolled himself over with paws stuck straight up in the air, and went to sleep. How sad!! Not fair!! I was sooooo looking forward to drift-diving happy days! I guess we'll have to wait. :( Meanwhile, he's only been leash walked....which of course meant a trip to the store for a chain collar! Nothin' like being yanked off your feet by a bored, psychotic Border Collie!!! So while the wind and snow was raging outside, I was inside, feeling mournful that I wasn't outside watching Swifty surf the drifts! (Maybe I'm the one that needs to be on the psychologist's couch!)

Swifty; on the psychologist's couch...just happy to BE ON the couch!

So in our lonely treks out to the barn...without Swifty Pal, we managed to get all the animals snug as bugs in rugs. We fared well during this blizzard, and hope our sheepy friends have all done so as well! Our snow tally was 12.3 inches, but to the west, the tally was much higher. Hope everyone came through ok!

Friday, December 10, 2010

In like a lamb; out like a ram

Breeding season here on Wheely Wooly Farm is now over. Yesterday, I gathered up all the rams and wethers into a tight pen. Two snowy snowstorms have been predicted; one for last night, and one coming Saturday. It's good to have them in and easier to care for. No more outside water buckets! Yippee!!

We set up a small square pen in our pole building, away from the girls. Then pair by pair, I took the boys out of their pastures and brought them in. They were delighted! Wilbur and Pumpkin came first. Then Cosmo and Wink...brothers. Then Lerwick, who was not sure he wanted to be separated from his girls, and then finally, the King of the Hill, Wooly Bear. The square pen gives them just enough room to move about, but no back up space or charge space. With the six of them in there, it was a little like bumper cars for awhile! They hit each other whichever way they could swing their horns or rub or bump or try to charge a short charge. Then they figured out that if two or three of them stood still in the center, the rest could racetrack around them! So around and around and around they went...taking turns as if tagging one another with a whack or rub...until tongues hung out and sides heaved. I sat on the hay and watched for awhile, to make sure all was not too "heavy-horned", while Snowy twirled around, waved his tail under my chin and nudged my mittens for pets. Then, I went in the house for a cup of coffee, pretending like I wasn't worried.

Now of course, worry is worthy, for bringing rams back together can mean injuries, farm remodeling, and chaos. They may be small, but they can really whack stuff! Here is a real test of the temperments I've been nuturing, with reved up hormones! I am always kind to my rams, showing them I'll take good care of them, but they are always strickly treated as rams. I never use horns as handlebars, even briefly, unless it's a dire emergency, even then only briefly if no other choice is safe. I always encourage heads up...thank you Marybeth for that most EXCELLENT advice! I have seen many times that rams who have their horns grabbed by a human will drop their heads, which is exactly what you DON'T want! I have also halter trained all of my rams and wethers...just makes life sooooooo much easier! Moving them is a cinch. They come running to the fence at the sound of my voice...with the exception of Wilbur who is usually wearing the fence...or climbing the fence in his usual puppydog way....I slip the halter on, taking time to get it around horns with a big loop and a quick tighten up on the left cheek. Wilbur is especially easy, for he'll come right at your level for you and stick his nose right in the halter (giggle, giggle). So moving them was really easy, that is, until we came to Wooly Bear! Turns out, his fencing was frozen in the ground and I forgot about that! OOPS! Now what?? We pondered and hemmed and hawed. What were we going to do? He let me try to lift him. I couldn't. We tried stuffing him under. Didn't work. we REALLLY want to take him over the top??? Do we really want to teach him to go right over??? No choice. So we stepped the fence down and hoped he'd trust me to follow me over what usually would give him a very unpleasant experience. He followed me over with only slight hesitation! What a good guy!! I love this ram! Problem solved.

So anyhoo, I'm in the house for some time, enjoying some acid reflux, when I decide it's time to check on the boys. I was worried. What if they break their fence? Will I find someone bleeding? Did anyone jump out? As I walked out to the barn, I listened for loose ram noises. Humm. All's quiet. Not a sound. Ok, so I open the door and walk around the corner and I saw NOTHING! WHERE are the boys???? As I gulped and walked closer, I began to CRACK UP! They were all laying down in evenly spaced out increments, against the fence...... sleeping!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok! I wasn't expecting THAT!!!!! It was a good day!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Backing up a bit...

It's a cold winter's night here on Wheely Wooly Farm! The chickens are tucked in the coop with their heat lamp while the stars are shining brightly in the deep, cold sky. Snow is headed our way sometime in the night. Wooly Bear is still with his group outside, not ready to end his three weeks of purpose. It has not been the nicest weather for romancing this year. We've had a lot of rain, sleet, snow, wind, and just general unpleasantness in the air much of Wooly Bear's girl time. Each day, we carry lots of frozen water buckets to hard ground, let them fall with a smash to break out the huge "cube", then make the mulitple treks to the hydrant for more fresh water. Truly a labor of love! They are always thankful, though, and often take a nice drink when you step back to observe how everybody is doing. Sophie (below) knows where the best place to be is!
Who's wool this time, Sophie?

So while we snuggle in the warm house, getting warm, warming up, thawing, before the next cold round of bucket smashing, I thought I'd back up a bit for our newer customers. Below is a quick picture of some of our 2010 lambs and ewes. We have achieved a wonderful range of colors within our flock, ranging from black through several lighter shades to white. You will notice the absence of spots in our flock. We love spotted lambs for they are really cute! However, for yarn making, I really like working with fading genetics, which used to be more common. Now, both spots and fading are pretty common. It's nice to have the range of fun.
2010 lambs and ewes

Below is some Shetland wool I spun this spring, which is all sold out. Several ewes have now sold out, in fact. I love this sample because it shows the lovely color changes you can get in a younger, fading fleece. The tips were honey brown, the middle was a lovely dove grey, and the cut ends are a creamy white. This color range makes for lovely yarn!
Shetland wool- notice the color ranges during fading

Next comes some knitted garments some of you have already seen. Below is a pair of half-mitts I designed, using Miss Mona's wool. She has a lovely black fiber that is beautiful paired with purply- blue shades (which is a synthetic accent yarn I happened to have a whole cone of). I wear them a lot! They are three years old now. I should take a picture of what they look like now! I've noticed that with Shetland wool garments, wear enhances the appeal, making the wool bloom and look more appealing, and feel even softer. Sure isn't that way for non-wool garments!!

Miss Mona's Half Mitts knitted three years ago

Next comes the hooded scarf. This is older than the half mitts, and is a staple in my cold weather wardrobe I could no longer live happily without! It gets worn a lot!! It was a challenge for me to knit at the time because you start it by casting on 371 stitches on a 28" circular needle. Getting that magic number right....371....took me a lot of work, because I had lots of distractions at the time! I'll never forget it. The fiber was provided by a Sheepy Hollow ewe, and is soft and cozy today, showing virtually no wear; just added bloom and appeal! I LOVE Shetland wool!

Hooded Scarf knitted years ago with fiber from a Sheepy Hollow ewe

Shetland wool and the knitted garments we've made with them have turned out to be a good deal! They are pretty, comfortable, fun to knit/crochet, cozy warm, and they don't wear out! The projects I have laid out for this winter are very exciting! I'll keep you updated as I get them going!

In the meantime, I was fascinated by the two page spread in Spin-Off Magazine regarding Beatrix Potter's interest in sheep. Who knew?!? So that lead to good snippets of reading and research into the breed of sheep she loved. Fun!! Great way to pass the time in between daily responsibilities and frozen water buckets! Also, Swifty goes in for his big snip surgery next Tuesday. He weighs 42 pounds! Perfect! I am so happy with this little dog! He's my barn buddy/farm buddy. He goes out with me many times a day for walks (now that hunting season is over), work with the sheep, and for bucket smashing. His favorite part? Doggie ice cubes! It doesn't take much to entertain a Border Collie puppy!