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, December 22, 2011
My Swifty Boy!
Swifty is a working Border Collie who is about 1 1/2 years old. He's being trained to work a small flock of Shetland sheep. First, we learned house manners, how to travel, how to get along on a farm, and how to play doggie games.
Good Boy Swifty!
Slowly, very slowly, we've introduced him to our ewe flock. The first thing he did was shoot right past the girls and get on the other side of them from me! Ok! We were off to a great start! Then he learned to respond to whistles outside the sheep pen, then in. He was required to have a good "that'll do!" before I'd let him loose with the ewes. After succeeding with that, I let him help me run the sheep in from pasture at sunset. I'd have to let the sheep go ahead quite a ways because he'd outrun them easily and get ahead of them. Oops! My fault! So we worked on pushing sheep through the gate and holding there, so sheep don't run back out the gate before someone could close it. Ok, so far we're doin' ok.
Next came the waits. Puppies don't have very good waits...especially energetic, bright puppies like Swifty! His first waits were nearly intolerable to him! He'd throw himself on the ground and roll around!!!!!!!!! He just could not picture himself sitting still for even a second! So through lots of giggles.........and lots of practice and patience, he came to learn he COULD actually sit and wait for first one second, then two, then three.....
As he grew through these stages, we'd go for nice walks around the farm, learning that everything was safe, no, you can't chase chickens, and boy! That tall grass is great puppy fun! We practiced basic commands and sticking close. The leash, once a reassuring hold on a shy little pup, had long since been left in the house. He was strongly functioning on pure whistle and in constant contact.
Then one day, I pretended to throw his flippy (doggie frisbee) and he went tearing off after it, but I still had it in my hand. He ran out, then looked back to see what I was doing, only to see it still in my hand. As he turned and came back, I gave him the walk up command (which he had already learned and practiced), then, when he was half way back, I put my hand up and firmly said WAIT! BAM!!!!!!! Down he went!!!!!!!! What a break through!! I'll never forget that day! He got it, and he has it ALWAYS when outside the sheep pen. So off to the sheep pen we went.
The excitement of the sheep can really screw up a young pup's concentration, so I knew I'd have to give him lots of leniency. He has to concentrate on where all the sheep are, and if any are coming at him, plus where objects and fencing are, what we're doing, and what I'm commanding him to do. Are we going out? Coming in? Goofin' around? So first, I just let him run sheep out. Being a sweep breed (one who goes out to fetch sheep and drive them towards the shepherd), I wasn't sure he'd accomplish the run out. We're still working on that...
Then, we went out to just play around with the sheep...up pasture, down pasture. Mostly, he just ran circles around them at first. We practiced the wait command just to be sure that critical point was still working! And that'll do. Yep. Ok. Doin' good!
Now, we're working on directional commands. Sometimes he has so much fun with those, he forgets to drive the sheep! Hope we can get past that one! So that's were we are in our training right now. Driving with directional commands. Here, you can see he is bringing the sheep to me, and they are at my feet, wondering what they should do next. Swifty stays a nice distance back.
Then, I asked him to wait. He was pretty excited by this time, and I didn't get a nice lay down, but I got the needed wait! (and the sheep held at my feet) While he's not all there yet, and probably won't be for another year, I think he is doing really great for his age!
Every dog learns at a different rate, and through different shepherd styles. What works for Swifty may or may not work for another dog. There are no dead-set rules. The game is as flexible as the number of dogs who play it. We still don't know if he'll be a good stock dog, for he has lots of training to go, but we are sure happy with how he's progressed so far! We hope you enjoyed following Swifty's work here on our farm!
P.S....if you're wondering what he's doing while I'm bloggin', he's completely upside down (paws midair) and sound asleep in his kennel, right next to me. He's too young to snore :)
That's the Swifty Report!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Here is the picture of the yarn I'm making right now. It's from the fiber shown in the last blog. I have a fifth bobbin nearly finished, with enough fiber for at least one more bobbin. I've popped in some Irish music while spinning this. Fun!
And how 'bout that beautiful bread! I definitely take joy in making this bread! I love the whole process, and have been doing it for many, many years. This particular bunch (I make four loaves at a time...but one didn't make it to the picture...)is a recipe I created that I call "Milk and Honey Bread". The honey flavor really comes through in taste...a wonderful depth of flavor that's not overpowering nor too sweet. The milk makes for lovely texture in the crumb and helps the bread freeze well. The honey fragrance is also a very subtle, very pleasant bonus when the bread is baking and filling the house with it's soul-satisfying aroma.
Tomorrow...Swifty! Hope all of you were able to get out and enjoy this outstandingly beautiful December Solstice Day! From here on up, extra daylight minutes! Yippee!!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Here is what the fiber looks like that I blogged about yesterday. It is so relaxing to spin fiber like this! I could do this all day!
Shetland sheep have amazing color dynamics that are very special and nearly impossible to find in any other breed. Beautiful!
Next time, I'll show you what it looks like on the bobbins as a singles yarn. Maybe I'll throw in a picture of the bread that just came out of the oven, too!
Here's to hoping you have time to spin or knit this week! Remember, it can be a great way to collect your thoughts and find focus again amongst all the busyness!
Monday, December 19, 2011
I've never met anyone who didn't like having warm feet on a cold winter's night! Have you ever tried handspun, hand knitted Shetland socks? No? You should! They are absolutely the best! Don't wait any longer...get yourself a nice pair and enjoy the soft, cozy warmth for yourself!
Joy, joy, joy!
Thanks to all who've visited us at the market! We wrapped up our 2011 market sales this last week. It was a busy day, and we sure enjoyed seeing so many of you! We hope all of you enjoy the gifts of the season, and all the great things you make with Shetland yarn! If you have one last person to shop for (even if that's yourself :) or need one more thing, don't hesitate to email us or give us a call!
In the meantime, isn't this weather just GREAT??!? I'm busy spinning wool from a ram back in 2007. I had 'red bagged' it, meaning that I saved it as a sort of 'fiber bank'. Now I can go back and spin what I spun years ago to check how things are progressing in my own flock, making sure I don't deviate from that much. The fiber is remarkably soft and silky for a ram. I love that fellow! I'm planning on using the yarn for a lap blanket in the living room, a basic knit with a ruffly edge on one side to just lay over a lap on a snowy, blowy winter night. This fellow's fiber matches the colors in the room already, on the floor and curtains, so I'm excited to see how it turns out!
Happy knitting everyone!
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Let's see...what was I saying about taking joy? The animals are very good at it, and take joy each and every day. If you spend large amounts of your day with them, it's easy to pick up on that yourself! This horse is Carumba, and she's quite a character! She's a very good horse, and a very easy keeper. She is enormously respectful of the fence...as you can see! She is also mega-talented! (Notice the woven wire ram fence? Never tight, never straight...)
Now I'm not saying Quarter horses aren't. In fact, some can be quite amazing. But after having an Andalusian for a decade, I've learned with awe what this breed is capable of! This girl is TALENTED! She can make her body do things way beyond what any other horse I've seen can do. Never underestimate the talent of an Andalusian!! They are the gymnasts of the equine world. In fact, their talent is put to the ultimate test of military and bull-fighting trials, where the loser faces certain death. To see what the people of Andalusia have created in their marvelous breed is a true joy to experience.
When I see "Bumba" doing her amazing gymnastics, I always have to stop what I'm doing and watch. I can't help but start giggling as I watch her strive for any little blade of grass she can reach. She can do this without ever getting close to the fence, then will sort of stand up, move forward a bit, and go down again. She was taught how to bow as a young filly, so I guess she was smart enough to apply her education to real life skills!
Wheely Wooly Splash
Splash is out of Wheely Wooly Lerwick, and grandson of Wooly Bear
Here's a nice update on what little Splash looks like now. His horns continue to grow perfectly. (Did you read that comment about wider horns vs narrower horns??? What a good laugh that one was!! What will that group come up with next?? I guess if someone wants to believe you have to have bad horns to have good fleece, they can! Maybe it's a way to justify all the bad breeding of rams with bad horns. By the way...if I could afford it, I'd love to buy all the "good horn culls"! giggle,giggle) His nose still has that ever-so-cute splash of white sliding down off the side, as if he got into some ice cream or something! His conformation is nearly outstanding, and his wool is of high value. His face has that highly desirable brightness, with his eyes nearly glowing with happiness and friendliness at times. Friendliness is an understatement for this little fellow! He is a sweetie! All of my ram lambs get handled in a skilled way, to promote interaction, friendliness, and respect. He has never jumped on me, or ever threatened me, and he loves chin scratches. I adore this little guy so much, I couldn't sell him!
Post EDIT several hours later...I was enjoying surfing around Shetland sheep sites and landed once again on www.toprams.com. If you go there, you can see a photo of Island Skeld, the Shetland ram my sheep are descended from. Notice his horns???!!!??? Obviously, they are still coming through on my sheep here in America, and I love them!
Wheely Wooly Farm is committed to raising genuinely high quality stock, including high quality horns, for they are so beautiful when grown in right, and let's face it, soooo much healthier for the sheep who has to wear them everyday! It's a shame that a group would claim bad horns are better!!!!!!
It's not hard to take joy when living out here with hearts like Bumba's and Splash's. Even the hens can be a joy. For example, the other day, I was marveling at the mild weather we've had this month....so mild in fact, that I was able to get out and prune back the raspberry canes. I knew the hens would be upset, and they were....clucking alarm calls with each snip of the pruner. They all gathered around, getting underfoot as I worked, checking out what I was doing and pleading with me to not do that! Eventually, they accepted the disappearance of their beloved raspberry canes, and went on to joyfully scratching in the thawed ground.
Speaking of mild weather, (!) this year has been great so far! The last three years, we've had near or actual blizzards by now, with deep cold. This year, just lots of rain...a record breaker in fact....in some cases as much as 37 inches for the year! I know that will make Shetlanders chuckle! But remember, we live on clay and mud...so lots of rain equates to lots of flooding and mud. ...and speaking of Shetland....did you see that they closed schools last week due to high winds? Now THAT sounds windy!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Almost finished with second sock. :)
From fleece to garment, Shetlands are a fine garment breed! While lacy shawls were well known on the Shetland Islands, the true backbone of the Shetland fiber is clearly work wear. At times, it was known that as many as 1500 ships would harbor over in or near Lerwick's Bressay Sound in summer, waiting for fishing to begin, or to trade for everyday work wear. Sweaters (called jumpers over the pond), and socks (called stockings then) were the desire of many a fisherman who took Shetland goodies home to their families. Socks (stockings) were very desired for over 200 years.
Notice the floats? You can almost see the pattern in reverse on the inside.
Look what came in the mail recently! Greetings from Shetland. Let's go!
Can I keep the pony?
The days are getting pretty short now...about 9 1/2 hours of sunlight on a bright, sunny day. I bet that seems heavenly to those near the arctic circle! On cloudy days, rooms in buildings practically need lights on. It has been a fairly peaceful December so far, warm but rainy...like the Shetland Islands no doubt! A big difference between here and there...MUD! We get LOTS of mud in weather like this. When the temperature drops below freezing, it's a happy day, for freezing temps. dry up the mud and everyone can go out again!
Take joy in warm, snuggly socks! If you do not know how to knit a pair yourself, pay someone WELL (!) to knit you a pair, for it will be well worth it! In the meantime, stay warm everyone as we get into much colder weather. Hope you are enjoying the peace and darkness of this quiet time!
Sunday, December 4, 2011
One old, one new...
Here is a simple little peerie I knit into a sock for me just for fun. It's very easy to do, and really doesn't require a pattern. So many peeries are like that. Certain peeries are known specifically to the Shetland Islands and the knitwear there, and this is one of them. This little peerie is over four rows...very simplistic.
What is a peerie? It's a small pattern embedded into the knitting. In fact, the word peerie means small. So cute! It is made while knitting with two different yarns.
The sock on the left is an Iris sock I made years ago...I can't remember how long ago. I wear it a lot over winter. It's a squirmy soft sock that has not needed any repairs, nor has it felted or shrunk at all despite heavy use in my barn boots in the snowiest winters my area has ever recorded. The sock on the right is my new sock, fresh off the needles about 20 minutes ago. It is an extra sturdy sock because I spun the yarn thicker than usual, and knit at a tight gauge. These are going to be my "I hate these icy blasts!" socks this winter! The black yarn is a leftover ball from Lil' Rainbow. Iris has a stronger silvery tone this year, and Lil' Rainbow is black with specks of silver from her lighter outer coat tips. They are sort of an inverse of each other and pair so nicely, I wish I had thought of adding more peeries into the sock before I had started. So....do two in a pair have to match? We'll see what I throw into the second sock.
Iris's yarn balled up and waiting for me! :)
Here's Iris again. I love this picture!
Check out Iris's bright expression! She has a nice level topline, is wooly on the poll and cheeks, has medium bone density, is nice and square, has nice shoulders and chest, and the proper hip (as in not rounded like meat breeds, as the Scottish judges so exasperatingly pointed out was a bad fault in Shetlands), and though you can't see it here, a proper tail. She is also an outstanding mother with loads of milk. She manages her parasite load on her own and is always healthy. She's also halter trained, and I shear her standing, tied to the fence while she chews her cud. It is not hard to find joy in the flock! Her fleece is very popular, with repeat customers. I hope all of my sheep can be like her! She was born a rich moorit, and faded to musket as she aged. I select for faders. LOVE 'em!
PS...this basic sock pattern can be found on the right side of my blog under Yankee Knitter. The writer of this pattern has a talent for simplifying things, so I highly recommend it to new sock knitters. I knit lots of these socks because the pattern is sooooo easy to adapt to anything that strikes your fancy...even if that moment is midway through the sock! The peeries were used a lot in Shetland, and the different colored toe (left sock) was common in Faroe at one time.
Hope all of you are finding quiet moments to knit in a warm place and finding joy in that peace!
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Crown of Glory Shetland Lace with Shetland yarn
Such joy in knitting can truly be found! The Crown of Glory lace pattern was a favorite of the women of Shetland. The main pattern has a large opening, with six yarn overs above it to give the appearance of a crown. Lovely! Some called it Cat's Paw, for it does give that impression as well. The women of Shetland utilized their creative energy to change slightly each pattern, giving each woman or group of women in a small area a knitting identity. So fun!!!
My Crown of Glory Shetland lace is knitted with light worsted weight yarn I handspun on my wheel here on the farm. I obtained the wool from the first little lamb born here, little rock-hopper Pumpkin, whom I sheared myself. It was through aching tears that I did so, for Pumpkin had become entangled in the fence in the night and I lost him. His horns, his fleece, and his personality were all crowns of glory. Even his gait, the flow of his fleece, the brightness of his eyes, and the glow of his heart were all glorious. Pumpkin's fiber is a stunningly beautiful, rich, chocolately mocha color of rich gleam, and it's very soft. The women of Shetland typically knit this lace in a much finer gauge of yarn. I'm using a larger gauge two-ply so it can be worn in heavy farm chores through wicked winters. I chose the Crown of Glory pattern to help remember Pumpkin by. His yarn, this skein, won a blue ribbon at the fair last summer.
...the needles wait for me...
I love knitting this on a 16 inch circ. needle. It's peaceful, relaxing, and reflective knitting. I can't help but think of the women who went before me, who also made these stitches under gray November skies, who also reflected on their lives while the yarn moved through their hands. History is not as far away as we think...
Little Annabelle, The Official Sheepdog's ornament, just for her
Some of you know that our little Annabelle, a breed not of tending sheep, longed to be a real sheepdog someday. One day, she had her glorious moment of 'tending sheep', and has since held the high status of "Sheep Dog". One to frequently leap over furniture at top speed, ears flying, we couldn't resist this perfectly appropriate sparkly ornament that so aptly describes her heart! It gleefully graces our tree each year, bringing giggles and happy memories. We love our dogs.
The season is passing into peace and darkness now. All is truly calm, the skies are gray, the birds are quiet...well...not counting the perky chickadees in the lilac shrub! The sheep quietly eat their hay and meander around their winter pasture with a sense of calm. Wooly Bear quietly feasts on his latest pumpkin, with orange mush all over his horns and poll....a happy fella with his pumpkins and girls.
As I settle into the house to cozily knit by the fire, I breathe in deep the fragrance of the pine just feet from me. My hands quietly take up my knitting, and my mind quietly slips into times past. I can't help but take joy in these small things, things that have been repeated by people over generations, and centuries. The commonality of human nature, our basic needs, doesn't change. We are all the same.This month, I'm celebrating simple things, and as Tasha Tudor taught us, to take joy! For joy can be found everywhere, all around. Farms can create a heavy heart when loss strikes, but mostly, farms are places of much joy and happiness...glee and bounce...giggles, chaos and silliness. How could I ever capture that on camera? The joy that animals take every day is worth emulating. They see it. Can we?
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Sometimes the hardest thing we do is maintain what we've got. The people of the Shetland Islands gave us a gift 31 years ago. The gift we received, that original flock of Shetland sheep, and the hope that flew over in the plane with it is a treasure.
When I think of hope, I think of the people who feared of losing the genuine Shetland sheep back in the 1970's and 1980's. That fear was running strong. Commercialism, cultural changes, economic shifts, disease...all were on the minds of those people. They had enjoyed a long run with this hardy and friendly little sheep that had lasted centuries, lifting their people and place out of obscurity and discomfort, into warmth and fame. How sad it must have been to see the sheep fading into something new, something lost from what it once was, beyond their control. I am sure this worry weighed heavy on the hearts of some, laying awake at night. So much hope was on that plane that fateful day. Hope that the sheep would remain unchanged, not afflicted by those pressures seen on the islands. So much work, so much history, so much care...
The hearts and hope of those people are in my heart tonight, as it is each time I linger in my flock, spin at my wheel, or knit such amazing yarn through my hands. The people of Shetland placed the care of their treasured sheep into strangers hands, on our continent. The hope they sent along in the plane that day must have been very powerful. I know that because I feel it. I'm a recipient not only of their sheep, but of their hope. I'm sure they were hoping we'd protect their little sheep, keep them going for future generations to discover, to relish, to love, as I have. I'm sure they were hoping their little sheep wouldn't be morphed into something new, as it was there.
It is with these thoughts clear in my mind that I am so relieved to hear that despite aggressive attempts by outside groups, the genuine Shetland sheep will indeed see continued protection through a very strong voice of our whole membership! For the second year in a row, the membership spoke very loudly and clearly!!!! WOW!! I am not alone in wishing to genuinely preserve and protect the genuine Shetland sheep. There is a large fraction of our continent who also deeply love this special sheep and who also wish to see it's future secure. The hope that rode along on the plane that fateful day is alive and well in North America! In fact, it's thriving!!! Shepherds coast to coast are dedicating themselves not just to genuine preservation of this amazing sheep, but to the preservation of the Shetland sheep's story over the last 31 years.
With this relief so fresh, I had to take several days to let it sink in. Yes, the sheep will be protected! That is top priority!
Here's what we've come to learn:
1. aggressive groups will come in, take control of everything, censor out the majority, and try to inflict unwanted change, all for some internal motivation they themselves desire.
2. such groups will change language around to sound like genuine protectors, thus dressing in wolves clothing...i.e. hooded red capes...please beware!!! Restoring the truths shouldn't be too hard, as most shepherds in North America understand, see, and recognize the 'morph-language',"morph-groups", and their "cull heavily" motto.
3. the membership spoke very clearly that genuine Shetland sheep are beautiful, worthy of continued protection, and VERY MUCH WANTED!!!!
4. that this genuine protection and preservation is under continual threat...what we have is always in peril of new threats lurking right before us in the shadows. As genuine protectors, we must work very hard to identify the wolves in the room, and strive to hold on to what we've got...outstanding little sheep who just plum don't need" improvement"!
The hope the people of the Shetland Islands sent along with that first flock to North America is fresh in my heart, and in the hearts of so many other shepherds throughout North America! Together, we diverted the latest threat of change morphing our sheep into a shiny new breed. Stay vigilant! But for now, take joy in knowing that the gift we've received, these sweet and diverse little sheep so many of us have come to love and cherish, will see a renewed commitment to genuine preservation and protection!!
Monday, November 21, 2011
She is such a pretty ewe! She has excellent conformation, is extremely hardy, is the healthiest sheep on my farm in many ways including managing her own weight effortlessly and showing strong parasite resistance. It's an absolute shame she's not registered! She gave me a beautiful ewe lamb last year and was an exceptional mother. She positively treasured her little lamb, and they are very close to this day. Lil' Rainbow is going to be bred again to Wheely Wooly Lerwick, the same ram she was with last year.
This little ewe is Twilight and Pumpkin's mother, Sweetie. She is sweetness through and through! She produces a powerhouse of milk, lambs easily, and has a fleece I love to spin. By shearing, it will be very long, nearly 7-8 inches. There is so much more I could say about each ewe! Sweetie is going in with Wooly Bear tomorrow. I hope to have his breeding group together and settled before the holiday, for I planned this group to be together through Christmas. Despite having to wait longer this year, Wooly Bear is doing great! (i.e. the fence is still up and everyone is on the correct side!) He is coming into his ram scent now, and that always lasts through January, so we'll see what he does this year.
I love all my sheep, but I really adore my Iris! Her previous owners sold her to me and I am very grateful. Iris's fleece is beyond outstanding! It is just a dream to spin and is the most comfortable wool I've ever spun or worn. Her britch wool was soft enough to be used for scarves even last year, but probably not this year anymore. Iris is not a socializer, but she will come to the fence for chin scratches anytime she thinks I have time. It's pretty safe to say we've bonded, although she still won't let me catch her if she sees me coming with blanketyblanks...you know....shots, hoof trimmers...stuff like that. Iris is the type of sheep that always looks as if she's about to lamb, but she's been foolin' me since before I brought her home! :) As usual, we have no plans to breed Iris, and she is getting old.
Today I knit one sock and one mitten. Sounds funny, doesn't it? That's the second sock, and the first mitten of a pair. Fun!!
Hope you enjoyed seeing or meeting some of the ewes in our flock!
Friday, November 18, 2011
Don't try this at your Thanksgiving Dinner...
Happy Friday everyone! This weekend is such a busy one for so many of you and us, too. It's the start of our deer hunting season here in Wisconsin, and this year, there are changes that not everyone is excited about, such as loaded, uncased guns are allowed in vehicles while hunters are driving around, and the fact that sooooooo many hunters will be in the woods, but there are virtually no deer around....certainly not enough to meet the needs of soooooo many hunters! So tomorrow is "everyone in the barn day" here on our farm. Hunters in our area seem to be very good about safety so let's hope it's a safe day and weekend for everyone.
Also this weekend is our Holiday Open House at the farm market, and we are ready!! Come see what's new! We will also have the popular blackish yarns back in stock! We have lots of gift ideas. Shetland yarns make for great gifts for the knitters, crocheters in your lives, for it is so unique, soft, light, and colorful! The natural colors are great for men, and men are frequently at our booth picking out yarn for hats and socks. If you have a hunter in your life, or a guy who likes being outside, remember that Shetland yarns were largely made into men's clothing. We have outstanding, deep, rich colors in blacks, greys, browns, and russets that men love. An investment in Shetland yarn is a long-term investment, for the yarns are not only soft, but long lasting as well. Come and see what the guy(s) in your life would like!
Then on Sunday, we are having the first of our Thanksgiving meals, here on our farm. I LOVE roasting the turkey and making all the fixin's!!! The smell of the turkey roasting is just a wonderful lingering memory and a great way to start out winter with warmth and love. Each year, I save and dry some sage from my garden, a habit passed on to me by my Grandmother, and make homemade stuffing with it. Another family favorite is the homemade honey rolls I make. DH makes wonderful mashed potatoes from the awesome, fluffy potatoes he grows and digs up out of our garden, and I hope to get in an apple pie from the last of the apples we saved off our trees. It will be a stuffing feast all right! Pumpkin pie is not on the menu...because...well...you see...I kindasorta fed all the pie pumpkins to....the sheep. Makes me feel sheepish....
Speaking of sheep, the fellow in the photo above is our foundation ram, Wooly Bear. We get requests for this photo every year now and it seems to have become a favorite. The top of the pumpkin had softened under a frost that year, so he ate that part off first, then worked his way down into the interior, as far as his horns would allow him to, that is!!!
Happy Fall Weekending everyone and don't forget to stop by our booth and pick up those great gifts for those you love!
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Can you believe it? I actually have dishes with spinning wheels on them. This is a desert plate. I have a whole set, including a creamer and sugar dish, plates, bowls, serving bowls, and a platter. I inherited them years and years ago, long before I was a spinner. They were packed away and carried around with me for a long time before I actually took them out. Today, they are used regularly in my farm kitchen and make a great conversation piece with company.
Deserts seem particularly delicious on them! This is homemade apple crisp from apples we harvested off our trees this fall. A wonderful, hearty treat after working on winterizing the farm outside. Makes the house smell great, too!
Deserts seem particularly delicious on them! This is homemade apple crisp from apples we harvested off our trees this fall. A wonderful, hearty treat after working on winterizing the farm outside. Makes the house smell great, too!
A nice Shetland fleece. Can't wait to spin it!
These grazing days are over for 2011. The sheep are now happily eating sweet hay put up over the summer. Some of our breeding has taken place, but we are about to begin new groups soon. Each ewe that we've chosen to breed has been analyzed very carefully for 1927 Breed Standard criteria, using the assessment form pre-2010 NASSA days (in 2010, major changes were made to the breed, modernizing the animal hence we are not using those criteria). Of course, our rams have been very, very carefully analyzed as well...all summer! Included in all breeding animals is temperament. Our goal here is to raise genuine, historical Shetland fleeces for handspinning. We highly desire maintaining the historical fleeces that are excellent for a whole range of uses because I love doing all those things! We also highly value the hardiness of the breed and excellent, sweet temperaments, which of course, we highly protect with the best care we can give them emotionally as well as physically.
For example, we will not be breeding one ram who's fleece is very short, for he has a very tough time in stormy weather, deep cold, or wet weather. His fleece does not dry out nice, giving him deep chill problems. The water soaks into his wool, saturating it and his hide, but then it takes a much longer time for that water to dry off. With such short fiber, he is not insulated from the cold winds or the cold, wet ground when he lays down. We've had to bring him into the barn on nights when the rest of the rams seemed toasty warm and dry, so he is out of breeding! The longish, wavy fiber acts like a down coat on the sheep's body, creating a layer of insulation that seems to trap warmth. With the tips so light and wispy, the fleeces can dry out nicely during heavy rain yet still keep the sheep warm. They also shed more water off, so less moisture soaks in. We are very pleased with the hardiness of our woollier sheep, and with the performance of that wool on the wheel, needles, and our bodies! The 1927 Breed Standard, standing alone in all it's simplicity not only works, it's amazing!
One thing we are doing differently this year, is that we are spreading our lambing out over a greater period of time on purpose. This also mimics how Shetlands have been historically managed. In the USA, it's common to intensify ewe heat cycles into a short "window", then try to get everyone to lamb in two or three weeks. I did that, and found it EXHAUSTING!! Despite my prior planning to prevent p-poor performance, I still ran out of easy food for us, got overly tired and cold, ran out of certain supplies, and my house got too messy. Plus, the rest of the world thought I fell off the planet, for people didn't see much of me in that "window". Why do that to myself?? AND, I must admit, I WAS afraid of hungry bears lurking around at that time of year, just awakened from winter's slumber and starving! Skipping out to the barn at 3am in darkness and pouring rain with a little lambie in my arms while hearing something "BIG" rustling around in the grasses behind the barn was a little over the top for me! Add a starving mind, body and stomach and you've got visions! (giggle, giggle!!) Oh, how I can amuse myself! :)
We do think we had a bear one night, for I saw a shadowy shape of such run between the horse pasture and the ram pen around 10pm. The rams were very upset and shaken, huddled like musk oxen in a circle of tails, horns turned out while standing smack in the center of the pen. I've never seen that in rams before, but they were certainly afraid and upset.
So far, our choice to stick with history has paid off very nicely for us! Of course, history is not always respected and people are always trying to reinvent the wheel. Well, if they are satisfied with their new wheels, they can do that! But we like history, because for us, it's produced much beautiful fruit! By spreading our lambing out over time, we are returning to yet another historical aspect of this breed that we hadn't thought of before. The idea is that by spreading things out, I'll have time to get re-organized if needed, make more food, pick up the house, or run for supplies...not to mention being more awake for decision-making and middle-of-the-night skips out to the barn! We are very excited about our previous lamb crops, and hope to have another successful lambing next spring! Stay tuned to hear how our new strategy goes!
Friday, November 11, 2011
My inspiration basket!
Inspiration can be found in the simpliest of places. I love my odds and ends basket. The variety of natural and dyed yarns inspires me on lots of garments. Borders, trims, ruffles, flowers, or cuffs...you name it....I'm inspired! This overloaded basket goes along on many road trips with me, a constant companion when an idea strikes. What a wonderful way to enjoy the simple things in life!
My sock basket
...is always a busy place! Socks are something we treasure here on Wheely Wooly Farm. Three seasons just would not be the same without cozy wool socks that keep you warm even when wet! This sock has trim around the cuff that is from the barn mittens I made and posted about back in September. The white yarn is from Claire, our non-Shetland sheep. This is her lamb's wool, very crimpy and softer than I expected out of her breed...but then again, she hung around Shetlands all winter! (giggle, giggle) This is the first pair of socks I've made with her wool. I've already noticed a difference in how the fiber knits, as it's heavier to work with, and my hands get fatigued sooner. Other than that, it's been a joy so far! Even though they are not for me, I can't wait to get the feedback on how they wear! The recipient of these socks requested them.
Wonderful spinning fiber!!
Genuine Shetland fiber that is longish and wavy, as our breed standard strives for is truly a joy to spin! Here is the dark fleece I'm working on right now. The tips have that 'Shetland brown' color to them, with the deeper fiber black. The funny thing is that the yarn looks black, with white fiber when spun up. If you took this fiber into really bright sun, you'd see it is actually a brown tone. These plays on color in the human eye create wonderful opportunities for design, and I LOVE it!! Sometimes, I pair different natural colors with fiber like this, or other times I pair dyed colors, or both! The possibilities are endless and great fun! Reasons like this keep me on handspun yarn, where the colors and tones stay intact in the yarn. If machined, these elements would be diluted a great deal, if not lost all together.
Last, despite the cold weather and snow we've had lately, the hens have been busy doing what they do best! Notice the variations in them? These hens are young birds, just having come into lay. The bluish/green eggs come from our Easter Egger hen, which is really a crossbred hen. Star, our beautiful black Ameraucana is either not laying right now, or laying where we are not finding them. How nice to have these!
Happy Friday everyone!
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Isn't it too early for this??!?
Well, everyone is back outside today. The storm passed by early evening yesterday, then the moon came out real bright. We got over three inches of very wet, heavy snow that was remarkable blown about. My first treat this morning was walking out the east barn door and having roof snow slide straight down the back of my neck and into my coat! Hate that!
Now, the sun is out and everyone is running around in the fresh, crispy snow. The rams did NOT want to go back outside!! Some even planted hooves like stubborn goats, which just makes me giggle. But one by one, I got them outside. The lure of the hay flake surely failed today! Turned out to be good one-on-one time with each of them. I really do enjoy them! Soon, I'll put them with their girls. I'm waiting this year, for having lambs in the wicked springs we've had lately is not high on my priority list! Last year, lamb losses were very high in many neighboring flocks. We were lucky to have indoor lambing, and lucky all our lambs survived.
Well, there's always someone who enjoys fresh snow!
Swifty had a ball in the snow. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where his toy ended up. The snow will probably melt soon and he'll find it before I do so I'm not too worried.
In the meantime, the storm took away some spinning time. Each storm seems to create three times as much daily work (or is that my imagination?) This morning was clean-up time of hauling out old bedding with the wheel barrow, sweeping up, putting down clean bedding, removing large chunks of ice from water tanks and buckets, and getting everyone back where they should be, as well as knocking snow off the barn roof and traipsing to the coop to fluff things up there. Let's not forget walking fence lines and repairing pull downs! By the time I was done with everything, I was good and sweaty and out of breath. Good work! Time for lunch!
This afternoon, it's back to spinning! I'm working on a nearly black Shetland fleece that has some white in it. It's beautiful! I'm spinning the britch first, then moving up to midside wool. I'm hoping to get more black yarns finished as I have very little in black yarn left. Mona is also sold out now.
Hope everyone else came through this first taste of winter ok!
P.S. Anyone running to the mailbox today? (giggle,giggle)
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I don't think the hens would enjoy this...
Rats! I guess that means raspberry season is officially over! Good thing I have lots of berries saved in the freezer. Today, we are getting a little snowstorm. There is about 2-3 inches of wet, heavy snow on the ground, with a little more yet expected before it passes to the north. The flakes have been huge and furiously falling at a sideways angle in the fairly unpleasant wind.
I guess I'm not the only one looking out the window!
Everyone is cozied up in the barn today, including the rams. Let's hope everyone stays where I put them! The boys were cold, tired, and hungry so hopefully, they will eat, nap and rest before getting interested in their surroundings....
Meet "Sarah Smoke Tree"
Sarah Smoke tree is a droopy tree that lives on our farm. She's normally all as tall as that one branch sticking up. Today, however, she is demonstrating her flexibility capabilities. I guess that makes her "Sarah the Baller-TREE-na".
Tree?? What tree?
The pine near the back door is a beautiful green on one side, and nearly invisible on the other! The branches are weighed down pretty good. Let's hope none of them snap.
The first blasting of 2011-2012
The barn is already getting it's first blasting. Perhaps I'm in a weebee bit of denial that winter's coming? I guess I better bring in my garden stuff now...
Shepherd's Tip of the Day: Old wool that is too dirty or full of VM to use for spinning, or that is off the rumpy britch or bellies of sheep makes GREAT wool to stuff into cracks around your barn. I don't use anything with sheep berries in it, but the "cleaner" wool makes a great draft stopper! I've stuffed it into cracks in the foundation, around windows, and doors to make for a more snug barn. Don't worry, I still have PLENTY of ventilation in my barn!! It' s nice to use the wool for areas where cold drafts come in on animals or where you don't want snow filtering in. I often save the wool on the shearing board for just this purpose. In spring, I remove it, and in fall, put in the new stuff I've saved. Works great! Remember, wool makes GREAT insulation, and mice do not like chewing it.
Hope you enjoyed our snowy scenes from Wheely Wooly Farm today!
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Sunday, November 6, 2011
See any leaves?
People often like to think that animal ownership makes your life harder. I beg to differ! Here we are, on a lovely fall afternoon...under a nice tree.....FULL of huge leaves that need raking up every year before snow flies. If these leaves don't get raked up, they kill the grass, for they are very large maple leaves. In the past, I've raked them up and stuffed the walls of the chicken coop with them for added winter insulation. Ok, doing that made my life harder...but I DID enjoy the work and the knowing that my hens would lay more when insulated so nicely from the cold.
Now along comes Posie. Posie is a very cute little sheep who is sweetness through and through, or so I thought! As I glanced out my house windows from time to time, I noticed Posie was parked under the maple tree all day. As time passed, I noticed that as leaves fell, they weren't accumulating like they should. Oh, I thought, she must be eating them up for me! How nice!
Then, I noticed that Posie was looking UP into the tree...waiting for the wind to jiggle a leaf or two off branches above. As they floated down, she ran to where she thought they'd land, and gobble them right up! I watched and giggled as this played out over a few hours. Good girl, Posie! Now I won't have to rake!
Later, as I amused myself looking out the window again, I saw that Posie's best friend, Maewyn had appeared. Now Maewyn was hanging out under the tree...and there still were no leaves around. I decided to wait and see what would happen if a leaf fell...who would get it? Now Posie and Maewyn are very close friends...always the first lambs to greet visitors...untie your shoestrings, or want a chin scratch. They are always together, always looking for attention, and always underfoot. Suddenly, a leaf fell...this way....and that way....and little Maewyn, being the nimble-hooved little Shetland that she is, swiftly pounced her way to the leaf just ahead of Posie, and quickly ate it up! Well Posie watched this, head turned sideways, a time or two before she made a decision! The next time a leaf fell, Maewyn again pounced ahead of Posie, only this time, Posie was frustrated and BAM!!! Posie butted Maewyn on the side just as Maewyn gobbled up the leaf!!! Uh oh! As the leaves continued to trickle down, this is what I saw...
BAM! BAM!!! (Notice the leaf in Maewyn's mouth?)
Good thing they are nice and woolly now! Maewyn didn't seem to mind Posie's jealousy. They spent the rest of the day competing for leaves, and I'd have to say for poor Posie's sake that Maewyn got most of the rest of them!
I've since rotated them to a new spot, where they will spend daytimes all winter. The danger now is that the grass has stopped growing fast enough to keep up with grazing, so the risk is great over-grazing. Because of this, I have moved them to where over-grazing is sacrificed, and placed hay out. Of course, they much prefer every little morsel of grass blade they can tear up, so the hay sits....meanwhile, Maewyn never seemed to get upset with Posie for the head butts, and they seem to be carrying on with their sweet friendship...continuing to get under my feet every opportunity they can get.
Oh the things you learn looking out your windows!
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Wow The Pumpkin is the largest pumpkin ever grown here on our farm. We grew a bunch of giant pumpkins this year, just for fun. We know a key secret is to snip off certain flower buds so that much of the vine's energy goes into growing a whopper, but we didn't want to do that! (giggle, giggle) The flowers are so pretty, and it's fun to see who's opened, who's growing a pumpkin, and what color the pumpkin is. We also grew a bunch of white pumpkins this year. The sheep love them as much as the orange ones. Yes, Wooly Bear has gotten an early Thanksgiving treat! It would just not be right to go into winter without giving him his favorite treat!!
Swifty's posts are still coming....I know, I know.....I'm late! He is such a fun dog! He loves to get wet so cold windy days seem just right to him. We are actually managing to keep up on our fall chores this year despite multiple challenges. That means certain fencing has been removed from our back grazing pastures, opening them up for flippy runs. That's dog-speak for great fetching of a soft type of dog frisbee that sails long distances. Swifty LOVES to run in the wind to snatch it! He's very sweet, bringing it back and placing it politely in my hands...well, as politely as an excited young pup can manage! His other favorite activity of late is rolling in the tall grasses...thrashing with joy at just being outside and being silly. Notice the 'buzz' in his eyes in this photo? He's a very intense dog, which I find very pleasing when outside with him. He is constantly tuned into me and waiting for the next cue or whistle. I love that about Border Collies! He's my barn buddy no doubt.
Notice the new photo of Wheely Wooly Lerwick on the side of the blog? He was a lamb last year. We gave him some ewes for breeding and he now has his own lambs on the ground, which we love!! Wheely Wooly Splash is out of Lerwick. Splash has the softest fiber our farm has ever produced! We bred these sheep under the guidance of the 1927 Breed Standard, minus the Appendix A. We will not breed Appendix A sheep here, for it demands modern criteria on the sheep, and we are striving for the genuine Shetland. He's getting ewes again this year. I am so impressed with his fleece, conformation, and temperment! I save all the best fiber for sales, but I did save one small skein of midside wool from him for myself...of which will become another lace scarf. Lerwick is out of Wooly Bear.
Last, can you believe I mowed today! It's Nov. 1st and I was mowing. That's got to be a first! The nice thing is that the sheep are still grazing! Tomorrow will be cooler and rainy..."a Shetlandy kind 'o day" I say!
Monday, October 31, 2011
How this works:
1. Vote for diversity and everyone wins. Long, short, wavy, crimpy, everyone works for the future. Vote for the camp and nearly 31 years of importation and history, including the Dailley family's import history and flock, as well as the Doane's passionate work to bring the Shetland sheep to America are all discarded, thrown away.
2. Vote diversity and all members are valued, appreciated, supported, and accepted. Vote camp and see intensified censorship, control, hostility, crossbreeding, attorney's fees, and decreased membership.
3. Vote diversity and nothing is lost, for all win and retain value and support in their flocks. Vote camp and much is lost, with huge numbers of flocks and history losing.
4. Vote diversity and retain respect from other credible organizations striving to maintain diverse genetic pools for ourselves and our future shepherds. Vote camp and take credit for vastly narrowing the gene pool to one narrow kind of questionably Shetland sheep, and hence throwing out respect from other leading experts.
5. Vote diversity and retain the genuine fiber that created the famous textiles Shetland women became so famous for, thus honoring them by protecting what they passed forward to us. Voting camp dishonorably throws out that genuine fiber to something much narrower, that was never used for fair isle, bed caps, stockings, gloves and mittens, daily wear such as jumpers and vests, or weaving.
6. Vote diversity and genuinely protect this outstanding breed of sheep, preserving it's exceptional attributes into the future. Vote camp, and throw that all away.
That's how it works.
Friday, October 28, 2011
1. Great work, Don! Thank you for bringing your years of experience back to NASSA, and sharing with us. NASSA is facing a huge problem, that of an aggressive group of newer shepherds teaching people that the genuine Shetland sheep is a hairy Icelandic or crossbred throwback to be culled, in an attempt to get rid of genuine sheep for a shiny new breed. Thank you for clarifying to the unknowingly misled that genuine Shetland sheep are NOT the nearly naked sheep with puny fleeces this aggressive group insists them to be!!
1.a. ...and thank you to your wife for that keepsake handbook! The 2004 NASSA Handbook has many great photos of genuine Shetland sheep in it. I treasure it, because I know it's been censored out of the NASSA literature. That's a shame! I'm sure many new shepherds would appreciate it just as I did when I was new (and still do). If you are a new shepherd reading my post, ask NASSA for a copy of the 2004 NASSA Handbook and see for yourself some great photos of beautiful sheep, the three wool types, and the types of things made with the wool!
2. Our President, Mike, deserves a huge compliment for doing what he promised, that of bringing a cool head to the board. Boy, did we ever need a cool head to deal with a bunch of inflamed thieves who have stolen the Shetland breed right out from under the membership's feet!! Just as he has done with his awesome and beautiful flock, he is doing with our organization...great work! Thanks, Mike, for bringing integrity back to NASSA! I feel so bad that you have to work with such constantly difficult, inflamatory, and argumentative people on the board! They've brought much embarrassment to NASSA. Clearly, they do not care about the people, or the sheep! They just want to feed on control! You have stayed strong through some nasty punches, and we all appreciate you! Appendix A will fall fast when the time comes.
3. I'm really overdone with the loss of intrigity to our breed organization by the supporters of Appendix A. Their censorship, exclusion, lack of respect, and lies are old. Really old. It's like high school cliques revisited! Supporting Appendix A people is like supporting their bad behaviors. Can our organization take any more of their ongoing fighting (screaming)? Ongoing censorship? Ongoing attitudes that the membership is too stupid to be informed or participate? Ongoing misuse of NASSA funds for their ongoing hefty legal bills, because if they don't get their way, they screech and claw for their attorneys? How tired the attorneys must be of hearing from them!!
4. I joined NASSA for fun, and it has been fun for me. A wise person once stated that competition makes you stronger. I certainly feel that way. I'm against Appendix A, for it takes the genuine out of the sheep, and puts a nearly naked one in it's place. I've enjoyed the search for answers competition demands, with one particular conversation with Carole (Dailley) Precious the most outstanding. In that talk, she described the early flock and her flock as the years passed. It was as though I was looking out the window at my own flock. It was an amazing moment for me. I've sought answers from many very experienced shepherds. I've learned a lot, and it has all been outstandingly fun!
5. Whichever way the outcome of this election goes, not much will change here on Wheely Wooly Farm, for I have been well coached by the most well qualified Shetland producers here in North America and abroad on what the genuine Shetland sheep is. That is the sheep we will continue to produce, and that is the fiber we will continue to make available to our customers. The gorgeous, unique fleeces and colors sell themselves. What's there to 'improve'? Nothing! Nearly naked sheep feels like a 'deprovement' to me!
6. Our commitment to our customers remains the same. We will strive to produce beautiful, soft, colorful yarns perfect for knitting and even more perfect to wear, without compromising handle and strength. Diversity is the key to our farm's success. Maintaining that diversity has brought our farm respect from the most amazing places I never would have dreamed of. I've learned that narrowing genetics is not respected. Appendix A will fall fast when the time comes. The judge's packet will be changed back to protect diversity and historical elements of the breed. Correct photos will be put back in place, and faith in our organization will return.
7. And now, I'm going to go out and kiss my very wooly sheep! ........ Ok...well, maybe I'll wait until AFTER breeding season!
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
Oh, I love the rain! Yesterday, we had a cozy, steady rain most of the day with warm temps and quiet wind. The air was so fresh and fragrant with autumn freshness, I found myself lingering every time I went outside. I gave the rams extra chin scratches, watched the hens peck around longer (in the coop), and found myself drawn to watching the sheep graze contentedly while the rain gently poured down. Swifty was enjoying it as well, for Border Collies love wet weather! He bounded through the tall grasses, sailed down the 'back four', and dove after flippies (dog frisbees), ears to the sky unless in an all out run. As the rain fell hour by hour, I watched as fleeces dripped, dripped, dripped. I knew this rain was like a car wash for sheep! This is a shearer's dream...nice clean, rain-washed fleeces! Then, I heard the forecast for today...wind! Yippee!
Today, as the wind wiped around and gusted, leaves skittered everywhere, trees bent over, and the chickens ran for cover. And there were the sheep...still grazing contentedly like nothing has changed! Only this time, instead of dripping water off the fleeces, the wind has blown the fleeces dry like fluffy, poofy little powder puffs!!
My poofy powder puff, Maewyn
She's so pretty!
Sigh...I love Shetland sheep!!
EDIT: Like many, many farm booths, we are not at the market today due to the high winds. Please feel free to email us or call if there are yarns you were planning on picking up today, as I'm sure we can get them to you. I have six new skeins of Cosmo ready to go (the last of his lamb's fleece)...first come, first serve! There are also 2 Sunrises available today but act fast if you want them. They sell out right away. Also, if you were planning on picking up needles today, just email us or call and we can get them to you as well. Hope to see you next week!
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Saturday, October 8, 2011
"The climate is perpetually moist and the sheep grow an outer coat of hair in addition to the exquisitely fine, soft wool. The sheep are not shorn; the wool is 'rooed', i.e. plucked, in July. It is sad that the decline in demand for this very beautiful wool, coupled with the drive to produce more meat, has led to the introduction of Blackfaces and Cheviots and the pure-bred Shetland is fast disappearing. No wool is more rewarding for the handspinner and knitter."
Your Handspinning by Elsie G. Davenport, copyright 1953, page 27
Good stuff!!! I could read this all day. Here is yet another source describing the genuine Shetland sheep. Notice the mention of HAIR? So typical. Just like Mr. Bowie, Sr. wrote vehemetly, if it doesn't have tips, it's not Shetland!
I like reading this stuff because I feel very connected to generations past when I spin this fiber. Genuine Shetland fiber has passed through the hands of many women. This spinner described the very fiber I'm growing on my pastures today. We both love spinning, and are both fascinated with excellent spinning fibers. Yet we are a generation...or two...apart. I'm very thankful people like Ms. Elsie G. Davenport took the time to write about her passion. Genuine Shetland fiber is indeed a pleasure to spin.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Watch out...there's a wolf amongst us...can you tell who it is? I was reading the board candidate responses in the newsletter that just came today, and I got a good chuckle out of one of them! It's written by someone who has read my blog a lot, quite frequently in fact. Can you find the wolf in sheep's clothing? (giggle, giggle)
Longish, wavy joy!!
Here are the photos of Cosmo's fleece. It's his lamb's fleece...he was a nearly black sheep before shearing, but after being sheared, he was a soft, light grey...seemingly white! His face and legs remain a beautiful black. Shetlands are SOOOO fun!
Here, you can see the soft, light grey on the underside of his fiber. It's fine and soft. The two colors together make for a very interesting and appealing yarn! I know many of you are waiting for me to get this spun up, and I still hope to get that done by Saturday, but I'm not sure I can finish it by then. It might not be ready until next week, then.
It's so fun to work with the dynamics of Shetland color! I do like the dyed colors, too, but these natural colors are just amazing! We now have a little soft grey sheep out there!
Next! Today I'm shearing Gracelyn again, for I cannot WAIT to get her lovely fiber again! I sheared her last in February...a little too early but I really wanted her fiber. Since handshearing leaves the sheep with a lovely protective layer of wool to keep them warm, she did fine. Now, I can shear her again for more lovely spinning, and it's a beautiful warm day to do so. All of the yarn made with the last shearing is sold out except for one smaller skein left.