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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Take our Shetland Quiz!

Test your knowledge of beautiful Shetland sheep with the first ever Shetland Sheep Quiz! True or False:

1. Col. Dailley, the man who brought a flock of Shetlands to the North American continent to preserve and protect them, was a knowledgeable sheep man.

2. The early American shepherds (1990's) of Dailley-descended Shetlands cannot recall what their flocks looked like.

3. The people responsible for giving us our new judges packet have advanced degrees in livestock, and are accredited livestock judges here in America.

4. A fleece with a staple length of 1-2 inches and exhibiting a blocky tip is beautifully Shetland.

5. A double-coated Shetland (or any Shetland with a staple length greater than 2 inches) is not really a Shetland, but a breed in the "long wool" classification of sheep, as recognized by the American Wool Council.

6. Shetland sheep are NOT related, in ANY way, to the other Northern European Short-tailed breeds.

7. Every Shetland sheep exhibiting a certain short fleece type is purest blood.

8. A sloping, dished spine on a Shetland sheep (or ANY kind of sheep) is not only ok, it is desirable!

9. Shetland sheep have historically been managed by wealthy people who could afford to cull all but the shortest of fleeces.

10. The words on the 1927 Breed Standard that define Shetland fleece as "longish and wavy" actually mean "super short and super crimpy".

11. We understand, through modern science, EXACTLY how Shetland colors manifest themselves, on EVERY sheep. Hobby shepherds are the most knowledgeable at predicting, with 100 % accuracy, all the time, what color a sheep is, even if they've never seen the sheep.

12. Micron test reports are THE best way to select genuine Shetland fleeces.

13. One micron test gives you a completely accurate picture, with no margin of error, of a sheep's fleece on any given day of it's life.

14. Preserving the genetic diversity Shetlands manifest is just plum not acceptable, and nobody would want to do that anyway.

15. Owners of American hobby flocks are SO knowledgeable about Shetland fleeces, that they are qualified to re-write the breed standard, and educate everyone else, for all the historical accounts of the sheep and their textiles mean nothing.

15a. You don't have to be an experienced spinner or knitter to judge good Shetland fleeces or sheep to sell for breeding stock.

16. Kitties despise sheep's wool in their kitty beds!

17. Linda Zuppann, THE person who gave us NASSA (our breed organization), would be giddy happy to see Shetland sheep narrowed down to just one fleece type, with all the rest banished from the breed.

18. Shetland wool was NEVER historically used in rugs or weaving.

19. The wool on the britch area of a Shetland sheep should be of same character as the rest of the fleece, because the Shetland Islands have such a nice, warm, dry, calm climate.

20. Despite the fact that Shetland sheep are wild and nutzo in mind, they attract only gentle, kind, well-mannered people.

Good luck! Stay tuned for the answers in the next blog!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Crack up!

No time to post, really. But tonight, the rams were so silly, I just had to share! I was gone all afternoon so as dusk approached, I took SwiftySwifterSwift-O out for a nice mushygushysplishysploshy walk all around the farm. He chased sticks and sniffed old meadow mouse trails left in the remaining snowdrifts, delighted to just be running and stick-chasing. The robins were calling their spring evening warbles, the song sparrow was guarding it's new nesting site from us, and an owl was hooting out who's cooking tonight (not me!). The air was cool but fresh, and it was calm. As we approached the ram pen, I saw Wheely Wooly Wink leap HIGH! I saw pure spring delight in the boing of his little hooves, so I quickly began calling them all to my far end of their pen. A-runnin' they all came...leaping and twisting themselves in gleeful shapes! Then, the real playtime came! As I ran one way, they tore around the pen, as if all little lambs again, and the races were on!! Even WOOLY BEAR joined in the games!! I've never seen him so silly! He leaped, leaped, and leaped! They all tore around the pen looking like a bunch of bucking broncs! (While I ran around the outside looking like a very out of shape, silly @#$%^&, giggling and hoping I wouldn't fall in the mud!) As things settled down, they diverted to the famous sheepy prance. Now THAT is not very ram-like! There is nothing sillier than a serious ram, in all his horn and fleece glory, prancing like a little doe with hearts floating above their heads and hearts glowing, only instead, big horns floating up and down! Swifty joined in the fun and ran all around with his stick in his mouth. When everyone finally ran themselves out, they all stood around panting. (I was hoping all my neighbors were cozied up in their houses and not watching me in my own silliness...)

SILLY SHEEP!!silly me!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hear that?!?

AAAHHHH! The sound of spring! It's RAINING today! Everywhere, is the sound of dripping, flowing. After 122 days of freezing, we have finally made it up to a respectable temperature. I tell ya...pure delight at getting out to the barn first thing in the morning to find LIQUID in all the water buckets! It's a beautiful thing!

The birds have literally blown in. We have killdeers, sand hill cranes, Canadian geese, red-winged blackbirds, robins, chickadees, cardinals, finches, those pesty starlings, blue jays, and more! Gives me farmer's ADD whenever I stumble out the door and slide around in the muck in my trip to the barn.

This week marks the beginning of a very busy time here on our farm as lambing approaches. More details later. There have been orders to fill, spinning to do, trees to prune, and fencing to finaggle. The fleece I'm working on now is a dark brown blaeget. Blaeget is an old northern word used long ago by those on the Shetland Islands (and the word stuck) to describe a type of fleece coloring. It's considered a marking and is defined as this: "a lighter shade of the outer part of the wool fiber, especially in moorit and dark brown sheep". The fleece I'm spinning now looks black in evening light, or from a distance, but it's really dark brown. It's most noticable when you hold the fiber near a truly black fiber, such as that of my ewe, Mona. The "blaeget" comes in the tips. The tips are a lovely shade of indescribable color, sort of like a honey-ish silver flaxen! Hard to describe, but it's beautiful!

(Blaeget is different from sun-bleaching on the tips. Tips damaged from the sun will exhibit weakness and be sort of "dried out". Blaeget tips are strong and in excellent condition, if the fleece is like so. Blaeget is a color I love and appreciate, for my moorit ewe, Gwendolyn also has those brightened tips. The yarn is really special!)

What this results in is an incredibly unique, beautiful yarn! But all that beauty and uniqueness would be lost if the fiber was milled and machine spun. Machine processing dilutes the marvelous color in Shetland fiber. However, handspinning preserves it and shows off that lovely, unique color! That's one of the many reasons I work so hard to bring you fine handspun Shetland yarns, so that you, too, may enjoy the lovely colors this breed gives us!

Both yarns, Gwennie's blaeget moorit color which is beginning to fade, and this little ewe's dark brown blaeget yarn, will be for sale soon!

Meanwhile, we have some extremely happy, SWIMMING ducks out there.....

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shaela Shetland Yarn

What is Shaela Shetland yarn? Shaela is a word used by the people of the Shetland Islands to describe a general color. Shetland sheep can be any one of, or combination of, 11 different colors (to sum it up simplisticly!) Shaela is one of them and looks sort of like the yarn in the picture below. Taking out my handy dandy Shetland Handbook from 2004 (I stick with that copy because the newer copies have had information removed that new, more modern breeders don't want people to know about the genuine Shetlands. To truly learn what Shetland sheep are, you have to go back to the more honest literature on the breed.) In it, the color shaela is described as "dark steely-grey; like black frost" (p. 7).
Shaela Shetland Yarn

This yarn came from a lamb that was born black, as shaela sheep are. By the time this little guy was about....8? months old, his fleece had turned this lovely steely-grey color already! The tips remained black from his "birth coat", making up the black you see in the beautiful yarn. I am absolutely stunned by the depth of color this fiber offers! It is very rich and bright! Once again Shetland sheepies, you amaze me!!!

Update: Birds, birds, birds! Winter is weakening it's grip! Saturday morning, a Red-Winged Black Bird was singing in the tree that shades the chicken coop from steamy summer morning sun. Friday afternoon, two Sand Hill Cranes were courting right on the shoulder of the road!!! As we slowly, slowly passed by, I saw the cranes right out my window and their heads were as high as mine!! These birds can be nearly five feet tall so it was exciting to get so close, literally just a few feet! Sunday morning on my sleepy way out the door to the barn, the Cardinal woke me up with a very bright greeting! The mourning dove promply chimed in! Then, I heard it!! Robins!!!!!!!! Robins were singing in the maple tree in the front yard. Aaahhhhhh! Finally!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Longish Wavy Shetland Fiber

Next! Ohboyohboyohboy! Spinning Shetland fiber is a real treat! This is the next fleece I'm going to spin. It's from a mature pure Shetland ewe out of Dailley lines (THE original lines here in the United States). Her fleece is the genuine longish, wavy staple with the very much needed tips to shed rain. As you can see by the contrast of the dark pencil behind the fiber, that this is indeed a very fine, soft fleece!
Notice the fineness and density!!

This fleece is just washed, with the photos taken midside. Her neck wool measures four and one quarter inches long (11 cm). That makes for excellent, easy spinning of very soft, special yarn! That length of staple lends stability and clarity to the yarn. Midside wool is between five and six inches long (13 to 16 cm), with very nice tips for shedding rain. The density of the fiber is excellent....DENSE!! She is well protected in all kinds of weather, just what the unpampered Shetland needs. Britch wool, that area down the rear outside legs measures just over 8 inches (21 cm). She is fed a diet of nice quality grass hay with a little alfalfa mixed in for good nutrition during gestation (we run short of Calcium fast around here, for which the alfalfa helps). The year of this fleece was a lambing year for her.

Silky, fine, DENSE!!

This is the type of fleece that defines the Shetland breed. The staples are not "crimpy", but wavy. The tips shed wetness. Many of the early Shetland breeders here in the U.S. describe the fiber as "silky", although that word is not on our breed standard. Because it's not on our standard, I hesitate to use that word, but they are right! Fiber like this IS very silky in hand, and an absolute joy to spin. That silkiness is really noticable when plying fiber fast through the fingers; all you feel is soft!

Butter cream?

It's hard to see here, except maybe in the bottom of the picture, just slightly left of center, but this fleece will spin up with a warm, buttery cream color to the yarn that reflects light and gives the viewer a warm feeling. It's a color that pairs stunningly beautifully with other Shetland colors. This yarn never sits around!! I have no trouble selling it, for it sells itself.

Time to get spinning! (Just in time for the NEXT snowstorm!!)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Not EVERYONE'S sick of the snow...

Winter is not going to fade early here on Wheely Wooly Farm this year! Sigh....but it's been pretty. The cardinals have been around for weeks, but have been absolutely silent. Each day I wait to hear that sound of pure delight, of the male calling his spring call. But each day, as the sun sets, I head to the house with disappointment at knowing I'll have to wait another day.

Meanwhile, the little wren's house sits empty. He is usually here, checking things out by now. He comes back every year, and if I don't have his little summer cottage ready for him, he sits on a branch by the front porch and scolds me through the window. After checking that I've not forgotten him and his summer quarters, he flies away again, not to be seen for a few more weeks. Then, one warm, bright, breezy spring morning, his call will be heard at sunrise, just outside my window, letting me know he's back and ready to show off his cottage to the females.

While I may be tiring of winter, little Swifty sure isn't! Each fresh snow we get (and that's been OFTEN!), Swifty heads out the door with boundless energy and excitement! It's a joy to watch him stretch out and run as fast as he can! He races effortlessly all around the farm, sails over drifts, bounds into deep snow and digs just for fun.
Shoveling becomes a real challenge, for he chases the snow that flies off the shovel and snaps at it! Sigh....
One little whistle and he comes a runnin'!

Wait a minute! THAT'S not Swifty! All this snow has not been good for cute little ponies. The drifts have been so deep, he's been getting stuck. So he created little walking paths that he just stands around on all day, not daring to go into any unpathed places. The path he's standing on here is elevated off the ground about two feet. Two days ago, he tried to lay down and roll. I didn't see it, but he clearly rolled OFF the path, right into the deep snow and got stuck! He must have been there awhile, for I could see where he was kicking with his feet, while laying on his side, to right himself. By the time I was out there again, he was standing there, on his path, looking at me with that adorable white snip on his nose, as if nothing had happened. I wish he could tell me his story! So I just hung around and gave him his favorite scratches for awhile instead.
So we're still waiting for even the finches and mourning doves to call spring notes. Pleeeeaaaassseee trumpet spring pretty soon!!!!!