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, April 28, 2011


Here they are! The long awaited lamb pics are finally up! Hope you enjoy a quick look at Wheely Wooly Farm's 2011 lambs!

Wheely Wooly Splash
Wheely Wooly Lerwick x Gwendolyn (Psalm 23 Enya)
Extremely fine, soft fleece with gorgeous lustre!! Softest fleece I think our farm has produced.
We LOVE the white marking sliding sideways off his little black nose!!
Maybe for sale?

Twins "Whirly" and "Maewyn" were born during the tornado and hail follows...

Wheely Wooly Whirlwind - he'll add a whirlwind to someone's farm someday!
Ch. Wooly Bear (Rocky Swamp Disco) x Mona (Psalm 23 Dewdrop)
Very fine, soft, dense fleece as well! Beautiful face loaded with Shetland character.
VERY friendly and frisky, playful, social! Has that awesome Shetland gait!
Nearly every time I look, he's in mid-air with heels high, whirling, so he's aptly named!

Wheely Wooly Maewyn
Ch. Wooly Bear (Rocky Swamp Disco) x Mona (Psalm 23 Dewdrop)
She's very frisky, soft, fine, strong, social, playful, and sweet!!!
Also has heels mid-air nearly everytime I look.
Not for sale.

Wheely Wooly Lacey...although won't be registered
Wheely Wooly Lerwick x Lil' Rainbow (not registered)
Beautiful little ewe lamb with very fine, longish and wavy fleece!
Lil' Rainbow is not registered due to lower teeth not on pad, but jaw normal.
Lacey is so far free of this toothy grin.
Not for sale.

Wheely Wooly Lacey side shot...when she was first born, I didn't want to disturb them together. So I took a zoom shot with the camera and was surprised to see fleece color! Note her perfect jaw. Very fine, soft fleece and a sweet, playful personality! She'll produce GREAT lace!

Wheely Wooly Hap
Wheely Wooly Lerwick x Honey
Spotted ram lamb with brown "circles" around eyes. Very docile fellow! Playful, social, but calm demeanor. Crimpier than the others. Maybe for sale?
Wheely Wooly Twilight...our little keeper!
Wheely Wooly Lerwick x Sweetie (Psalm 23 Dolly)
Cute, cute, cute! Tiny, soft, frisky and full of himself! Likes to butt the water pail and make it tip over! Also likes to jump up on the straw bale and play king. Follows me around.
Not for sale.

Hope you enjoyed our very fast whirl through our 2011 lambs...but that's not all! We have one little surprise yet to share, but you'll have to wait 'til next time!

Seven Cutie Lambs!!!

Whewwwww! What a Whirlwind (giggle, giggle) the last two weeks have been! Our farm is still standing, and we have seven extremely cute, lively, social little lambs! This year's little lambing season has taken us through one tornado, one two -day near blizzard that blew in eight inches of heavy snow right in the heart of lambing, and multiple wind and flooding events! Our sub-pump is still working, there is a frog croaking in the basement, and we have one tree leaning, but all is ok! The trek to the barn goes like this: splosh, splish, splosh, splush. YUCK!!! So tired of the mud! The farmhouse floors are constantly in need of sweepingmoppingsweeping, and the laundry pile stubbornly refuses to be gone. Even the ONIONS are sulking!

Speaking of mud, we have one very silly Border Collie puppy that sails right through, err, over the mud, and two horses in gunk up to their knees (which DOES NOT stop them from ROLLING in the muckiest spot...sigh!!)! This mud is NOT good for cute little ponies! So they are stuck hanging out mostly in their stalls, twiddling away the days....and two VERY, VERY happy ducks! This has been a VERY ducky kind of spring! Life is GRAND if you're a DUCK! (I'm not.)

So back to lambs! This is the first time I've had to update everyone, and I know many of you are anxiously waiting for pics of the lambs! (I only have about a thousand of them!) The camera batteries are charging right now, and I'll put them up hopefully today!

Wait til you see what Wooly Bear gave us!! Again, he covered all his ewes and the lambs are very high quality Shetlands (plus one extremely cute surprise!)! They are strong, friendly, playful, and CUTE! And we are very proud to be raising GREAT fleeces on these lambs and GREAT temperments! Lerwick also covered all his ewes and also produced great lambs! Wait until you meet Wheely Wooly Splash! Splashy is the softest lamb our farm has produced yet! And he's terribly cute, and very friendly! He's Gwennie's lamb, a large single. While we did have twins, I think we specialized in large single lambs this year! (giggle, giggle) Lil' Rainbow effortlessly gave us a lovely little ewe between checks! (Wheely Wooly Lacey) I found them on my check, resting side-by-side and oh so cute!! Rainbow has proven to be an EXCELLENT mom, who follows her sweetie all around the playground. Now the lambs are old enough to be racing about in lamb preschool. FUN, FUN, FUN! Rainbow has realized she can relax and have coffee at the Hay Cafe with the other moms now and not keep such close watch. Honey had a cute ram lamb (Wheely Wooly Hap, named after the working hap shawls of the Shetland people long ago.) who will fade to fawn I think, and he's spotted! Sweetie had a VERY cute little ram lamb (Wheely Wooly Twilight) who is loaded with sweet personality! (He's actually a powerful whacking package currently all tied up in teddy bear cuteness! Wait til you see his little EARS! Sooooo cute!!) He's all black and has excellent fleece and conformation, too! Sweetie is pure sweetness, also a great mom, and her lambs are so special!

So in assessing our lambs from last year, we've come to see our breeding stock is meeting our breeding goals outstandingly! It's a scary thing for me to try to set goals, then spend so much time carefully selecting stock to breed. I hemmed and hawed a lot.... It took us a few years, but the payoff was worth it! We are producing just what the standard demands of us, which is soft, fine fiber that is longish and wavy. Our secondary goal was to produce ultra friendly sheep who are personable. We've got that (giggle, giggle)!! We are handling all of our ram lambs for future halter training, while teaching them how to be good when they grow up...for they WILL grow from little cuties to powerful whackers in time. :) We want all of them to be used to people and handling while keeping them respectful, with our expectations of them always present in their minds. We feel this creates a safer ram to have around the farm, while keeping instincts, which are needed, in place. We also expected no less than beautiful horns on our rams, something else we've gotten! We will be selling two or three (can't decide) ram lambs this year, and they will be sold with a horn guarantee, something you won't find at many other farms. We do have a waiting list for lambs, especially good breeding rams, so we'll know more if anyone is available this summer. If you're looking for outstanding Shetland fiber, great personality, ease in handlability, great personality, crowning glory horns that are guaranteed, outstanding health, and breed standard conformation, you'll find it all in Wheely Wooly Farm's lambs! Pictures coming ASAP!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wheely Wooly Whirlwind

Lambs! Photos coming! Day 149 passed with no action, giggle giggle! Mona however, was definitely acting ready to go. We stalled around, waited, checked, waited, watched, waited, checked....

All signs were a go, but no action! Am I imagining that she is ready?? Finally, on Sunday, we invited company over that we haven't seen since last year. Catching up is good, and it WAS a beautiful day! We sat out on the front porch in short sleeves, listening to birds and talking. The sheep were fine and no signs of ANYTHING! Later, we cooked a nice meal and ate together, all while keeping an eye on the radar. Bad weather might move in, and no one wanted hail damage on cars. As we ate, the storm started brewing up. Clearing the dishes, the radar started getting pretty busy... the wind kicked up and worry set in. DH decided to run out and feed the rams before the storm hit. He ran into the shed to get the hay when the storm just blew up out of no where fast! It started gusting, pouring, and the radar really blew up! As we watched from the house, we could see a vortex getting reved up JUST NORTHWEST of our farm!! Oh boy!!! We agreed to divide up. I'd run out and tell DH with some company going with me, while one stayed in the house and went to the basement with others! As we put this plan together, DH BURST into the house and yelled "LAMB!!! LAMB!!!" What? Now??? He was gone, running to take care of the barn as the storm hit. BASEMENT EVERYONE! I'LL RUN TO THE BARN! Then, DH was back! "TWO LAMBS!!", then he was gone again. As we checked the radar, the vortex (tornado) was bearing down just northwest of our farm....was it going to strike here? The radar showed it's path as going right over us! As I threw the door open to run to the barn, I suddenly heard the tornado sirens going off in town!!! OH BOYYYYY!

Long story short...Mona twinned just as the storm hit. They were all fine. We were all fine, hiding out unsafely in the shed as the storm hit. It was deafening! I've never heard wind like that. Then hail! We had just pulled our guest's car into the shed when the hail hit! So Mona's little ram lamb was given the name "Whirly" or Whirlwind by our guest, and her little ewe lamb is Wheely Wooly Maewyn. Whirly is black, just like his full brother Wheely Wooly Lerwick!! He's beautiful!! Maewyn is dark brown and also beautiful! They are really cute! And Mona is a GREAT mom!

The whole adventure made us realize how important it is to review our emergency planning, and our priorities! DH was in the shed, not knowing of the vortex (tornadic activity) on the radar. I wanted to get out there and tell him so we could all take cover. I figured Mona would be a good mom, but I was worried about her being in with all the other ewes. In a time like this, Shetland sheep can handle it! We should have run for the basement.

Considering the damage all around us last weekend, we came out of it damage-free, but with a renewed sensitivity. Storms are serious business. What were we thinking! Shepherds need to be in the basement! You begin to realize how much you love your sheep and want to protect them. You realize how fast you can be pressed into making decisions that could have big consequences. You realize that sometimes, you don't have time to organize a plan; that everyone should just do the thing they all know they should do!

Five more ewes to go! Tick, tick, wait, check, watch, check, tick, tick....'s snowing horizontally today....tick, tick, check, wait, watch...

End note: turns out, that day produced more tornados in a single day in April than ever before recorded, thus smashing records for our state.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What is Shetland Fiber Like?

Well, to describe what Shetland fiber is like, let's first look at what Shetland fiber is NOT like:

1. There is no such thing as "straight" Shetland fiber. If you have straight fiber, you don't have Shetland.

2. If you ask a Shetland breeder how long Shetland fiber should be, and they reply simply "four inches", you've discovered code that they are not raising pure Shetlands. Why? Genuine, historical Shetlands from the Shetland Islands had fiber of various lengths on their bodies. This is the reason the Shetland sheep IS SO FAMOUS!!!!!! Neck wool can be very short. Lower neck and deep shoulder wool is longer. Midside wool is even longer. Britch wool is longest. Now in commercial breeds, consistency in fiber length head to tail is required. If I was raising say...Suffolks, I could say "four inches" and you'd find that head to tail. A breeder of genuine, historical Shetlands will answer your question properly by telling you of the length variety on the sheep's body, and why that's important. If you want whatever fiber, buy "four inches". If you want the wool the Shetlands became famous for, buy short neck to long britch.

3. Fiber that is twisty or cork screwy is not Shetland. There are no twists in genuine Shetland locks. Will you find that fiber on Shetland sheep? Yes! I have a 2010 lamb out of AI genetics with corkscrewy fiber. I wethered him. He is also the only lamb we've produced with that characteristic to his fleece. His tail is also off; too long, too hairy, with wool not coming down far enough and it doesn't have a tapered tip. His fleece is very nice and I can't wait to spin it, for it WILL spin up easily and make nice yarn, but I do not want to pass this corkscrewy characteristic along in breeding, for it is not genuine Shetland.

4. As Dr. Bowie, a man who assisted in writing our 1927 Breed Standard clearly writes in his notes, as well as his son, Mr. Bowie writes, there is no such thing as "single or double coated or dual coated" Shetland. That's why the language is not on the standard. This was a mystery to me until recently. ALL SHETLANDS MUST HAVE POINTED TIPS ON THEIR LOCKS. Why? So they can shed rainfall because they are from a very WET place!! This is critical. Mr. Bowie plainly and clearly wrote that if the fiber is blocky, it's not Shetland!

Whew! I want to end on this thought for today because this one is sooooo important. Of late, there have been many pictures of "Shetland" fiber on blogs and such, that are very blocky, and that don't have tips on the ends of the fiber. This fiber is promoted as "ideal" Shetland fiber. I remember being around for a conversation amongst those kinds of breeders last year. These breeders raise a lot of those super short, no tips kinds of fleeces. They are nice fleeces, but they are not genuine Shetland. The concerns being discussed that day was rain rot. Those breeders were experiencing lots of rain rot issues while the fleeces were still on the sheep last fall. The area we live in gets around 25 inches of rainfall a year. Last summer was a wet year. We had upwards of 37 inches of rainfall. The Shetland Islands get 100 inches of rain, or MORE a year, and cloudy/damp/high humidity all the time! If sheep are getting rain rot on less than 40 inches of rain, SOMETHING'S WRONG WITH YOUR FLEECES! Forty, Sixty, or even eighty inches should be a piece of cake! I was intrigued at the conversation, for I have yet to experience rain rot on my tipped fleeces, and I wanted to learn more about what rain rot is like. Sounds nasty.

End note: I was very lucky to have received some old literature from one of the early Shetland breeders in America awhile back. Giddy and very thankful, I raced home and read as much as I could. There was a LOT to digest! As I get through the material, I am continually finding new surprises (And serious delight!!!!!!)! The biggest one was the point that "if it's blocky, it's not Shetland"! There ends my usage of that completely useless language of single or double/dual coats! ALL GENUINE SHETLAND SHEEP HAVE TIPS AT THE OUTER ENDS OF THEIR LOCKS. I've come to realize that if that language has to be used to describe a fleece, then you are talking Shetland (has tips), or not Shetland (doesn't have tips, is blocky).

The information given above can help new people, or confused people sort through all the myths flying around about what is genuine Shetland, and what isn't. It is currently popular and trendy to breed for super short, blocky, same staple length head to tail fleeces. These are nice fleeces, but they are not what created the famous Shetland textiles. For people like me, who are enthralled with the accomplishments of the Shetland people and their little sheep, in that horribly rugged group of islands, I strive to keep the sheep as true as possible, so that I may enjoy the fruits of the proper fiber myself, as well as pass that on to my loyal customers (many of whom are excellent knitters). It's not only been worth it, it's been an honor!!

Final note: I believe our breed organization should make it it's business to propagate the genuine sheep and promote the genuine textiles (and indeed, that was the mission of the early board members who worked hard to grow our breed properly here in the U.S.). In 2010, a group gained control of the organization and in July, swiftly changed critical components of the definition of Shetland sheep, among other critical things, then didn't publish their changes for the membership to see until the January 2011 newsletter (THAT'S SIX MONTHS!). Their changes steer the organization away from the genuine Shetland sheep and the genuine Shetland textiles. That is not preservation nor protection. We are heading down the road of the Shetland pony here in America. What once was a very cute, furry, stocky, headstrong but humble pony, has now become a lean, glistening, Grand Prix, long-legged, dished-nosed, girlhood jumping partner for wealthy families on the show circuit. Nothing wrong with people enjoying what crossbreeding can do, unless you love the originals and belong to an organization once devoted to protecting and preserving the originals!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shetland Quiz Answers!

Here I am! I didn't mean to leave everyone hanging for the answers to our first time ever Shetland Quiz. I know a lot of you have had lots of fun with this. There is news to report so let's get started!

First of all, we took our spring time off of work at the end of March. That means, no spinning! That was hard! I really enjoy spinning, but I know it was the right thing to I stopped. I had left my wheel in the ready for a quick and pleasant return to work at the end of the week, so when I started up again, I worked on Wheely Wooly Gracelyn's fleece. I had sheared her and washed up the fleece before break, and had left the fiber to dry. Being a sweet little lamb, her fleece was a quick spin-up of a beautiful heathery mocha brown! The skeins are all washed and ready for labeling. (Pics coming soon)

Another great thing that happened in Wheely Wooly Farm news is that I found a BEAUTIFUL cabinet in which to store yarn that is for sale! I am very excited about this! Pics will be coming in future posts...

In flock news, all the ewes got their CD-T shots and pedicures, and shearing has begun. We had a wicked storm one day with much freezing rain and sleet, so I had brought the boys in for the duration of the storm....that raged on...and on....and on. We had wicked lightning, wind, and incredible rain/hail combos that made everyone uneasy. After the storm moved out, the temps took a dive and remained very cold for a week and a half after that! They are just starting to rebound again, finally! The boys are back outside with spiffy, clean fleeces just waiting to be sheared.

With that nasty storm passing through, we were very thankful we were not expecting our lambs yet. I had waited to start my breeding groups so that our ewes would start lambing mid-April. That way, they can be outside for "green-up". That's the time when our grass here goes from dormant brown to lush green. Putting the ewes out on green grass with new lambs would be a very bad idea! So we get them started AFTER mud season, but before green up, so they get the fresh air. In the meantime, they get to enjoy living out of the mud and in the sheltered space of the shed, with the big doors thrown wide open for warm sun meant for dozing off winter's bone-chilling memories.

Speaking of lambs (!) day 149 is coming up on Friday!!! This day, day 149, is counted from the first day our rams went in with the girls. That means, if a ewe lambs in the average day of gestation, we'll have lambs around that time....or not! Or earlier! Some ewes might not lamb for awhile yet. So how does one tell? Udders. Every day, I'm out there checking udders. It looks like three ewes are getting ready to go so we'll see!

Whew! Lot's of news from the farm this time! So let's get to those answers to the Shetland Quiz now! Ready?!?

1. False!!! Col. Dailley was not a knowledgable sheep man. He was very talented in many, many other ways, but felt lost on how to manage the sheep when they got to Canada. For example, he was not a knitter or spinner. He didn't know how to feed, fence, or breed them. He also didn't know how to deal with the fleeces. Having been told the fiber from Shetland's was "too long for machinery", the fleeces ended up in his garage for years...and his wife lost her car's parking spot! These experiences can be found in the memoirs of the couple who brought most of his Shetland sheep to the United States...people who had worked very closely with the Dailleys over a period of years. Here at our farm, we are very thankful the Dailley's were willing to commit such a large part of their lives to an animal they knew little about! They did not have an easy time. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

2. False! Some people have actually tried to spread this rumor!

3. False! The judge's packet that was thrown out WAS. Crazy! 'nough said.

4. False! Mr. Bowie himself has written that if the tips are blocky, it's NOT Shetland.

5. False! Another rumor some people work hard to propagate.

6. False! Sigh! This one is really shocking!

7. False! Sigh again!

8. False! WHERE are we going as breeders?!? A good, level topline on many kinds of livestock is well known as more than cosmetic, but essential for good health and fitness of a breed. So why are Shetland breeders going so backwards??? Cull sheep with ski-slope or satellite dish backs. Do not breed them!

9. False! This one goes along with question 18.

10. False! ....and all that tasty stuff in those single serving wrappers is healthy for you!

11. False! This one IS fascinating! Color is a tough one, and even the longtime breeders that kept these sheep for centuries sometimes had trouble with color descriptions. This is a beautifully diverse breed. We embrace that diversity, and love all the surprises!

12. False! Hand! Hand is the way to select a Shetland fleece. HAND! HAND! Put it in your HANDS!

13. False! As university and fleece experts will very happily chirp over, and over, and over, and over again....your micron test is just ONE MOMENT in time. Your fleece changes daily.

14. False! This rumor is REALLY crazy!

15. False! Our approach to this question is this: I think the Shetlanders knew what they were doing! THEY protected the sheep. THEY made them famous! Who am I to amend that or change it?? The textiles mean everything. They are the words on the pages of the Shetland sheep story.

15.a. False! Oh boyohboyohboy! I better not get started on this one! (Does not the chef taste their creations??)

16. FALSE!

17. FALSEFALSEFALSE!!! Wheely Wooly Farm will continue to breed the sheep she knew and loved, whether NASSA is on board with us, nor not.

18. False! Don't believe it? Check out the Shetland Textile Museum's video on youtube. Watch for the looms. The museum is near the dock in Lerwick, Shetland's famous port where so many textile products were traded or sold over the centuries. The wonderful spinner in the video is spinning on the same wheel I use. Go watch it! You're in for a treat!!

19. giggle, giggle....FALSE! The islands received 54 days of gale force winds last year. That's typical. It's mild, wet, and it's windy. How many different ways can you describe precipitation? Think Lenice Bell's "bums to the wind"..."bums to the wind"...."bums to the wind". It's a clue.

20. False! Shetlands have SWEET personalities and are very friendly and easy to handle, unless you look like Big Foot to them!

That's all of them! Hey!...they are all false...silly me! :) (Ok, I did that on purpose.) We hope you enjoyed the first ever Shetland Sheep Quiz! Remember, Shetland sheep are personable, sweet little things with exceptionally soft, drapey fleeces that hang to their knees! They are for spinning, spinning, spinning. They make the most sensational knitting yarn! It's for wearing, wearing, wearing!!! Put some Shetland fleece in YOUR hands today!