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, May 31, 2011

I'm sorry....

Let's see....powerful whacking machine, full of ability to survive in tough conditions that makes humans shudder and run for cover, defender of girls he keeps safe from roaming intruders, defends to the death. Noble, strong, attentive, a leader, watchful, feeling, short-lived. Rams are amazing creatures. Yet, for all their strength, determination, and aliveness, I can't help but think their horns, when viewed from the back, are just plum cute. I'm sorry.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cat's Paw Lace from Wooly Bear

THIS is what all the hard work with sheep is all about! Here is a beautiful lace piece I knitted last winter. It's worked on a circular needle with a light worsted weight yarn. The yarn is very special, for it comes from our Grand Champion ram, Wooly Bear. Wooly Bear doesn't have a fancy show name, because he was very carefully selected and named just for our farm. When we plucked him out of someone else's back yard as a lamb, I had NO idea he'd give our farm so much!!! He has become the cornerstone of Wheely Wooly Farm, both in fineness and softness of fiber, but also in conformation, gentle temperament, and for the awesome lambs he's now giving us!

Wooly Bear's Cat's Paw Shetland Lace

The wool for this piece comes from Wooly Bear's black lamb's fleece, sheared in spring of 2010 (I sheared him). Then, upon preparing the wool for spinning, I spun most of it in a nice light worsted (about 3 or 4) two-ply yarn, for at the time, I wasn't sure what the fiber would be like...I just knew it'd be soft! I didn't have a project in mind, but I knew I wanted to make something that would become a keepsake in our farm collection. Ok, THAT'S intimidating!! After spinning the yarn, I carefully prepared it for safe storage, and began to ponder...and ponder....and ponder what I would do with it! I was really intimidated by that, even though I frequently and quickly knit up lots of other Shetland yarn I spin into many things. But this one was different.

closer view...

The piece measures eight inches wide by about 41 inches long, just perfect for wearing in the open neck area of my winter coat. It's long enough to keep out cold wind, but not long enough to be bulky in the body area under my coat. The width is REALLY nice when the wind is stinging! Lace is notorious for being exceptionally warm, and this scarf has made me a full believer in that!!

The pattern is thought to be the original one used by the women of Shetland. It is designed to have flow in knitting, so that it can be knitted on the go, without having to think much, or having to look back at a pattern. I found that to be a hidden delight as I got going on this piece!! It truly has flow. It would not be hard to walk along with a pony on my arm while knitting this....just like they did....

The cat's paw pattern has many variations to it that can sometimes be subtle. It is GREAT fun trying out these variations!

My scarf has four repeats of the pattern in it, with some garter on each side to prevent rolling. On the bottom, I knitted a separate border trim on straight needles, just for fun! I had first learned this trim at the beach with my toes buried in warm sand, with Iris's yarn (my favorite wait! They are all my favorite ewes!!) The trim was simply sewn on to give the ends a bit more weight. The weight helps keep everything in place while I knock out and smash yet more frozen water from water buckets in winter....sigh. I like the line of transition inbetween the cat pattern and the trim, for I think it looks more professional and finished, with clearly marked boundries where the patterns break.

Even more fun, I was not the only one to work on this piece. I love to get others interested in knitting real Shetland wool by asking if they'd like to knit a bit. One person did, a young family member who is currently taking tough classes at a high ranked private university. After studiously working on it, and finding a whole row quite exhausting, she declared, after another row or two, that this was harder than anything she'd worked on in her classes at school!!! Giggle, giggle! I hope she was hooked! After handing it back to me, she watched with much interest, as I continued the knitting. We followed the chart together so she could see what I was doing. It was another fun moment of sharing that I think we'll both remember for a long time to come.

I hope you enjoyed seeing Wooly Bear's Cat's Paw Shetland Lace, and reading about the special memories that come with this piece! Now it's your turn! Give Cat's Paw lace a try!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wheely Wooly Splash

Oh little Splash, you're soooo cute!! Do you have something sweet sliding off your little nose? This little lamb sure surprised me when he was born! His expression is always bright like this, and his fleece is stunningly fine, soft, and lustrous! He was the first to chew cud at 28 days old, so he's maturing faster than I can almost comprehend.

Wheely Wooly Splash
Wheely Wooly Lerwick x Gwendolyn (Ps 23 Enya)
Shetland ram lamb who'll be registered

He is calm (!) but very playful and friendly. He loves to come to the fence and greet people...fools ya into thinking he's Mona's lamb, but he's not. He's actually out of Gwennie! Gwennie is a very good mom with lots of milk...! This little fellow loves people, and the other lambs. It's so fun to watch him out on pasture with the other lambs! He's fast and loves to leap! When visitors come by, Splashy is often the first lamb to the fence, offering a curious greeting. We first instruct all of our visitors on how to "visit" with cute ram lambs. Petting on top of the head is not allowed! To greet our ram lambs, we practice chin scratching and back patting. Speaking of visitors....lambs sure attract them!!

Splashy?...where are you resting, Splash?

This little guy has fiber that is just like Lerwick's when he was a baby lamb! It's definitely longish and wavy! Can't WAIT to see how this fleece grows out! The black in the fiber is definitely black to the skin, but I imagine he'll fade up the grey side as he matures. Grey is a nice color to have for it looks great on men, matches nearly everything in their "wardrobes", and it's fun to dye. His conformation is rock solid and square, with a very nice level topline, just like Lerwick. His horns are growing out beautifully so far!

Wait a minute! Splash!! Your sleeping in the FEEDER!!!!!! Notice his ear? It's half white, with black on the upper half! The rest of his body is all black. I've studied and studied the Shetland markings, but Splashy doesn't fit neatly into any one marking...because the white is sliding off his nose!
Is that really comfortable Splash??

Here's another look at his markings, this time from the other side. He's a few days old in this picture.

Oh little Shetlands sure love their rocks...err...moms! Gwennie was promptly sheared, and her fleece is all spun up now, just off the bobbins today. Some lambs climb on the moms, others don't. Gwennie's fleece this year was the most incredible fleece she's given us so far. It was incredibly soft, and as always, long and wavy! It was a dream to spin and a joy to ply because of it's softness. All of our fleeces are coming off in GREAT shape this year! Maybe because of the long, hard winter and cold, cloudy spring? Not sure, but it's really nice to have nice fleeces.
Splash climbing on his mom, Gwennie. Gwennie looked so big, we thought she might have octuplets in there.....

Hope you enjoyed learning more about cute little Splash! And thanks everyone for the compliments on Lerwick! Much appreciated!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wheely Wooly Lerwick Grown Up

Here he is! Lerwick is one of our lambs from last year, so he's a yearling now. He's also the proven sire of Hap, Splash, Lacey, and Twilight...four of this year's lambs (Lerwick covered ALL his ewes!). We are nuts about this young ram! (Well, we have certainly been happy about ALL of our lambs, but we knew when this guy was born that we had something special!)

Wheely Wooly Lerwick, born April 2010
Ch. Wooly Bear (Rocky Swamp Disco) x Mona (Ps. 23 Dewdrop)
Registered Shetland breeding ram

Lerwick is named for the main seaport in the Shetland Islands, where most of the knitted goods trading had taken place over the past several centuries. When Dutch herring fleets came in near the solstice, waiting for the first official day of fishing to start, the port was very busy. Shetland woollen goods were traded, taken back to ships, and dispersed all over the world, so the reputation of Shetland fiber became well known. The Shetland sheep in America today are descendents of those famous sheep (Lerwick is descended from almost all Dailley lines, but Island Skeld was Mona's grand sire) and we are VERY thankful to have them!! I couldn't wait to name a ram Lerwick...for I had planned it for a few years! So nice to see a dream come true!

Lerwick excites us because he follows the 1927 Breed Standard so closely! As you'll see in these next photos, he has many excellent strengths. We wish to follow the breed standard as closely as we can, for I believe that to have the REAL, GENUINE sheep and fiber, you have to produce what SHETLANDERS produced in those famous heydays!! I'm certainly not qualified (or desiring) to change their specifications, so we stick to what they deemed important.

First, notice his fine, crown of glory horns!! While Shetlands can be polled and that's fine, we really like the horns. They are beautiful on him, and make him seem larger than life in full fleece! Also notice that he is woolly on his poll and cheeks. He exhibits wonderful bright, perky Shetland character in his sweet face, without looking wrinkly like merinos or having a mean or dull look. His eyes are very bright as is his personality; perky, alert, and bright. His gait matches his expression...very smart! His expression matches his sire's, Wooly Bear.
Yes, he's vocal, too! ALL of my animals are life history. They all know they can tell me things. Lerwick's baa is very distinctive. It ends on an up-note.

His body is actually very, very small! I sheared him after this picture was taken and I think there's only about one third sheep left! He has length in his neck, a goofy topline right now (he's only half grown), but it's historically broomstick straight, and he's square on all four legs. His hips are nice and wide, but not high. That's important in passing good structure down to ewe lambs. His fleece is of excellent length! It drapes over his body so beautifully! His neck wool is shorter, and his britch wool (over the back hips and down outer rear legs) is not too coarse. The legs appear as a good foundation under his body; strong, fine, but not delicate or overly thick.
Check out that perfect tail!!
The hallmark of good breeding.

Lerwick's tail is perfect! Notice also, that he has good bone; not too fine, not too dense. He is a very agile, strong little guy, who can get out of the way of a charge like a twinkle-toes.

Extremely fine, long, silky (a word I really don't like to use), soft, wavy fleece!!

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! This is where I get really excited!! His fleece is my dream! Long, wavy, fine, soft, and dense! It was sooooo dense, it took me three times longer to shear him than Wilbur. (Wilbur is a piece of cake to shear!) We select Shetlands for solid colors for ease of spinning. We LOVE the spotted Shetlands, but it's much more time consuming to spin spotted fleeces properly for sale, unless the spots fade out. Lerwick is solid colored. It remains to be seen if he'll fade. We love faders for the awesome dynamics the fleeces give you year to year. When this fleece came off, he was as black at the skinline as can be. Wooly Bear has begun to fade and has some grey in his fiber now, but Lerwick's dam Mona is still black. Maybe Lerwick will remain black? We'll see.

Lastly, both Wooly Bear and Mona have extremely friendly, gentle temperments. Mona is an excellent mother, birthing out twins this year seemingly effortlessly during hail and a bypassing tornado! We rely heavily on Mona as she is our flock matron. Where she goes, everyone goes. She's also our farm mascot, being the first to greet visitors, and last to say goodbye. Everyone remembers Mona! So far, Lerwick takes after his sire and dam in friendliness! He too, is gentle and calm.

Hope you enjoyed learning more about Lerwick, and seeing how he has grown!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oh THERE you are!

Oh, Wilbur! We knew you were in there somewhere, for we heard you tell us so...a lot!

Doesn't that feel sooooo much better, Wilbur?!?

Ta Da! All done.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wheely Wooly Hap

Here's a very friendly little fellow! Meet Wheely Wooly Hap, a little ram lamb. Every time I look at him, it seems he's smiling! He has a very calm demeanor about him, and he's very friendly (did I mention that yet?). No surprise!

Wheely Wooly Hap
Wheely Wooly Lerwick x Honey
ram lamb who'll be registered

Hap is a very honored fella. He is out of Wheely Wooly Lerwick, an outstanding Shetland ram born on our farm last year. Lerwick has outstanding longish wavy fleece that is remarkably fine and soft. That fineness and softness comes surely from our Grand Champion Ram, Wooly Bear, who is Lerwick's sire. That makes Wooly Bear a Rampa! (giggle, giggle) (Can you believe it? Time sure flies, doesn't it!) Lerwick also has outstanding conformation, and Wooly Bear's gentle temperament, which he obviously hooved down to his little lamb, Hap.

But that's not all! You see, Hap has Grand Champ. blood on BOTH sides!! Honey is descended from Grand Champion Bluff Country Patriot! After winning the big title several years ago, Patriot went on to sire many lambs. Thus Honey has descended. She, too, has passed on a very soft, fine fleece that has more crimp than many of my other sheep. I think that's where Hap gets the crimp he is wearing. The yarn pictured on the right side of my blog is from Hap's Grand-ewether There are many pictures of Honey's fleece in my blog archives. I could make it easy to read them, but I haven't learned how to pull them up yet!

lambs are: Twilight (left), Maewyn (center), and Hap
ewes are: Sweetie (Twilight's mom, left), Gwennie (center back), and Honey (Hap's mom)

Little Hap was born moorit with white. So is he a white sheep with moorit markings?? (giggle, giggle)....or is he a moorit sheep with white markings? His mother is spotted, which is where he get's his color. His fleece is very crimpy, and nearly white at skin line! His mother's line are faders, so I think he'll mature out much lighter than he is now. I think his grown up regalness is already beginning to show in this next picture...

I can just picture it...his band of ewes behind him, grazing, while he regally looks out over the expanse before him, front hooves confidently on a rock outcrop... checking for any rams down in the distance that might move in on his group. OK! OK! So I'm romanticizing a little here, but he DOES look regal here, doesn't he? I can just see his crown of glory horns curling around....ok, ok! I'll stop!

Hap is named for the hap shawls that were once very common on the Shetland Islands long ago. Hap shawls were the everyday shawls worn by working people as they tended their families and crofts (farms). The Shetland Island Museum Photo Archives are full of pictures of women wearing their hap shawls. We dream our little Hap will grow up to be as useful as those hap shawls everyone wore back then!

Since Honey is a first-time mom and therefore, we cannot be absolutely certain what she produces, we will wait to see how Hap's horns grow out. But as you can see, he is a great lamb in all other respects, and with Wooly Bear's and Lerwick's outstanding horns, we aren't too worried.

Here's what his other side looks like.

No, no, no! Little lambies! Don't do that!!! Isn't Sweetie a good mom! Wait a minute! Sweetie's not Hap's mother! Sweetie is always so gentle, she takes care of all lambs as if they were her own. Just after I took this picture, I was running up to the house for my shears!

Hap on Sweetie's extremely fine fleece this year! Twilight (also guilty!) peaking over Hay Cafe's stock tank.
Hope you enjoyed seeing more and learning more about Wheely Wooly Hap!

Ok, I haven't figured out how to attach old posts here, but if you want to see Honey and her fleece from last year, look up May 6, 2010 titled Color, color, color! and May 21, 2010 titled Fleeces. They both have good pictures of Hap's mom's fleece. Honey was born very dark brown, faded to honey-color as a bieslet (collar of color around her neck), then faded to creamy fawn, just like her own mother! Notice in the photos the lovely lilacs that were blooming on our farm last year in early May! Not this year! It will be at least two weeks yet, maybe longer before we get lilac blooms!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wooly Bear's Posie

Wheely Wooly Posie
Ch. Wooly Bear (Shetland) x Claire (dairy ewe)
unregistered ewe lamb

What a surprise! I couldn't believe it when this little lamb was born! Meet sweet little Posie, who's mother is not Shetland, but a dairy sheep! Oh, have we been having fun!!!!

Last year, I purchased a wonderful dairy ewe, whom we named Claire. We got the name Claire from the person who was hired last year to promote and organize dairy sheep in our state! When we told the REAL Claire that we named a sheep after her, she was FLOORED! Fun! Thanks, Claire, for letting us use your name for our dairy sheep! And thanks for your help!

Anyway, fun, fun, fun!!! Our Claire is a very docile, easy sheep. We've been enjoying her immensly. The plan was to breed her to Wooly Bear, to get lambs, and thus milk. I had NO idea what lambs out of a Shetland sire would look we waited anxiously to see what would happen. What happened?? FUN!!!

Little Posie is a very sweet little ewe lamb. We worried that since Claire was, of course, raised on milk replacer, if she would be a good mother. Would we have rejection? The answer is, NO! Claire is an outstanding mother who must have read the manual over the winter! She is very attentive but relaxed, talks to Posie a lot, and keeps her close. They sleep very close together all the time.

You can see Posie wants to be just like her Mom!

I sheared Claire awhile back, since dairy sheep do not roo. Her fleece was washed right away and is now mostly spun. It was over five pounds of crimpy fiber fun!! Since we are in the business of wool, we took care with Claire's wool since she arrived on our farm to get her fleece in shape for spinning. The staple length was five to six inches and very crimpy, and much softer than I thought dairy sheep wool would be. The yarn would be GREAT baby yarn, for it practically bounces itself off whatever it's sitting on. I cannot wait to dye some, and knit some, and crochet some.....
Note her little tail...not too long!

One of the things I worried about, was will the tails need docking? I really, really, really didn't want to do that! Another happy event! Her tail is longer than a Shetland's tail, but not by much, so we're gonna leave it as is. Besides, having no tail is...well...indecent!

What do you think of all this sheepy fun and excitement, Swifty??!??!!?

Ready for my help yet??