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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Swifty sits by pumpkins

Swifty the Sheep Dog

Those aren't sheep, Swifty! Can you believe this shot?? I had gone into the house to get the camera...with the idea of taking pictures of 'Wow', the biggest pumpkin we've ever grown. As I came out the door, this is what I saw! Swifty had laid down real nice to wait for me and I was lucky enough to get a picture before he ran away.

Today was a beautiful day. Instead of playing sheepy games with Swifty, we all pitched in to rip out pumpkin vines, including Swifty! I think I need a picture of that, too! Funny boy. For those of you who've followed my blog for a long time, you'll probably remember the flying rotten cucumbers of last year, and Swifty's joy at snapping them, yuck and all, out of the air as they sailed to the compost heap? Giggle, giggle...those good times have come around for SwiftySwifterSwift-o once again!

I forgot to mention, he DID get a juicy, ripe pear today! As pears got picked up and picked off the tree, he delighted in snatching one, then taking off with it! Later, as I fed the rams, he was delighting in rolling around on his pear as I threw the hay! By evening, I found pears in the pasture, in the barn, and by the pumpkins. I think Swifty had a GREAT day today!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Barn Mittens, hand spun

Hand spun, hand knitted mittens

Swifty posts ARE coming! It's been very rainy here lately. Yesterday, we had torrential downpours steadily all day. Not good weather for snapping pictures...and this system has hung over our area for quite some time now.

So while we wait, I'll show you my new barn mittens! These are made out of the roving I bought at the festival and is a blend of Corriedale and mohair. I spun for a guage of heavy worsted weight in a 2-ply yarn. The mitten pattern is a very simplistic one of just a K1, P1 ribbing, then just knitting down with simple decreases at the fingertips for a little shaping. The right mitten is knit a little differently for the thumb placement than the left mitten. I knit them on size 6 wooden double points. Then, I moved on to the task of fixing my old mittens! I cut off the cuff, and tried to pick up the top stitches. It was pretty tough to do that, until I realized that over several years of hard use, and many freezing moments sticking to stall door latches and water bucket handles that they have actually felted a bit! So now, I have them sitting where I see them frequently by my work space, so that I can ponder what I want to do from here, wishing I hadn't cut the cuff off. I was hoping to have TWO pairs of mittens this year, one drying, one on hand. Now, temporarily anyways, I'm back down to one pair.

Now those mittens were a barber pole 2-ply of Shetland/Coopworth blend, with Angora bunny cuffs. I had spun that yarn from my white Angora bunny, Zinnia. So....maybe I'll just replace them with straight Shetland yarn, or I do have some white Coopworth roving I could spin up and ply with Shetland again....hummm.....and add Zinnie's yarn to the cuffs again....hummm....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Another trophy!!

Can you believe it?? Another trophy graces our home! This trophy was earned at a state poultry competition in which exhibitors came from all over our state and others! There were hundreds and hundreds of birds, all bathed and poofed. How fun to see all the varieties, shapes, sizes! This trophy was earned in showmanship, making it the fifth trophy to come home this summer in only two competitions!

The class was pretty big. We have not attended a show like this before and felt we were just going for the experience. Imagine our surprise when our exhibitor won Reserve Show Person!!! WOW!!!!! Not bad for the first time out! The other exhibitors seemed to know so much, and had beautiful birds. We met more new friends, and learned a lot more about the show and other breeds, and breed clubs. It was a great experience that I'm sure we'll never forget!

The bird we took was a beautiful black purebred Ameraucana pullet. She has lovely muffs and a full beard, but unfortunately, she began moulting just before the show!! Oh no!!! We took her anyway, as she had JUST started, and hoped for the best. Her body was still beautifully feathered, with just a few tail feathers missing. She did get placed down to third, but we were happy anyway! First white ribbon added to our growing collection! The chicken's name is Star, and she made for another happy trip to a show. I'll get pictures of her maybe tomorrow and post them.

Ok, when's the next show! (giggle, giggle)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wheely Wooly Maewyn

Wheely Wooly Maewyn
Spring 2011 ewe lamb

Meet our pretty little Maewyn. She's a spring lamb from our 2011 lamb crop. Her color is a rich moorit right now, but my guess is she'll fade, and we hope she will, as I love spinning the fading dynamics as the sheep ages. Faders create lovely color in yarns! If she doesn't fade, we'd feel like we've had a bonus as well, for her rich moorit color is really lovely.

Maewyn is out of our foundation ram, Wooly Bear, and Mona. Just like her parents, Maewyn is very docile, calm, and friendly. She loves coming up to you for attention, and even lets strangers pet her...just like her mom! Wooly Bear will also frequently let strangers feel his wool, but we usually don't let that happen, just in case the people unknowingly pat the top of his head (a ram no-no!).
Maewyn's fiber at shoulder

Maewyn's wool is very fine, soft, longish and wavy. It will be a true delight to spin, and I never get tired of spinning fiber like this. I'm currently spinning about 40 Shetland fleeces a year, plus roving I buy. Those forty fleeces are very much like this one, although I do spin other breeds from time to time. Whenever I do switch, there is a real adjustment period in getting accustomed to the new fiber. I can't wait to spin Maewyn's fiber! If our past fiber is any indication, Maewyn's fleece will probably sell out fast, for people love how soft and light the yarn is. It just has a unique, special feel and appeal that is really hard to explain.

Hope you enjoyed learning about little Maewyn! Stay tuned...I promise that Swifty stuff is coming! I've been having a ball with my little buddy!!!! Today, he got to play in the hose again, and go swimming in the stock tank. How nice it is again to have wet dog! (Yes, I actually wrote that! More later.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Welcome UK! and cute Posie

Posie's Fiber

Welcome UK! We sincerely hope you enjoy touring our farm! How fun it is to be able to exchange information over the great seas. We are currently heading into fall here on our farm. The leaves are just beginning to turn vibrant colors, but the flowers and tomatoes are still growing. Speaking of the UK, I've recently seen some LOVELY pictures of your REAL Buff Orpington chickens taken with a breeder (?) somewhere in England (The Poultry Magazine Vol. 3, Iss 2, July/Aug. 2011, page 40), and they were beautiful! It's pretty tough to get that true body style here in America. We are raising one Buff Orp. chick, but we know it won't look typey, but rather tall, leggy, and lean for right now, that is what is available to us. I just LOVE the low, deep bodies, very little showing leg, and fluffy feathers of your Orps! I seriously think a hen like that just needs her own pretty little yellow apron! Isn't it just like Americans to change things around?? I was talking to a Shetland breeder outside the United States this summer, and this person commented on how crazy Americans have been in changing things in animal breeds. I agree! Crazy!

Back to sheep! These two pictures are of little Posie, an East Friesian/Shetland cross. We wanted a dairy sheep, so we got one, and bred her to our foundation ram, Wooly Bear. I was a little nervous on what that crossing would produce, and I certainly didn't expect cute little Posie! She'll be bigger than a Shetland, smaller than a Friesian. She's very docile and friendly, coming over to me every chance she gets for sweet nothings.

Wheely Wooly Posie

Posie's wool also excites me. I had carefully planned out the purchase of a dairy ewe, and thought hard about what I would do with the fiber. Posie's mother, Claire, had an outstanding lamb's fleece that is very soft for a dairy sheep, and is perfectly wearable. I'd like to try dyeing it in goldenrod...soon!!! I know Claire's next fleece will be coarser, but I still can't wait to get it, for I already have plans for it. In the meantime, Wooly Bear even threw his softness into little Posie's fiber. It's softer than Claire's lamb's fleece was. Are sheep fun? YES!! :)

(This picture of Posie was taken two days ago, so you can see we are very lucky to have good, rich grass yet for grazing.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The telling of a tail

Wheely Wooly Splash's tail

A tail can tell you a lot about a Shetland. From the very first purchases of sheep we made, tails have always been important to us. We believe that sheep with improper tails should not be selected for breeding stock, no matter how good the rest of their attributes may be. In Shetland sheep, tails tell a tale.

Our Wooly Bear, the foundation ram on our farm and a cornerstone in our flock, throws beautiful tails. His first year offspring produced really nice tails, some of which are pictured on blogs past. This tail photo is of this year's offspring. This is Splashy, a ram lamb of very high quality. He has outstanding horns, a soft, bright expression, an excellent temperment, smart gait, he's lively, has a WONDERFUL longish wavy fleece that just might be the softest our farm has produced yet, and he has good legs. His tail is a great example of the breed standard.

Our standard says "fluke tail. Wool at root forming the broad rounded part, and tapering suddenly to barely covered fine point." Splashy's tail is rounder on top, with a nice covering of wool poofing out, as you can see. Then, it transitions to hair. (Remember, if someone ever says they have no hair on their Shetland farms, then they don't have Shetlands!!!) Yes, EVERY good Shetland should have hair on the ends of their tails. If wool grows to the point, don't breed that sheep. Anyhow, Splash's tail begins to taper where the hair starts, and comes to a finer point at the end...covering about an inch in distance from wool to tip. The tip is harder to see, since the hair is growing down there. In this area of hair, his tail gets FLAT. That was something I heard the UK judges talk about, and I was SOOOOO relieved to hear it! FLAT tips are important in a good breeding Shetland. It's what we've selected for since the purchase of our first two sheep, and it's what we continue to pay attention to as we build up our flock.

I always recommend people get to the shows to learn. It's at the shows you can see so much variance, and really train your eye on what is correct, and what isn't . If you want to breed for high quality stock, you have to know what these differences are. At a show, you can see many sheep in a small space, and make comparisons. I have found it very beneficial in learning how to select for really good sheep.

Last, I think the UK judges did give some outstanding advice, and they were emphasizing it with a sense of frustration....and that is that the Shetland sheep is a WHOLE PACKAGE! You cannot work for one attribute, get it, then say Bam! I have a great sheep that everyone should breed to! (and then try to force the rest of us to breed to that) Instead, you should strive to really LEARN the standard, select appropriately by taking into account ALL the attributes, and be sure to most definitely secure the most important attributes in the breeding stock. I just cannot stress enough that your copy of your breed standard needs to be HANDY and carried out to the flock with you FREQUENTLY! That simple document can help you improve your flock and make better decisions. And most importantly, to avoid farm embarrassment, please, halter train your sheep before the show, and have a friend or family member help you assess that sheep with your standard in your hand before deciding whether to bring that sheep to the show!! No sheep is perfect, but it's a great way to really understand what you have, and whether or not it should be exhibited.

In my experience, I've discovered that striving to adhere to exactly what the standard clearly says, yields amazing results of bright-eyed, friendly little sheep with absolutely awesome fiber that I not only never tire of spinning, knitting, or wearing, but of brightly colored wool that sells itself! The standard, in it's amazing simplicity, works! I know of many people who are breeding for appendix sheep, and are having all kinds of trouble. I know which one we're sticking with!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Spinning together for the public

Spinning Demos Together!

What fun we had today!!!!!! I got to spend the day in one of my favorite barns, doing something I love, all for a wonderful event!! What could be better than that? Today we spun all day, doing demos for the public. We each had our wheels there. The crowd was WONDERFUL!! Everyone was very curious, interested, and full of questions. Lots of little hands got to feel sheep's wool today. Boys were fascinated in how the wheels worked, with several expressing interest in spinning. Meanwhile, the Baa-tique was out and doll scarves were the hot item of the day! For each scarf sold, we donated 50 cents to the cause we attended today. You see, we were invited to attend A Day on the Farm out in Pickett. This event is the result of a very sad loss of a little boy named Jarid. After Jarid passed away, his family, who lives on a farm, decided to have an event each year to bring children out to the farm. The farm is a place little Jarid loved. The event is beautifully done with a corn maze, pumpkins, farm animals and baby chicks, a great sand pile, pedal tractors with wagons to pull little bales of straw, and music, great food, and other things like hay rides and a pretend cow to milk. While we spun in the hayloft, a little mini-donkey or burro was braying underneath us. LOVED IT!!! The hope of the day is that money will be raised to help fund research at St. Jude's Hospital in Milwaukee. It was a great day with a great turn out despite cloudy skies and a little rain at the end. We felt very honored to be asked to attend this event and spin, and we are very grateful for the wonderful publicity the announcer gave our farm! We hope Jarid's family was successful in raising lots of money for research this year! I know someone from our farm was very excited to tally up the numbers at the end of the day and make a run to the donation can!!!

Spinning can sure bring people together!

Thursday, September 15, 2011


More is coming about Swifty! Today, I'm working on finishing an order for Saturday. I managed to get all the tomatoes in, now I can start on the pears! Apples will be right behind that. Our storm damage will be getting fixed tomorrow, and more hay is coming as soon as we can get the big doors popped back out. I have some lovely new skeins of yarn to label and hope to have those at the market on Saturday. Lot's of fun things to do!

In finishing up thoughts on the festival, I've come to realize that the UK judges exhibited quite a lot that was similar to my own adherence to the 1927 Breed Standard. I still think that wavy means wavy, and that longish means longish. But the common ground covered all the rest, such as undersized animals or meaty animals can be kept, but you certainly shouldn't register or breed such Shetlands as purebred, for the breed standard clearly addresses those topics. Also, they were very surprised at the discussion on scadder, and reiterated quite vehemently that scadder is not grounds for disqualification...never has been. So my concluding thoughts are that most of the trendy changes we've seen pushed by a small group of people here in the Midwest are indeed just trends coming OUT of the midwest, and things NOT supported by the SSS, which put the UK judges in an interesting position. The presentation on Sunday of the festival was scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon, and it went that long, perhaps a few minutes past noon, but most of the audience had left long before noon, including the group that hired the judges and brought them here. I thought it was nice, too, that one judge offered her own opinions as to the sheep and management, which frequently matched my own, and she also said she doesn't keep much of the super short fleeces on her farm, either, but she said that was just her preference. It was a good presentation and I'm really glad I went! (I was there Friday, and there was definitely tension in the barn after the judges talked...ram inspections? Something about tails not correct and fleece types...and retelling what was said accurately....then I was three hours north of the festival on Saturday but back for Sunday.)

I truly believe that our task at hand here in North America is a simple-sounding one, but in reality is an exceedingly difficult one, and that is to JUST PRESERVE AND PROTECT the breed from onslaughts of strong groups who find ways to change the breed without the greater membership's awareness. Remember the 2010 NASSA Board changing things in July 2010, but not publishing their changes until the January 2011 NASSA Newsletter?? That was over six months later!!! Remember the changed out photos on literature and the website? The flood of "new" history? The totally re-written judges packet? Appendix A? And the ongoing hijacking of the NASSA Chat list, where only certain people can participate...and hype? It was a total takeover.

Our Shetlands are a treasure, and they do not need "improvement". They are good mothers, hardy, do not need boatloads of corn to survive, won't starve on pasture, have virtually no disease or defects, have excellent temperaments, and they produce outstanding fiber that is perfect for handspinning, knitting, and wearing. Their colors are rich, intense, and exceptional. WHAT IS LEFT TO IMPROVE??? We've already got it all!!! Let's work to make sure people who sneak in and change that get sent the message that the genuine Shetland sheep is well loved and treasured! We don't want these changes! We don't want to narrow our diversity! We liked things just the way they WERE.

On an end note, since the person who suggested I learn how to spin by taking a class with Carol Rhoades, was the judge for the Shetland yarns... I wonder if she was aware of the fact that she got that job through my design of Shetland Showcase, and my personal goals of getting more people connected to the fiber through spinning and knitting (and remember? increase opportunities, to learn, to ease the tension, and to have fun)? Probably not! I guess when you design something, and another group steals your ideas, they just can't implement it with the tone and feeling you designed into it...

Someone else can sing the song....but it just doesn't sound the same...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More Festival Goodies!

Pretty roving, and mitten pattern

Here are some more of the festival goodies I picked up last weekend. The mitten pattern is familiar to many, the original being lingonberries...a very scandinavian design. This pair calls for just 150 yards of the main color, and 100 yards of contrasting color. Fun!!! I've vowed to myself, though, that I'll repair my barn mittens FIRST! (giggle, giggle) My barn mittens need new cuffs, for the angora yarn has worn out and I want to make thicker areas on the thumbs, where water bucket handles tend to freeze to the fiber when I'm carrying them.

The roving is from a new source, so it will be fun to try! This farm has a very cute barn that I've always admired driving past. Well this weekend, I got to meet the human of the barn (and see pictures of the sheep)!

A few other things about the festival I could share. The UK judges talked quite a bit in their presentation about the regulatory climate in their country, and how expensive ram inspections have become, and hard to do. They also talked about how expensive micron testing is there. One judge mentioned very, very briefly that the older members of SSS preferred the longer fleeces, but that the new, younger members are going for really short fleeces. (There were a couple of rams in the barn this weekend that had people wondering why they were sheared right before the show...they looked maybe three weeks out from a shearing. Turns out, that IS their wool growth from last spring!) Also discussed was birth coats (one audience member mentioned that differing birth coats...up to five? I think she said...was well known and common in merinos). The judges replied that any birth coat is fine as long as the wool grows into good Shetland wool. Lambs need time to grow out before decisions can be best made. Horned ewes were also discussed. The judges said horned ewes were not desirable by many SSS members who are older because of less ease in handling the sheep. The other judge said she does not keep the horned ewes on her farm much, nor polled rams. The horns on ewes are typically more upright horns, so I can understand what the judge meant. The same is often felt about goats' horns...upright can cause safety issues. Rams should have nice sized horns that curl in a nice curl along side the head. That's what my rams have. It was truly fun listening to them! By the way, one judge was from mainland Scotland, the other from England. Neither was from the Shetland Islands.

Another point of interest about this festival is did you notice how many people this year in the Country Store were wearing wool?? I was sooo excited to see that! I always wear my wool in my booth when weather permits. It's a great way for people to see how beautiful and warm wool is. I think the most popular garment I saw was little capelets...small shawl-like garments that essentially cover just the tops of the shoulders and maybe a little past along the back. I saw LOTS of beautiful, handmade capelets this weekend! I also saw light scarves in coordinated outfit colors being worn to perfection, with a casual, rustic look that was sophisticated and politely understated. It was quite evident to me that so many people are loving their wool, and the garments they are making from them, yet it's still a little not ok culturally to wear much of it. Despite that, women are having a ball making the most amazing garments! I'm hoping that some day, this excitement will spill over into the public realm where woolen garments are as acceptable as blue jeans! That's why I created my Show Your Shawl Day! I know so many people have really beautiful things stashed away. Time to get those things out and put them to use!!

In years past you can never predict what the weather will be and this year was a real winner! We had 70's and warm sunshine (maybe even low 80's?? Not sure! It was just NICE!) I'll never forget the year the remnants of hurricane Gustav washed through (right Laura??:), and we were trying to get a motorhome through wicked construction over washed out roads, through heavy winds and torrential rains! Truly the most white-knuckle driving we've ever had!! Other years, we nearly froze to death after hot, humid summer weather, then the festival weekend being upper 40's/low 50's, cloudy and rainy. One year, we had horrible heat and humidity...93 degrees and stifling air rich with dew point. This year, beautiful!

Also, I saw a t-shirt design that I totally fell in love with! It was soooo cute! It had a picture of a sheep on it, and instead of the cuts of meat labeled on the various parts of the sheep (like neck, shoulder, midside, hip, etc.) it had what typical type of garment or fiber product might come from that region! So neck was shawls, midside was sweaters, mittens etc., and hips were weaving, belly wool, mulch. Soooo cute!!! What a great way to spread the word about how versatile and useful sheep can be! Excellent sheepy marketing!

And don't forget...taste the sheep cheese!!!! Yummm!!!! We love it! It's rich and creamy and flavorful with a mild, pleasant taste. Ok, so we may have ended up at the free tasting booth more than fact, we suggested a sheepy name for a new product coming out soon....let's see if we inspired a hit! The guy loved it. Bet it'll be on the package next year! We love to inspire people!

And that's not all! More coming! (and Swifty, too!)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The word crimp

The UK judges who attended the WI Sheep and Wool Festival were a delight to listen to, and talk to! For the most part, I thought what they said about Shetland sheep was excellent advice to Americans. It was obvious they were not aware of the problems we are currently facing in the breed here in America, such as very undersized animals, animals with improper bone, expression, and sheep with very fatty/meaty toplines that are not level. This was evident in how they expressed, almost with desperation, that the Shetland sheep is a WHOLE package! You can not subtract off a bad tail, a sloped topline, a dull look, bad horns, or washed out color and say you have a great Shetland. Well said!!!! They specifically said animals with these faults such as too small (i.e. 40 pounds at maturity) or with bad bone, or meaty toplines can be kept if you want them, but certainly not registered and certainly not bred as purebred Shetlands.

However, there was a place where they deviated from common sense...and this is why I'm not a supporter of the SSS. They actually said that the word "crimp" did not exist in 1927!!!!!!!! They claimed that's why the word crimp is not on the breed standard. What????? That's like saying credit card companies are always working in my interest!!!!!!!!!!! (Later Edit: I forgot to add that one of the show organizers and the one who helped hire and pay for the judges to visit us here, Lori, taped the presentation of the UK judges on Sunday morning of the festival. Unless it's edited out, you can hear it for yourselves.)

Let's look back...and it's not so very long ago! (To put it into perspective, a person born in 1927 is 84 years old today.) It is well known by linguists that the word crimp has several forms, in several languages, that stem out of several regions. Did all these words happen AFTER 1927?? I think not! Let's look at some of the Shetland Island's close neighbors.

Dutch: krimpen
Low German: crimpen
Faroese: kreppa ('crisis')
Icelandic: kreppa ('crisis')
Old Norse: kreppa ('crisis')

Dutch? Faroese? Icelandic?? Old NORSE??? You know, that old language many of our Shetland descriptive words comes from??? You know...from the Norwegian people who SETTLED on the Shetland Islands...of whom the descendents still live and still claim heritage to??

The Shetland Islands are a place where ships ruled. The Islands are in a location of much ship traffic...THE way goods, culture, and people got around for hundreds of years. It is well documented that the port of Lerwick was a popular stop for centuries for rest, trade, or safe haven. Not only did goods travel around, so did people and their languages. There is no way you can convince me that the man who lead the writing of the 1927 Breed Standard had NO awareness or USAGE of the word crimp!!!!!! Many countries all around had their own versions of the word long before the standard was written. The English are thought to have created the word in the first place (origin: middle English), and the word is recorded as utilized in the development of English breeds south of the Shetland Islands throughout the 1700's and 1800's (breeds that were ON the Islands at the time our standard was written). The French used it with merinos and rambouillets. The Germans used it, so did the Dutch, the people of Iceland, and even in Faroese!! There is no sense in the statement from the UK judge that Mr. Bowie Senior, an educated, wealthy man (who's patients were largely fishermen and crofters), had no awareness of the word crimp or even to go so far as to say the word crimp 'didn't exist'!!

Now let's look at the usage:

used as a noun to describe "bends back and forth in many short kinks"

used as an adjective to describe "easily crumbled, friable, brittle or weak, inconsistent, contradictory

I can see why the writers of the 1927 Breed Standard did not use the word crimp!!!!! Their fibers created strong, yet light and comfortable garments that could hold up to heavy labor on the sea, or on the croft. Fish were netted in, stone extracted and homes, fences built, animals to tend, and peat to dig. The Shetland fiber, and resulting garments had to be STRONG and durable, yet soft and light, because while SOME of the fiber went into things stored away for safe keeping, MOST of the fiber went into daily garments. That's certainly longish and wavy!! It seems obvious to me that the writers of the 1927 Standard chose words that not only accurately describe the fiber, but also avoid implied meaning of weakness.

All of my data comes from Webster's dictionaries dated 1909, revised 1913.

An interesting end note: to crimp or crimping, in times past when ships sailed the seas from all around the world, especially western Europe, also had another meaning! It meant that a person could be swipped out of their communities and forced onto a ship to help man the ship, without that person's will. It meant, essentially, kidnapping someone and forcing them into labor on a ship. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 detested this and attempted to make rules about ship labor. Can you possibly tell me the people of Shetland, who lived in one of the busiest shipping lanes of the history of the world, had no awareness of all this? The word 'crimp' or to get 'crimped' struck terror into many hearts, I'm sure!

For these reasons, I think the UK judges were way off in saying the word crimp didn't exist in 1927.

Later edit: Why were the judges saying the word crimp didn't exist in 1927? To insist that the word wavy means crimp. It's their way of insisting the word crimp is not on the standard because, they claim, the word crimp 'didn't exist'. Many audience members were in agreement. I disagree. I think wavy means wavy. I always say that a wise historian gave me wise advice once, and that is the mists of time are most accurately seen through by multiple accounts and regional knowledge. You cannot zoom in on one tiny detail and expect to see the whole picture. If you look at what the sheep climate was like, and what languages were like, and other work beyond crofting, you can easily see that claiming the word crimp didn't exist is not correct. If the original writers of the standard in 1927 MEANT crimp, they would have USED the word. Instead, they chose WAVE. End of Edit.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Home from festival fun/ and Carol Rhoades

My festival goodies!

It's Sunday evening and I'm just home from a very fun sheep festival! Of course, I have my goodies here now...that I don't have time to enjoy yet for there are things to do! The photo above is some of the goodies I have. I finally broke down and bought a smaller handshear for shearing my sheep. It's taken me a long time to do it, but Shannon out in Oklahoma (a longtime Shetland breeder who handshears countless Shetlands with her husband) recommended I get one a long time ago and now, I got one! I'll use it around the necks and horns of my sheep, instead of my big shears. Can't wait! I also picked up some Soay fiber fluff, seen here, for a bit of fun spinning! I talked for a long time with the Soay sheep's owner and made a new friend! The sheep were bright-eyed and sweet! Fun! I also picked up yet more bobbins for my wheel. Having more bobbins really helps keep up with orders and they were badly needed. In the background is yarn from a little yearling ram in my flock out of Wooly Bear. His fleece, turns out, was a very valuable fleece and I lost out on knowing that before I spun it! It's black with a clear white transition line on the lower inch or so of fiber, making it a very unusual and beautiful fleece. I've already spun half of it, and the yarn will be ready for sale soon! Thanks to David Kier for the ongoing support in helping me learn things I should know about shearing and fleece! I always so appreciate the time he gives me!

I think my favorite part of the festival is the friends and people I see every year! It's so much fun getting reconnected with so many familiar faces and updating about the year! I think I made some new friends as well, and I certainly met some new, VERY talented artists who have done beautiful things, from gorgeous jewelry to handknit beaded scarves to the talented spinner/knitter who designed a spinning wheel sweater with sheep on it! So cool!!! I got to talk to everyone, and THAT is the best part! I heard about sheep that passed away who were old friends...and hay problems, excitement with Border Collies, and predator problems. I talked three needle bindoffs, perfectly consistent yarn overs over a large garment, and was updated on an old college town. guessed it...we talked Shetland sheep! And people were so kind to my family in encouraging growth and enjoying the moment! Thanks goes out for that, too! AND, I got the kennel returned! Whew! That took me two years!!

I saw the biggest Corriedale ram I've EVER seen...a massive sheep! And I got to meander around the Shetland barn Friday night. It's always FUN to see more 'Shetland sheep'!! I met Rich Johnson...who was definitely needing absorption time...and we said hello to Claire...for Claire! (giggle, giggle!) I bought a couple of new books with info. I'm just bursting to learn about shearing and dogs, bought a BUNCH of roving from the big fleece winner, Carol Wagner! Congrats again, Carol for the big win!!! So happy to hear it! ....and I had great conversations with fleece judges...AND the UK judges MSSBA brought in! That was FUNNNN for me!!! I learned some GREAT things such as an adult ewe weighing 40 pounds would certainly be a disqualification and that even if you want to keep such a tiny sheep, it shouldn't be registered, for it will possibly pass on birthing problems in the future to other things like yes, super crimpy fiber loses it's resiliency over a fairly short time. That one, after the judge admitted it, created such a stir, one audience member was on her feet saying I didn't know how to spin, and that I should take spinning lessons!! The other comments the UK judges made that were very meaningful were that Shetlands should NEVER have fatty, meaty toplines. In fact, certain wealthy people in Britian order their meat from certain areas of the Shetland Islands (not Scotland mainland) BECAUSE they want LOWFAT meat. Me, too! Also, Shetlands should NOT have beefy, thick bone, but neither should they have petite bone. Both are undesirable. And last, what was emphasized over and over and over by both UK judges was that the most desirable Shetland is A WHOLE PACKAGE! Every part of the sheep is important. You cannot separate the parts and still claim it's a good Shetland. A good Shetland is a WHOLE PACKAGE. Good advice!!!!!!!!! My feelings EXACTLY!! That's exactly why I've blogged so much about toplines, bone, expression, etc. Tails, too, were heavily discussed, with comments made about how important correct flat, fluke-shaped tails were...which was NOT much visible in the Shetland barns this weekend. (and, unfortunately, I saw more than one pair of fatal horns again this weekend...I still can't get why someone would bring fatal horns as showcase stock for breeding...)

Later Edit: After what I saw in the Shetland barn this weekend, I am again truly left wondering why the Standard is being so unused! Why are undersized animals being brought to a show?? They are too small, and the standard disqualifies them. Shetlands are a small breed, but not miniature. What about tails? Why are very incorrect tails being brought to the showring?? Incorrect tails are not only unshow-worthy, they are unworthy of breeding. They are stay-at-homers to carry out the daily flock purpose, at best. Where did the rich, beautiful colors go?? The barn was a sea of dishwater gray. The sheep with darker colors were lacking intensity and brightness of hue so well known in the Shetland breed. I've always hyped that we, as shepherds, should be taking our Standards OUT TO THE BARN with us to critically analyze each and every sheep. Make a photocopy of the assessment form in the 2008 and 2009 NASSA Newsletters for each sheep. Take the form out to your sheep and fill it in. THAT'S a good way to assess your flock for show quality. So I'm still left pondering...why are the people who changed our breed guidelines in 2010 by adding Appendix A, and redesigning the judges packet still having so much trouble just getting the basic parts correct, like tails, toplines, size, horns, and color??? End of Edit.

What else? I bought the mitten pattern I fell in love with years ago in a library book! It's not quite the original, but it's close enough and I cannot wait to knit with it! And Saturday's market was amazing! The weather was great, the music was great, and the repeat customers were great!! I had the great honor to see a sweater being made from our handspun yarn with carefully planned designs on it, and it was BEAUTIFUL!! I am truly humbled that our yarns are in the hands of such talented people! I have orders to fill and more fleeces have sold out.

To sum up my weekend, I am really proud of the hard work we've done over the past few years to carefully breed up our flock. While it's still small, it's correct. We have lovely fleeces that are soft and fine, and spin up/knit up/ and wear beautifully. We have deep, intense, lovely colors that create really special unique yarns. Now we have high quality locally raised, handspun yarns landing in the hands of very talented knitters, and our yarn is selling itself. We've gone from knowing nothing 10 years ago to owning, raising, breeding, shearing, processing, spinning, knitting, crocheting, and selling yarns and sheep! I could not have come this far without the help and guidance of so many of the festival leaders! I've also come to learn that preserving and protecting diversity in the Shetland breed is what many people would like to see besides myself, and some people even told me that before I could think to ask!

Later Edit: I forgot to mention something else that was significant the UK judges vehemently reiterated over and over, which is that scadder IS ok, and is NOT a disqualification in rams. Scadder comes in on the back of a ram's head as he ages, if he has it. It is normal in the breed, it's always been there, and always will be. No ram should be disqualified if he has it. This point was strongly emphasized over and over. End of edit.

More Edits!! It was suggested strongly by an audience member nearly standing on her tip toes in emphasis that I don't know how to spin, and that I should take a class by Carol Rhodes, who she claimed would quickly tell me all the things I'm doing wrong, mistakenly thinking my spinning skill is the issue, rather than the fiber. This was AFTER the UK judge admitted that super short, super crimpy fibers do not have the resiliency over long periods of time (and rightly so). So about Carol Rhoades! Carol has skillfully and professionally managed to detour around the political fleece misconceptions and debate by avoiding incorrect proclamations. Instead, she's carefully chosen history and accuracy. For example, she starts out her class description (which the instructors write themselves, I think) at the festival on Sunday (an all day class) as this (and I'll quote directly from page 31 of the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival Catalog...class is titled "Spinning Shetland Wool for Fair Isle & Lace Knitting":

"Shetland sheep produce amazingly versatile fleeces: superfine neck wool, a coarse outer coat and a fine to medium crimpy undercoat can all be found on one sheep. After an overview of the sheep and its wool, you will learn how to sort Shetland for various types of yarns."

These are the reasons Carol has earned my respect, and I look forward to her article submissions in Spin-Off Magazine. Carol clearly understands and recognizes, accurately so, that the proper fiber for ideal historical fair isle knitting does NOT come from super short, super crimpy wool. It is well documented in many places that fair isle is best knit with longish, wavy wool, typically found midside on the sheep's body. So while I could surely learn more fun stuff from Carol's interest in Scandinavian textiles and her experience as a loved and successful magazine editor, I already know that Carol Rhoades and I are on the same page. End of latest edit.

It's been a GREAT weekend!

By the way...Carol Rhoades describes herself in her biography on p. 38 of the catalog as this:
"Her particular interest is in primitive wools and how they are used for traditional knitted garments in Scandinavia and Britain." I think everyone understands that 'primitive' means not super short, super crimpy, super consistent, head to tail.

Please, please, please don't tell me that everybody, including the Dailley family, the Doanes, Linda Zuppann (sp?), the Ludlams, the Fletchers, the women of Shetland past, the Shetland Museum, the estate records and ship's logs, and modern day leaders in fleece and fiber are all wrong, and that the camp is the only group outside the SSS that have the fleece right!!!

P.S. You will note on page 2 of the latest issue of Spin-Off Magazine that Carol Rhoades is not just an editor of the magazine, she's a technical editor. Technical editors make sure things are correct. It's a tough job!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Youth Classes show up in Shetland Showcase!

Example of outstanding youth achievement in Shetland knitting
Won first place, then Best In Show Outstanding Award
Winnebago County Fair
August, 2011

Yippeee!!! MSSBA FINALLY did something right! They FINALLY brought my youth classes into Shetland Showcase (which MSSBA stole and renamed), as I had originally designed when I created the whole program!!! I've had a very busy summer with the success of our farm business, and with local youth. I am just reading the catalog now! If you look in the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival Catalog on p. 43, you will see the layout as I had designed it...with youth classes in handspun skeins, as well as beginner and experienced adults, but with one exception. I had designed the program so that youth could enter youth categories for handmade (knitted/crocheted) items as well (that still seems to be missing...). Even experienced youth cannot compete with adults for youth do not have the fine motor skills adults have accomplished through simple daily living, among other things. The 18' doll poncho made by a nine year old above would have to compete with adults, and that's not only discouraging, it's not right! Maybe MSSBA can fix THIS mistake for next year.

As a youth educator, spinning and knitting teacher (adults and youth), and 4-H project leader in spinning and knitting for youth, and successful sheep farm business owner, I was soooooo disappointed that MSSBA cut out my youth activities last year, the first year they put my design of Shetland Showcase into action. I guess the MSSBA people realized (and came to their senses) that the original designer(me) knew what she was doing...and that if you (MSSBA) steal something, you may not know best how to implement something!

I know a lot of you out there are staying away (and have for years before our farm came along), but really, this is the time to trample the hostile people and get to the classes! Here is a great chance to reconnect fiber with textiles...which is EXACTLY what genuine Shetland wool is all about! Sign up for the handspinning skein competitions and bring your knitted/crocheted garments and such for judging!!! I guess it's too late to encourage all of you to make yarn and knitted items!! Wish I would have had time to look at the catalog sooner!! Details on page 43 of the catalog. Tell them Wheely Wooly Farm sent you!

Coming up next...wait 'til you see what Swifty has learned!

LATER EDIT!!! Oh my G....!!!!!!!! What on EARTH possesses people to be so aggressive? You MSSBA people should be absolutely horribly ASHAMED of yourselves!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our NASSA President is doing an outstanding job and has the support of the NATION! For the public out there that follows my blog, if you want to know what the Jefferson Shetland people are like, join the online groups!! You'll find out (and I know some of you already have!) what those people are REALLY like!

End of Edit

Spinning, mint, and hens

At last! I can finally control where the pictures are, and where the text is!! Here is a bobbin of yarn spun from one of last year's lambs. The color is absolutely amazing, the fiber long and easy to spin, and oh so soft!!! I've spun a lot of this in the last week. The goal of our flock is to bring genuinely soft, easy to spin, and very comfortable wool to our yarns. Our yarns are very light and pleasant to knit, and create very lightweight garments that are extremely comfortable to wear. Our garments do not have the excessive stretch in them caused by super crimpy wool. We all know what it's like to wear those disaster sweaters of the 80's that stretched and bagged so bad! In fact, I recently knit with wool that was only half Shetland. I noticed the extra weight on the needles right away, then when the garment was finished, I noticed right away how different it felt. There is only one true Shetland fiber!!

harvested mint

The mint is from the herb garden, and there's a lot more of it still out there! It makes great tea, or winter treats for bunnies. We also dry basil, which makes the kitchen smell so fragrant, and sage for our Thanksgiving meal.

Meet Muffy, the Ameraucauna hen

Muffy is a silver hen (yes, that's right...the silver color has brown in it) with lovely muffs on the sides of her beak, and a beard under the beak. She lays beautiful light blue eggs. We've had her several years, yet she continues to lay steadily, keeping us in supply. She's a very docile bird and extremely winter hardy with a medium pea comb. She's survived through some pretty rough winters around here, always laying her pretty eggs. She's very neat, keeping her feathers nice and tidy at all times. A great bird!!

Next comes perhaps by far, the most valuable bird in our flock. Her name is 'Silks', and she's a Silkie hen. She's tiny, and lays tiny eggs steadily even though she's now....let's see...five years old. Her value comes not only in her ongoing laying but also in her excellent broodiness. She can always be relied on to do a fine job of hatching out chicks for us. Excellent mother, docile, tender little personality that we adore. Each time I see her, it seems a baby chick should be popping out from under her wing!

'Silks', the Silkie hen

Her two favorite places in the world are the darkest nest box, and the raspberry canes. If you don't let her out of the coop, she protests loudly, for she adores that raspberry patch!!

Raising good chickens is a goal everyone should have! Ok, maybe I'm a bit of a bird enthusiast. They enrich your life in many ways! Take good care of them, and they'll take good care of you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Small farms are beautiful places

In my last blogs, I have pictures of our flowers in the vegetable garden. The day I took those photos, I realized how silently busy our farm is. Bees were quietly busy dancing in the middle of the flowers, butterflies were flitting silently by and landing on so many sweet, nectar-rich flowers, and zipper spiders have been busy building impressive webs and silently sitting smack in the middle of them, waiting. Our farm is alive.

It's made me realize how beautiful a small farm is. There is no heavy machinery here to drown out the silence of busyness. Our soil is springy. We have a huge variety of bird life. Our grass is still lush, green, and growing even after a summer of grazing and several weeks without much rain. It is very colorful here...the bright oranges of the pumpkins, the bright reds of the raspberries, the bold and cheerful sunflowers, and the rich greens of pasture. When it does rain, as it did torrentially this weekend, the air is rich with fragrance...artemisia, alfalfa, pine, earth....sawdust.....

I just love taking the time to watch our chickens! They come out, stretch their wings, and immediately begin the chase and dive for bugs in the grass. Chickens and gardens just go together like milk and cookies. They slowly walk under the pumpkin leaves, cleaning up anything you don't want there. They take shelter in the raspberry canes, fertilizing the roots and snapping off any weeds with their eager beaks. As they do these favors for me, they cluck happily, or make other happy sounds. I could sit out there all day, and in fact, I've placed temporary human perches all around so that I can take a minute when I'm out there, and just enjoy. (Sweetie Tweetie is the Polish hen with the pom...she's five years old, Mable is the Barred and white and she's four. Mable continues to lay a steady supply of eggs while Sweetie Tweetie lays every little while.)

The sheep here are all behind Wilbur. Wilbur towers over all the others! Here they are on the old horse pasture, waiting for me to turn the hose on. Notice the outstanding color variations? I love that about Shetlands!

Then, there's Goldie. We put this hitching post up for the horses, but by far the most frequent user hitches himself to it! This is his favorite perch, and frequently, a place for a good brief nap.

And last, can't you just picture sitting on the front porch (first picture), sipping an early morning cup of coffee? It's a great spot to right the world, or wake up, or close the day, or cool off after hard work such as putting hay up, or weeding. I'm sure this picture of my favorite chair on the front porch will be one I relish come the dead of winter! Indeed, small farms are beautiful places!!