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, November 16, 2011

My Spinning Wheel Dishes and farm breeding season

Can you believe it? I actually have dishes with spinning wheels on them. This is a desert plate. I have a whole set, including a creamer and sugar dish, plates, bowls, serving bowls, and a platter. I inherited them years and years ago, long before I was a spinner. They were packed away and carried around with me for a long time before I actually took them out. Today, they are used regularly in my farm kitchen and make a great conversation piece with company.
Deserts seem particularly delicious on them! This is homemade apple crisp from apples we harvested off our trees this fall. A wonderful, hearty treat after working on winterizing the farm outside. Makes the house smell great, too!
A nice Shetland fleece. Can't wait to spin it!


These grazing days are over for 2011. The sheep are now happily eating sweet hay put up over the summer. Some of our breeding has taken place, but we are about to begin new groups soon. Each ewe that we've chosen to breed has been analyzed very carefully for 1927 Breed Standard criteria, using the assessment form pre-2010 NASSA days (in 2010, major changes were made to the breed, modernizing the animal hence we are not using those criteria). Of course, our rams have been very, very carefully analyzed as well...all summer! Included in all breeding animals is temperament. Our goal here is to raise genuine, historical Shetland fleeces for handspinning. We highly desire maintaining the historical fleeces that are excellent for a whole range of uses because I love doing all those things! We also highly value the hardiness of the breed and excellent, sweet temperaments, which of course, we highly protect with the best care we can give them emotionally as well as physically.

For example, we will not be breeding one ram who's fleece is very short, for he has a very tough time in stormy weather, deep cold, or wet weather. His fleece does not dry out nice, giving him deep chill problems. The water soaks into his wool, saturating it and his hide, but then it takes a much longer time for that water to dry off. With such short fiber, he is not insulated from the cold winds or the cold, wet ground when he lays down. We've had to bring him into the barn on nights when the rest of the rams seemed toasty warm and dry, so he is out of breeding! The longish, wavy fiber acts like a down coat on the sheep's body, creating a layer of insulation that seems to trap warmth. With the tips so light and wispy, the fleeces can dry out nicely during heavy rain yet still keep the sheep warm. They also shed more water off, so less moisture soaks in. We are very pleased with the hardiness of our woollier sheep, and with the performance of that wool on the wheel, needles, and our bodies! The 1927 Breed Standard, standing alone in all it's simplicity not only works, it's amazing!

One thing we are doing differently this year, is that we are spreading our lambing out over a greater period of time on purpose. This also mimics how Shetlands have been historically managed. In the USA, it's common to intensify ewe heat cycles into a short "window", then try to get everyone to lamb in two or three weeks. I did that, and found it EXHAUSTING!! Despite my prior planning to prevent p-poor performance, I still ran out of easy food for us, got overly tired and cold, ran out of certain supplies, and my house got too messy. Plus, the rest of the world thought I fell off the planet, for people didn't see much of me in that "window". Why do that to myself?? AND, I must admit, I WAS afraid of hungry bears lurking around at that time of year, just awakened from winter's slumber and starving! Skipping out to the barn at 3am in darkness and pouring rain with a little lambie in my arms while hearing something "BIG" rustling around in the grasses behind the barn was a little over the top for me! Add a starving mind, body and stomach and you've got visions! (giggle, giggle!!) Oh, how I can amuse myself! :)

We do think we had a bear one night, for I saw a shadowy shape of such run between the horse pasture and the ram pen around 10pm. The rams were very upset and shaken, huddled like musk oxen in a circle of tails, horns turned out while standing smack in the center of the pen. I've never seen that in rams before, but they were certainly afraid and upset.

So far, our choice to stick with history has paid off very nicely for us! Of course, history is not always respected and people are always trying to reinvent the wheel. Well, if they are satisfied with their new wheels, they can do that! But we like history, because for us, it's produced much beautiful fruit! By spreading our lambing out over time, we are returning to yet another historical aspect of this breed that we hadn't thought of before. The idea is that by spreading things out, I'll have time to get re-organized if needed, make more food, pick up the house, or run for supplies...not to mention being more awake for decision-making and middle-of-the-night skips out to the barn! We are very excited about our previous lamb crops, and hope to have another successful lambing next spring! Stay tuned to hear how our new strategy goes!

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