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, December 22, 2011

Take Joy! Swifty working sheep

My Swifty Boy!

Swifty is a working Border Collie who is about 1 1/2 years old. He's being trained to work a small flock of Shetland sheep. First, we learned house manners, how to travel, how to get along on a farm, and how to play doggie games.
Good Boy Swifty!

Slowly, very slowly, we've introduced him to our ewe flock. The first thing he did was shoot right past the girls and get on the other side of them from me! Ok! We were off to a great start! Then he learned to respond to whistles outside the sheep pen, then in. He was required to have a good "that'll do!" before I'd let him loose with the ewes. After succeeding with that, I let him help me run the sheep in from pasture at sunset. I'd have to let the sheep go ahead quite a ways because he'd outrun them easily and get ahead of them. Oops! My fault! So we worked on pushing sheep through the gate and holding there, so sheep don't run back out the gate before someone could close it. Ok, so far we're doin' ok.

Next came the waits. Puppies don't have very good waits...especially energetic, bright puppies like Swifty! His first waits were nearly intolerable to him! He'd throw himself on the ground and roll around!!!!!!!!! He just could not picture himself sitting still for even a second! So through lots of giggles.........and lots of practice and patience, he came to learn he COULD actually sit and wait for first one second, then two, then three.....

As he grew through these stages, we'd go for nice walks around the farm, learning that everything was safe, no, you can't chase chickens, and boy! That tall grass is great puppy fun! We practiced basic commands and sticking close. The leash, once a reassuring hold on a shy little pup, had long since been left in the house. He was strongly functioning on pure whistle and in constant contact.

Then one day, I pretended to throw his flippy (doggie frisbee) and he went tearing off after it, but I still had it in my hand. He ran out, then looked back to see what I was doing, only to see it still in my hand. As he turned and came back, I gave him the walk up command (which he had already learned and practiced), then, when he was half way back, I put my hand up and firmly said WAIT! BAM!!!!!!! Down he went!!!!!!!! What a break through!! I'll never forget that day! He got it, and he has it ALWAYS when outside the sheep pen. So off to the sheep pen we went.

The excitement of the sheep can really screw up a young pup's concentration, so I knew I'd have to give him lots of leniency. He has to concentrate on where all the sheep are, and if any are coming at him, plus where objects and fencing are, what we're doing, and what I'm commanding him to do. Are we going out? Coming in? Goofin' around? So first, I just let him run sheep out. Being a sweep breed (one who goes out to fetch sheep and drive them towards the shepherd), I wasn't sure he'd accomplish the run out. We're still working on that...

Then, we went out to just play around with the sheep...up pasture, down pasture. Mostly, he just ran circles around them at first. We practiced the wait command just to be sure that critical point was still working! And that'll do. Yep. Ok. Doin' good!

Now, we're working on directional commands. Sometimes he has so much fun with those, he forgets to drive the sheep! Hope we can get past that one! So that's were we are in our training right now. Driving with directional commands. Here, you can see he is bringing the sheep to me, and they are at my feet, wondering what they should do next. Swifty stays a nice distance back.

Then, I asked him to wait. He was pretty excited by this time, and I didn't get a nice lay down, but I got the needed wait! (and the sheep held at my feet) While he's not all there yet, and probably won't be for another year, I think he is doing really great for his age!
Every dog learns at a different rate, and through different shepherd styles. What works for Swifty may or may not work for another dog. There are no dead-set rules. The game is as flexible as the number of dogs who play it. We still don't know if he'll be a good stock dog, for he has lots of training to go, but we are sure happy with how he's progressed so far! We hope you enjoyed following Swifty's work here on our farm!

P.S....if you're wondering what he's doing while I'm bloggin', he's completely upside down (paws midair) and sound asleep in his kennel, right next to me. He's too young to snore :)

That's the Swifty Report!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Take Joy! Beautiful Shetland Yarn!

Here is the picture of the yarn I'm making right now. It's from the fiber shown in the last blog. I have a fifth bobbin nearly finished, with enough fiber for at least one more bobbin. I've popped in some Irish music while spinning this. Fun!

And how 'bout that beautiful bread! I definitely take joy in making this bread! I love the whole process, and have been doing it for many, many years. This particular bunch (I make four loaves at a time...but one didn't make it to the picture...)is a recipe I created that I call "Milk and Honey Bread". The honey flavor really comes through in taste...a wonderful depth of flavor that's not overpowering nor too sweet. The milk makes for lovely texture in the crumb and helps the bread freeze well. The honey fragrance is also a very subtle, very pleasant bonus when the bread is baking and filling the house with it's soul-satisfying aroma.

Tomorrow...Swifty! Hope all of you were able to get out and enjoy this outstandingly beautiful December Solstice Day! From here on up, extra daylight minutes! Yippee!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Take Joy! Wonderful Shetland Spinning Fiber

Here is what the fiber looks like that I blogged about yesterday. It is so relaxing to spin fiber like this! I could do this all day!

Shetland sheep have amazing color dynamics that are very special and nearly impossible to find in any other breed. Beautiful!

Next time, I'll show you what it looks like on the bobbins as a singles yarn. Maybe I'll throw in a picture of the bread that just came out of the oven, too!

Here's to hoping you have time to spin or knit this week! Remember, it can be a great way to collect your thoughts and find focus again amongst all the busyness!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Take Joy! Warm Feet!

I've never met anyone who didn't like having warm feet on a cold winter's night! Have you ever tried handspun, hand knitted Shetland socks? No? You should! They are absolutely the best! Don't wait any longer...get yourself a nice pair and enjoy the soft, cozy warmth for yourself!

Joy, joy, joy!

Thanks to all who've visited us at the market! We wrapped up our 2011 market sales this last week. It was a busy day, and we sure enjoyed seeing so many of you! We hope all of you enjoy the gifts of the season, and all the great things you make with Shetland yarn! If you have one last person to shop for (even if that's yourself :) or need one more thing, don't hesitate to email us or give us a call!

In the meantime, isn't this weather just GREAT??!? I'm busy spinning wool from a ram back in 2007. I had 'red bagged' it, meaning that I saved it as a sort of 'fiber bank'. Now I can go back and spin what I spun years ago to check how things are progressing in my own flock, making sure I don't deviate from that much. The fiber is remarkably soft and silky for a ram. I love that fellow! I'm planning on using the yarn for a lap blanket in the living room, a basic knit with a ruffly edge on one side to just lay over a lap on a snowy, blowy winter night. This fellow's fiber matches the colors in the room already, on the floor and curtains, so I'm excited to see how it turns out!

Happy knitting everyone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Take Joy! She ain't no Quarter Horse!!


Let's see...what was I saying about taking joy? The animals are very good at it, and take joy each and every day. If you spend large amounts of your day with them, it's easy to pick up on that yourself! This horse is Carumba, and she's quite a character! She's a very good horse, and a very easy keeper. She is enormously respectful of the you can see! She is also mega-talented! (Notice the woven wire ram fence? Never tight, never straight...)

Now I'm not saying Quarter horses aren't. In fact, some can be quite amazing. But after having an Andalusian for a decade, I've learned with awe what this breed is capable of! This girl is TALENTED! She can make her body do things way beyond what any other horse I've seen can do. Never underestimate the talent of an Andalusian!! They are the gymnasts of the equine world. In fact, their talent is put to the ultimate test of military and bull-fighting trials, where the loser faces certain death. To see what the people of Andalusia have created in their marvelous breed is a true joy to experience.

When I see "Bumba" doing her amazing gymnastics, I always have to stop what I'm doing and watch. I can't help but start giggling as I watch her strive for any little blade of grass she can reach. She can do this without ever getting close to the fence, then will sort of stand up, move forward a bit, and go down again. She was taught how to bow as a young filly, so I guess she was smart enough to apply her education to real life skills!
Wheely Wooly Splash
Splash is out of Wheely Wooly Lerwick, and grandson of Wooly Bear

Here's a nice update on what little Splash looks like now. His horns continue to grow perfectly. (Did you read that comment about wider horns vs narrower horns??? What a good laugh that one was!! What will that group come up with next?? I guess if someone wants to believe you have to have bad horns to have good fleece, they can! Maybe it's a way to justify all the bad breeding of rams with bad horns. By the way...if I could afford it, I'd love to buy all the "good horn culls"! giggle,giggle) His nose still has that ever-so-cute splash of white sliding down off the side, as if he got into some ice cream or something! His conformation is nearly outstanding, and his wool is of high value. His face has that highly desirable brightness, with his eyes nearly glowing with happiness and friendliness at times. Friendliness is an understatement for this little fellow! He is a sweetie! All of my ram lambs get handled in a skilled way, to promote interaction, friendliness, and respect. He has never jumped on me, or ever threatened me, and he loves chin scratches. I adore this little guy so much, I couldn't sell him!

Post EDIT several hours later...I was enjoying surfing around Shetland sheep sites and landed once again on If you go there, you can see a photo of Island Skeld, the Shetland ram my sheep are descended from. Notice his horns???!!!??? Obviously, they are still coming through on my sheep here in America, and I love them!

Wheely Wooly Farm is committed to raising genuinely high quality stock, including high quality horns, for they are so beautiful when grown in right, and let's face it, soooo much healthier for the sheep who has to wear them everyday! It's a shame that a group would claim bad horns are better!!!!!!

It's not hard to take joy when living out here with hearts like Bumba's and Splash's. Even the hens can be a joy. For example, the other day, I was marveling at the mild weather we've had this mild in fact, that I was able to get out and prune back the raspberry canes. I knew the hens would be upset, and they were....clucking alarm calls with each snip of the pruner. They all gathered around, getting underfoot as I worked, checking out what I was doing and pleading with me to not do that! Eventually, they accepted the disappearance of their beloved raspberry canes, and went on to joyfully scratching in the thawed ground.

Speaking of mild weather, (!) this year has been great so far! The last three years, we've had near or actual blizzards by now, with deep cold. This year, just lots of rain...a record breaker in some cases as much as 37 inches for the year! I know that will make Shetlanders chuckle! But remember, we live on clay and lots of rain equates to lots of flooding and mud. ...and speaking of Shetland....did you see that they closed schools last week due to high winds? Now THAT sounds windy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Take Joy! Greetings from Shetland

Almost finished with second sock. :)

From fleece to garment, Shetlands are a fine garment breed! While lacy shawls were well known on the Shetland Islands, the true backbone of the Shetland fiber is clearly work wear. At times, it was known that as many as 1500 ships would harbor over in or near Lerwick's Bressay Sound in summer, waiting for fishing to begin, or to trade for everyday work wear. Sweaters (called jumpers over the pond), and socks (called stockings then) were the desire of many a fisherman who took Shetland goodies home to their families. Socks (stockings) were very desired for over 200 years.
Notice the floats? You can almost see the pattern in reverse on the inside.

Look what came in the mail recently! Greetings from Shetland. Let's go!
Can I keep the pony?

The days are getting pretty short now...about 9 1/2 hours of sunlight on a bright, sunny day. I bet that seems heavenly to those near the arctic circle! On cloudy days, rooms in buildings practically need lights on. It has been a fairly peaceful December so far, warm but the Shetland Islands no doubt! A big difference between here and there...MUD! We get LOTS of mud in weather like this. When the temperature drops below freezing, it's a happy day, for freezing temps. dry up the mud and everyone can go out again!

Take joy in warm, snuggly socks! If you do not know how to knit a pair yourself, pay someone WELL (!) to knit you a pair, for it will be well worth it! In the meantime, stay warm everyone as we get into much colder weather. Hope you are enjoying the peace and darkness of this quiet time!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Take Joy! A wee peerie for Iris

One old, one new...

Here is a simple little peerie I knit into a sock for me just for fun. It's very easy to do, and really doesn't require a pattern. So many peeries are like that. Certain peeries are known specifically to the Shetland Islands and the knitwear there, and this is one of them. This little peerie is over four rows...very simplistic.

What is a peerie? It's a small pattern embedded into the knitting. In fact, the word peerie means small. So cute! It is made while knitting with two different yarns.

The sock on the left is an Iris sock I made years ago...I can't remember how long ago. I wear it a lot over winter. It's a squirmy soft sock that has not needed any repairs, nor has it felted or shrunk at all despite heavy use in my barn boots in the snowiest winters my area has ever recorded. The sock on the right is my new sock, fresh off the needles about 20 minutes ago. It is an extra sturdy sock because I spun the yarn thicker than usual, and knit at a tight gauge. These are going to be my "I hate these icy blasts!" socks this winter! The black yarn is a leftover ball from Lil' Rainbow. Iris has a stronger silvery tone this year, and Lil' Rainbow is black with specks of silver from her lighter outer coat tips. They are sort of an inverse of each other and pair so nicely, I wish I had thought of adding more peeries into the sock before I had started. two in a pair have to match? We'll see what I throw into the second sock.
Iris's yarn balled up and waiting for me! :)

Here's Iris again. I love this picture!

Check out Iris's bright expression! She has a nice level topline, is wooly on the poll and cheeks, has medium bone density, is nice and square, has nice shoulders and chest, and the proper hip (as in not rounded like meat breeds, as the Scottish judges so exasperatingly pointed out was a bad fault in Shetlands), and though you can't see it here, a proper tail. She is also an outstanding mother with loads of milk. She manages her parasite load on her own and is always healthy. She's also halter trained, and I shear her standing, tied to the fence while she chews her cud. It is not hard to find joy in the flock! Her fleece is very popular, with repeat customers. I hope all of my sheep can be like her! She was born a rich moorit, and faded to musket as she aged. I select for faders. LOVE 'em!

PS...this basic sock pattern can be found on the right side of my blog under Yankee Knitter. The writer of this pattern has a talent for simplifying things, so I highly recommend it to new sock knitters. I knit lots of these socks because the pattern is sooooo easy to adapt to anything that strikes your fancy...even if that moment is midway through the sock! The peeries were used a lot in Shetland, and the different colored toe (left sock) was common in Faroe at one time.

Hope all of you are finding quiet moments to knit in a warm place and finding joy in that peace!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Take Joy! Crown of Glory Shetland Lace

Crown of Glory Shetland Lace with Shetland yarn

Such joy in knitting can truly be found! The Crown of Glory lace pattern was a favorite of the women of Shetland. The main pattern has a large opening, with six yarn overs above it to give the appearance of a crown. Lovely! Some called it Cat's Paw, for it does give that impression as well. The women of Shetland utilized their creative energy to change slightly each pattern, giving each woman or group of women in a small area a knitting identity. So fun!!!

My Crown of Glory Shetland lace is knitted with light worsted weight yarn I handspun on my wheel here on the farm. I obtained the wool from the first little lamb born here, little rock-hopper Pumpkin, whom I sheared myself. It was through aching tears that I did so, for Pumpkin had become entangled in the fence in the night and I lost him. His horns, his fleece, and his personality were all crowns of glory. Even his gait, the flow of his fleece, the brightness of his eyes, and the glow of his heart were all glorious. Pumpkin's fiber is a stunningly beautiful, rich, chocolately mocha color of rich gleam, and it's very soft. The women of Shetland typically knit this lace in a much finer gauge of yarn. I'm using a larger gauge two-ply so it can be worn in heavy farm chores through wicked winters. I chose the Crown of Glory pattern to help remember Pumpkin by. His yarn, this skein, won a blue ribbon at the fair last summer.
...the needles wait for me...

I love knitting this on a 16 inch circ. needle. It's peaceful, relaxing, and reflective knitting. I can't help but think of the women who went before me, who also made these stitches under gray November skies, who also reflected on their lives while the yarn moved through their hands. History is not as far away as we think...

Little Annabelle, The Official Sheepdog's ornament, just for her

Some of you know that our little Annabelle, a breed not of tending sheep, longed to be a real sheepdog someday. One day, she had her glorious moment of 'tending sheep', and has since held the high status of "Sheep Dog". One to frequently leap over furniture at top speed, ears flying, we couldn't resist this perfectly appropriate sparkly ornament that so aptly describes her heart! It gleefully graces our tree each year, bringing giggles and happy memories. We love our dogs.

The season is passing into peace and darkness now. All is truly calm, the skies are gray, the birds are quiet...well...not counting the perky chickadees in the lilac shrub! The sheep quietly eat their hay and meander around their winter pasture with a sense of calm. Wooly Bear quietly feasts on his latest pumpkin, with orange mush all over his horns and poll....a happy fella with his pumpkins and girls.

As I settle into the house to cozily knit by the fire, I breathe in deep the fragrance of the pine just feet from me. My hands quietly take up my knitting, and my mind quietly slips into times past. I can't help but take joy in these small things, things that have been repeated by people over generations, and centuries. The commonality of human nature, our basic needs, doesn't change. We are all the same.
This month, I'm celebrating simple things, and as Tasha Tudor taught us, to take joy! For joy can be found everywhere, all around. Farms can create a heavy heart when loss strikes, but mostly, farms are places of much joy and happiness...glee and bounce...giggles, chaos and silliness. How could I ever capture that on camera? The joy that animals take every day is worth emulating. They see it. Can we?