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.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The future of Shetland sheep

Sometimes the hardest thing we do is maintain what we've got. The people of the Shetland Islands gave us a gift 31 years ago. The gift we received, that original flock of Shetland sheep, and the hope that flew over in the plane with it is a treasure.

When I think of hope, I think of the people who feared of losing the genuine Shetland sheep back in the 1970's and 1980's. That fear was running strong. Commercialism, cultural changes, economic shifts, disease...all were on the minds of those people. They had enjoyed a long run with this hardy and friendly little sheep that had lasted centuries, lifting their people and place out of obscurity and discomfort, into warmth and fame. How sad it must have been to see the sheep fading into something new, something lost from what it once was, beyond their control. I am sure this worry weighed heavy on the hearts of some, laying awake at night. So much hope was on that plane that fateful day. Hope that the sheep would remain unchanged, not afflicted by those pressures seen on the islands. So much work, so much history, so much care...

The hearts and hope of those people are in my heart tonight, as it is each time I linger in my flock, spin at my wheel, or knit such amazing yarn through my hands. The people of Shetland placed the care of their treasured sheep into strangers hands, on our continent. The hope they sent along in the plane that day must have been very powerful. I know that because I feel it. I'm a recipient not only of their sheep, but of their hope. I'm sure they were hoping we'd protect their little sheep, keep them going for future generations to discover, to relish, to love, as I have. I'm sure they were hoping their little sheep wouldn't be morphed into something new, as it was there.

It is with these thoughts clear in my mind that I am so relieved to hear that despite aggressive attempts by outside groups, the genuine Shetland sheep will indeed see continued protection through a very strong voice of our whole membership! For the second year in a row, the membership spoke very loudly and clearly!!!! WOW!! I am not alone in wishing to genuinely preserve and protect the genuine Shetland sheep. There is a large fraction of our continent who also deeply love this special sheep and who also wish to see it's future secure. The hope that rode along on the plane that fateful day is alive and well in North America! In fact, it's thriving!!! Shepherds coast to coast are dedicating themselves not just to genuine preservation of this amazing sheep, but to the preservation of the Shetland sheep's story over the last 31 years.

With this relief so fresh, I had to take several days to let it sink in. Yes, the sheep will be protected! That is top priority!

Here's what we've come to learn:

1. aggressive groups will come in, take control of everything, censor out the majority, and try to inflict unwanted change, all for some internal motivation they themselves desire.

2. such groups will change language around to sound like genuine protectors, thus dressing in wolves clothing...i.e. hooded red capes...please beware!!! Restoring the truths shouldn't be too hard, as most shepherds in North America understand, see, and recognize the 'morph-language',"morph-groups", and their "cull heavily" motto.

3. the membership spoke very clearly that genuine Shetland sheep are beautiful, worthy of continued protection, and VERY MUCH WANTED!!!!

4. that this genuine protection and preservation is under continual threat...what we have is always in peril of new threats lurking right before us in the shadows. As genuine protectors, we must work very hard to identify the wolves in the room, and strive to hold on to what we've got...outstanding little sheep who just plum don't need" improvement"!

The hope the people of the Shetland Islands sent along with that first flock to North America is fresh in my heart, and in the hearts of so many other shepherds throughout North America! Together, we diverted the latest threat of change morphing our sheep into a shiny new breed. Stay vigilant! But for now, take joy in knowing that the gift we've received, these sweet and diverse little sheep so many of us have come to love and cherish, will see a renewed commitment to genuine preservation and protection!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pretty Shetland Ewes

Lil' Rainbow

She is such a pretty ewe! She has excellent conformation, is extremely hardy, is the healthiest sheep on my farm in many ways including managing her own weight effortlessly and showing strong parasite resistance. It's an absolute shame she's not registered! She gave me a beautiful ewe lamb last year and was an exceptional mother. She positively treasured her little lamb, and they are very close to this day. Lil' Rainbow is going to be bred again to Wheely Wooly Lerwick, the same ram she was with last year.

This little ewe is Twilight and Pumpkin's mother, Sweetie. She is sweetness through and through! She produces a powerhouse of milk, lambs easily, and has a fleece I love to spin. By shearing, it will be very long, nearly 7-8 inches. There is so much more I could say about each ewe! Sweetie is going in with Wooly Bear tomorrow. I hope to have his breeding group together and settled before the holiday, for I planned this group to be together through Christmas. Despite having to wait longer this year, Wooly Bear is doing great! (i.e. the fence is still up and everyone is on the correct side!) He is coming into his ram scent now, and that always lasts through January, so we'll see what he does this year.
My Iris
I love all my sheep, but I really adore my Iris! Her previous owners sold her to me and I am very grateful. Iris's fleece is beyond outstanding! It is just a dream to spin and is the most comfortable wool I've ever spun or worn. Her britch wool was soft enough to be used for scarves even last year, but probably not this year anymore. Iris is not a socializer, but she will come to the fence for chin scratches anytime she thinks I have time. It's pretty safe to say we've bonded, although she still won't let me catch her if she sees me coming with know....shots, hoof trimmers...stuff like that. Iris is the type of sheep that always looks as if she's about to lamb, but she's been foolin' me since before I brought her home! :) As usual, we have no plans to breed Iris, and she is getting old.

Today I knit one sock and one mitten. Sounds funny, doesn't it? That's the second sock, and the first mitten of a pair. Fun!!

Hope you enjoyed seeing or meeting some of the ewes in our flock!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Getting Stuffed on Thanksgiving

Don't try this at your Thanksgiving Dinner...

Happy Friday everyone! This weekend is such a busy one for so many of you and us, too. It's the start of our deer hunting season here in Wisconsin, and this year, there are changes that not everyone is excited about, such as loaded, uncased guns are allowed in vehicles while hunters are driving around, and the fact that sooooooo many hunters will be in the woods, but there are virtually no deer around....certainly not enough to meet the needs of soooooo many hunters! So tomorrow is "everyone in the barn day" here on our farm. Hunters in our area seem to be very good about safety so let's hope it's a safe day and weekend for everyone.

Also this weekend is our Holiday Open House at the farm market, and we are ready!! Come see what's new! We will also have the popular blackish yarns back in stock! We have lots of gift ideas. Shetland yarns make for great gifts for the knitters, crocheters in your lives, for it is so unique, soft, light, and colorful! The natural colors are great for men, and men are frequently at our booth picking out yarn for hats and socks. If you have a hunter in your life, or a guy who likes being outside, remember that Shetland yarns were largely made into men's clothing. We have outstanding, deep, rich colors in blacks, greys, browns, and russets that men love. An investment in Shetland yarn is a long-term investment, for the yarns are not only soft, but long lasting as well. Come and see what the guy(s) in your life would like!

Then on Sunday, we are having the first of our Thanksgiving meals, here on our farm. I LOVE roasting the turkey and making all the fixin's!!! The smell of the turkey roasting is just a wonderful lingering memory and a great way to start out winter with warmth and love. Each year, I save and dry some sage from my garden, a habit passed on to me by my Grandmother, and make homemade stuffing with it. Another family favorite is the homemade honey rolls I make. DH makes wonderful mashed potatoes from the awesome, fluffy potatoes he grows and digs up out of our garden, and I hope to get in an apple pie from the last of the apples we saved off our trees. It will be a stuffing feast all right! Pumpkin pie is not on the see...I kindasorta fed all the pie pumpkins to....the sheep. Makes me feel sheepish....

Speaking of sheep, the fellow in the photo above is our foundation ram, Wooly Bear. We get requests for this photo every year now and it seems to have become a favorite. The top of the pumpkin had softened under a frost that year, so he ate that part off first, then worked his way down into the interior, as far as his horns would allow him to, that is!!!

Happy Fall Weekending everyone and don't forget to stop by our booth and pick up those great gifts for those you love!

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!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Inspiration, socks, fleece, and eggs!

My inspiration basket!

Inspiration can be found in the simpliest of places. I love my odds and ends basket. The variety of natural and dyed yarns inspires me on lots of garments. Borders, trims, ruffles, flowers, or name it....I'm inspired! This overloaded basket goes along on many road trips with me, a constant companion when an idea strikes. What a wonderful way to enjoy the simple things in life!
My sock basket always a busy place! Socks are something we treasure here on Wheely Wooly Farm. Three seasons just would not be the same without cozy wool socks that keep you warm even when wet! This sock has trim around the cuff that is from the barn mittens I made and posted about back in September. The white yarn is from Claire, our non-Shetland sheep. This is her lamb's wool, very crimpy and softer than I expected out of her breed...but then again, she hung around Shetlands all winter! (giggle, giggle) This is the first pair of socks I've made with her wool. I've already noticed a difference in how the fiber knits, as it's heavier to work with, and my hands get fatigued sooner. Other than that, it's been a joy so far! Even though they are not for me, I can't wait to get the feedback on how they wear! The recipient of these socks requested them.
Wonderful spinning fiber!!

Genuine Shetland fiber that is longish and wavy, as our breed standard strives for is truly a joy to spin! Here is the dark fleece I'm working on right now. The tips have that 'Shetland brown' color to them, with the deeper fiber black. The funny thing is that the yarn looks black, with white fiber when spun up. If you took this fiber into really bright sun, you'd see it is actually a brown tone. These plays on color in the human eye create wonderful opportunities for design, and I LOVE it!! Sometimes, I pair different natural colors with fiber like this, or other times I pair dyed colors, or both! The possibilities are endless and great fun! Reasons like this keep me on handspun yarn, where the colors and tones stay intact in the yarn. If machined, these elements would be diluted a great deal, if not lost all together.
Snowstorm eggs...

Last, despite the cold weather and snow we've had lately, the hens have been busy doing what they do best! Notice the variations in them? These hens are young birds, just having come into lay. The bluish/green eggs come from our Easter Egger hen, which is really a crossbred hen. Star, our beautiful black Ameraucana is either not laying right now, or laying where we are not finding them. How nice to have these!

Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Isn't it too early for this??!?

Well, everyone is back outside today. The storm passed by early evening yesterday, then the moon came out real bright. We got over three inches of very wet, heavy snow that was remarkable blown about. My first treat this morning was walking out the east barn door and having roof snow slide straight down the back of my neck and into my coat! Hate that!

Now, the sun is out and everyone is running around in the fresh, crispy snow. The rams did NOT want to go back outside!! Some even planted hooves like stubborn goats, which just makes me giggle. But one by one, I got them outside. The lure of the hay flake surely failed today! Turned out to be good one-on-one time with each of them. I really do enjoy them! Soon, I'll put them with their girls. I'm waiting this year, for having lambs in the wicked springs we've had lately is not high on my priority list! Last year, lamb losses were very high in many neighboring flocks. We were lucky to have indoor lambing, and lucky all our lambs survived.
Well, there's always someone who enjoys fresh snow!

Swifty had a ball in the snow. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where his toy ended up. The snow will probably melt soon and he'll find it before I do so I'm not too worried.

In the meantime, the storm took away some spinning time. Each storm seems to create three times as much daily work (or is that my imagination?) This morning was clean-up time of hauling out old bedding with the wheel barrow, sweeping up, putting down clean bedding, removing large chunks of ice from water tanks and buckets, and getting everyone back where they should be, as well as knocking snow off the barn roof and traipsing to the coop to fluff things up there. Let's not forget walking fence lines and repairing pull downs! By the time I was done with everything, I was good and sweaty and out of breath. Good work! Time for lunch!

This afternoon, it's back to spinning! I'm working on a nearly black Shetland fleece that has some white in it. It's beautiful! I'm spinning the britch first, then moving up to midside wool. I'm hoping to get more black yarns finished as I have very little in black yarn left. Mona is also sold out now.

Hope everyone else came through this first taste of winter ok!

P.S. Anyone running to the mailbox today? (giggle,giggle)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No clucking in the raspberry canes today!

I don't think the hens would enjoy this...

Rats! I guess that means raspberry season is officially over! Good thing I have lots of berries saved in the freezer. Today, we are getting a little snowstorm. There is about 2-3 inches of wet, heavy snow on the ground, with a little more yet expected before it passes to the north. The flakes have been huge and furiously falling at a sideways angle in the fairly unpleasant wind.
I guess I'm not the only one looking out the window!

Everyone is cozied up in the barn today, including the rams. Let's hope everyone stays where I put them! The boys were cold, tired, and hungry so hopefully, they will eat, nap and rest before getting interested in their surroundings....
Meet "Sarah Smoke Tree"

Sarah Smoke tree is a droopy tree that lives on our farm. She's normally all as tall as that one branch sticking up. Today, however, she is demonstrating her flexibility capabilities. I guess that makes her "Sarah the Baller-TREE-na".
Tree?? What tree?

The pine near the back door is a beautiful green on one side, and nearly invisible on the other! The branches are weighed down pretty good. Let's hope none of them snap.
The first blasting of 2011-2012

The barn is already getting it's first blasting. Perhaps I'm in a weebee bit of denial that winter's coming? I guess I better bring in my garden stuff now...

Shepherd's Tip of the Day: Old wool that is too dirty or full of VM to use for spinning, or that is off the rumpy britch or bellies of sheep makes GREAT wool to stuff into cracks around your barn. I don't use anything with sheep berries in it, but the "cleaner" wool makes a great draft stopper! I've stuffed it into cracks in the foundation, around windows, and doors to make for a more snug barn. Don't worry, I still have PLENTY of ventilation in my barn!! It' s nice to use the wool for areas where cold drafts come in on animals or where you don't want snow filtering in. I often save the wool on the shearing board for just this purpose. In spring, I remove it, and in fall, put in the new stuff I've saved. Works great! Remember, wool makes GREAT insulation, and mice do not like chewing it.

Hope you enjoyed our snowy scenes from Wheely Wooly Farm today!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our Pres. in Sheep! Mag?

I missed it! Rats! Sounds like a really good article that I'm gonna have to get!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The sheep will do it!

See any leaves?

People often like to think that animal ownership makes your life harder. I beg to differ! Here we are, on a lovely fall afternoon...under a nice tree.....FULL of huge leaves that need raking up every year before snow flies. If these leaves don't get raked up, they kill the grass, for they are very large maple leaves. In the past, I've raked them up and stuffed the walls of the chicken coop with them for added winter insulation. Ok, doing that made my life harder...but I DID enjoy the work and the knowing that my hens would lay more when insulated so nicely from the cold.

Now along comes Posie. Posie is a very cute little sheep who is sweetness through and through, or so I thought! As I glanced out my house windows from time to time, I noticed Posie was parked under the maple tree all day. As time passed, I noticed that as leaves fell, they weren't accumulating like they should. Oh, I thought, she must be eating them up for me! How nice!

Then, I noticed that Posie was looking UP into the tree...waiting for the wind to jiggle a leaf or two off branches above. As they floated down, she ran to where she thought they'd land, and gobble them right up! I watched and giggled as this played out over a few hours. Good girl, Posie! Now I won't have to rake!

Later, as I amused myself looking out the window again, I saw that Posie's best friend, Maewyn had appeared. Now Maewyn was hanging out under the tree...and there still were no leaves around. I decided to wait and see what would happen if a leaf fell...who would get it? Now Posie and Maewyn are very close friends...always the first lambs to greet visitors...untie your shoestrings, or want a chin scratch. They are always together, always looking for attention, and always underfoot. Suddenly, a leaf fell...this way....and that way....and little Maewyn, being the nimble-hooved little Shetland that she is, swiftly pounced her way to the leaf just ahead of Posie, and quickly ate it up! Well Posie watched this, head turned sideways, a time or two before she made a decision! The next time a leaf fell, Maewyn again pounced ahead of Posie, only this time, Posie was frustrated and BAM!!! Posie butted Maewyn on the side just as Maewyn gobbled up the leaf!!! Uh oh! As the leaves continued to trickle down, this is what I saw...
BAM! BAM!!! (Notice the leaf in Maewyn's mouth?)

Good thing they are nice and woolly now! Maewyn didn't seem to mind Posie's jealousy. They spent the rest of the day competing for leaves, and I'd have to say for poor Posie's sake that Maewyn got most of the rest of them!

I've since rotated them to a new spot, where they will spend daytimes all winter. The danger now is that the grass has stopped growing fast enough to keep up with grazing, so the risk is great over-grazing. Because of this, I have moved them to where over-grazing is sacrificed, and placed hay out. Of course, they much prefer every little morsel of grass blade they can tear up, so the hay sits....meanwhile, Maewyn never seemed to get upset with Posie for the head butts, and they seem to be carrying on with their sweet friendship...continuing to get under my feet every opportunity they can get.

Oh the things you learn looking out your windows!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

'Wow The Pumpkin'

Wow The Pumpkin is the largest pumpkin ever grown here on our farm. We grew a bunch of giant pumpkins this year, just for fun. We know a key secret is to snip off certain flower buds so that much of the vine's energy goes into growing a whopper, but we didn't want to do that! (giggle, giggle) The flowers are so pretty, and it's fun to see who's opened, who's growing a pumpkin, and what color the pumpkin is. We also grew a bunch of white pumpkins this year. The sheep love them as much as the orange ones. Yes, Wooly Bear has gotten an early Thanksgiving treat! It would just not be right to go into winter without giving him his favorite treat!!

Swifty's posts are still coming....I know, I know.....I'm late! He is such a fun dog! He loves to get wet so cold windy days seem just right to him. We are actually managing to keep up on our fall chores this year despite multiple challenges. That means certain fencing has been removed from our back grazing pastures, opening them up for flippy runs. That's dog-speak for great fetching of a soft type of dog frisbee that sails long distances. Swifty LOVES to run in the wind to snatch it! He's very sweet, bringing it back and placing it politely in my hands...well, as politely as an excited young pup can manage! His other favorite activity of late is rolling in the tall grasses...thrashing with joy at just being outside and being silly. Notice the 'buzz' in his eyes in this photo? He's a very intense dog, which I find very pleasing when outside with him. He is constantly tuned into me and waiting for the next cue or whistle. I love that about Border Collies! He's my barn buddy no doubt.

Notice the new photo of Wheely Wooly Lerwick on the side of the blog? He was a lamb last year. We gave him some ewes for breeding and he now has his own lambs on the ground, which we love!! Wheely Wooly Splash is out of Lerwick. Splash has the softest fiber our farm has ever produced! We bred these sheep under the guidance of the 1927 Breed Standard, minus the Appendix A. We will not breed Appendix A sheep here, for it demands modern criteria on the sheep, and we are striving for the genuine Shetland. He's getting ewes again this year. I am so impressed with his fleece, conformation, and temperment! I save all the best fiber for sales, but I did save one small skein of midside wool from him for myself...of which will become another lace scarf. Lerwick is out of Wooly Bear.

Last, can you believe I mowed today! It's Nov. 1st and I was mowing. That's got to be a first! The nice thing is that the sheep are still grazing! Tomorrow will be cooler and rainy..."a Shetlandy kind 'o day" I say!