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, January 1, 2012

Awesome Year in Bad Economy

What can a genuine small family farm contribute to a community?? LOTS! The year 2011 was another very exciting year for us here at Wheely Wooly Farm! We began the year with greater commitments for selling than ever before which was a little worrisome...could I keep up? Could we always be where we needed to be?

Here in America, fiber, especially fiber with the breed of sheep we love so much, the Shetland sheep, is practically a whole new business. Despite being well linked to the industry, we realized early on that we are definitely ground-breakers. Everything we've done in our community has been from the ground up, and everything we've done to set up our farm has been created or invented by us. There have been no coat-tails to hold onto! So many said we couldn't do it! From inventory management, marketing, design, and production, to the shepherd's calendar, shearing, and predator management, we've had to make dramatic adjustments that absolutely boggle the minds of those in the industry, frequently leaving them so puzzled they are speechless.
We are unconventional! (giggle, giggle)

The President of the United States resoundingly harped to American citizens that what America needed to get out of our current economic woes was invention. I'm quite confident he never imagined sheep and fiber to be in that request for ingenuity and invention!!!!

Along the way, we bravely changed, tweeked, altered, and went forth. The rewards were many! First, we've come to realize how important local businesses are to the community. When people come to know each other, swap money, talk, and share, things happen that benefits the whole community. We've been able to touch the full spectrum of generations through our flock of sheep which has strengthened our community in ways I would have never imagined in our early days! We've also noticed people are really tired of things manufactured on the other side of the globe, then shipped here at great expense, with massive pollution to boot, then deceptively sold in a "local" shop. Now an orange in the north is nice in January, but would it really be necessary to ship oranges here if we could grow them here ourselves? Is it really responsible? We've discovered that people have caught on to the insanity of that shipping mentality with all it's political and pollution woes, and are eager to support true local.

Beyond the rewards of invention, sweat, and dedication, we've found much joy in bringing our yarns and products to the people. As people stream past our booth, soooo many reach out just to touch. Some make bee lines across the street, some are absorbing and reflective, others just dive in! Few pass our booth without touching, or they come back to touch our yarns and garments. Shetland fiber naturally draws people. The colors and softness are amazing. Compliments come from knitters and non-knitters. The most frequent comment made is "that is soooo beautiful...I gotta (learn)(take up again)(find)(try)knitting!" Shetland yarn inspires. It draws people out of the racket of the modern world, back into the peace of natural.

Also, we've come to realize how important it is to keep money flowing in the community. Money spent in a local economy seldom lays idle. Big businesses act like gigantic bathtubs in a local economy, with local money being sucked down the drain, with little return. If a tiny percent DOES make it back to the local community, the turn around time is frequently dragged out over a long time. When money is circulated in a small local business, it not only remains in circulation in that community, it circulates much quicker than if slurped into the big business drain.

As the sheep lay in their pen tonight, I'm sure they are not pondering the powerful impact they've had on their local community. But as I lean on the fence and peacefully watch over them, I feel an amazing bond to them. Having heritage livestock as sweet and intact as Shetland sheep are, you come to realize how they bring joy, laughter, health, and friendship to your life. While the work is hard, the sheep bring us many benefits not measured by economics, but rather health. Caring for them keeps us moving physically, strengthening our muscles, maintaining our balance, and getting us out in the fresh air. They also bring us much joy and laughter with their sweet personalities, curiosities and innate happiness. They flex the muscle of my mind as I strive to improve efficiency, solve problems, and keep their home safe. They are also the source of many new friends and opportunites! We are very thankful for what they've brought into our lives.

So was I able to keep up this year? Yep! Our most frequent type of customer is the returning customer. The discovery of the fine knitting hand spun Shetland yarn yields brings us all back for more, including myself! We were able to keep up, thanks to prior strategic planning. On top of the sale days, we were fortunate enough to be asked to educate the public with a sheep ambassador from our flock, demonstrate spinning for the public, help in raising funds for a popular local charity event, as well as give spinning and knitting lessons to all ages. We also attended our county fair and other shows, bringing home several trophies and top awards in hand spun yarns, fiber preparation, spinning, knitting, and livestock.

Lastly, we were able to help significantly in maintaining the genuine Shetland sheep here in North America. The threat of modern breeding to "improve" the breed only brings on unintended disadvantages. We here at Wheely Wooly Farm do not think of "improved" breeds as improved at all! How can you improve on a sheep that supports and propagates itself with little input, in terrible weather hot or cold, that grows volumes of soft, ethereal wool that spins, knits, and wears so beautifully to keep you warm and safe from the elements as you scratch chins so sweet and friendly??? The genuine Shetland sheep needs no "improvement", only diligent and watchful maintenance. Our sheep are the envy of the industry, and we'd like to keep it that way! The biggest challenge for our breed organization will certainly be to protect and preserve what we've had all along, what is right, and what is most wanted! The history is fascinating, powerful and indeed completely relevant to today's markets. This challenge, to keep this amazing breed of sheep and it's special textile history alive is what I've come to call "Hunter's Hope". Hunter's Hope is named after the man who was quietly asked to select the genuine sheep off the hill on the Shetland Islands to start a historical flock on a new continent. The hope he packed into the plane with the sheep as they flew over the ocean back in 1980 will not be forgotten by us here at Wheely Wooly Farm, and we will remain dedicated to his hope, and the hope of others that the genuine Shetland will be genuinely protected and preserved on this continent for future generations.

It's been an awesome year! We have so enjoyed bringing genuine Shetland yarn to you and sharing this treasure! We love seeing what you've made from Wheely Wooly Yarn, too! Thank you for supporting Wheely Wooly Farm and we are looking forward to serving you in 2012!

Happy New Year everyone!

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