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, February 29, 2012

Most EXCELLENT Sheepy Read!

Order from NASSA!

If you have a love of Shetland sheep whether it's a passing interest, or a craving for more factual information, this is a must read! It's the proceedings from a conference that occurred in the year 2000 at a lovely place on the edge of Lerwick, Shetland Islands.

This amazing wealth of information was made available by the very board members of NASSA that understand what the genuine Shetland sheep is...a longish, wavy fibered breed that is lovely to look at and very unique. I first read it myself last fall, and CRACKED UP over, and over, and over! I've heard A LOT of stuff flying around about Shetland sheep in recent years. If you want to know what's real, and what's myth, you gotta read this!

For example, on page 17, you'll find out about the "wide variety of fabrics" that were created out of Shetland wool. Reading further, you'll learn about how rooing was once out-lawed! You'll learn about the "myth" of the "kindly" Shetland, and some truths about some reports written about the sheep and the political motivations behind certain claims about the fiber. You'll learn why some "Shetland" flocks exhibit higher mortality rates, while others don't. You'll learn how the Shetland Flock Book Society was started and why, and how that pertains to genuine Shetland lovers today. You'll even learn why the wool has changed visibly from longer to short over the years and why that might be. Also, the health of the flocks on Shetland is covered...very helpful for us North American shepherds who have not seen a hard run of disease in our sheep yet. Learn about old grass and new grass....and yes, there IS such a thing! Read about color in the wool, and the loss of it. Read about Hunter's Hope...the name I've given to the dreams that flew over the ocean with that first ever flock to set hoof on North American soil. Read Alan Hill's contribution to the meeting. He was one of the judges in Wisconsin last year I believe. Very interesting! Don't miss the discussion on lamb health of newborns and how that is a good indicator of genuine or not genuine. Last, learn about the disastrous results of modern crossbreeding, and why those who propose Shetlands are super short wool sheep know sooooooo much about genetic resistance to Scrapie! All very, very, very interesting stuff!

This booklet didn't cost much, and you can get it through our organization, North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association (NASSA). Here's the link

When I got it in the mail, I quickly glanced through it (or so I thought I would!)...only to be pulled in immediately. The rest of that day is history, for I was not available to anyone after that! I read it cover to cover many careful times, making notes, underlining, and re-reading. If you love Shetland sheep, if you own Shetland sheep, or you're going shopping for Shetland sheep, or you are going to breed Shetland sheep, this is a MUST read!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Claire and Mitzi

Whew! The last few days have been busy...resting! Resting and getting things done around the farm, that is. As a working sheep farm, our house does not look like other houses. Our house requires a different sort of organization and flow than a "normal" house. I'll have to elaborate on that more some other time, however.

Meanwhile, the weather has been just great! All the snowstorms have been forecast for direct hits, but then suddenly steered to the south or north. We are still relatively snow-free. We'll see if it lasts! More storms are predicted for the days ahead. We surely hope our "bubble" keeps working to keep us dry! Today we have a brisk wind that isn't fazing the sheep, but the sun is bright and the finches have begun their spring calls! There is a different feel out there today...spring-like...despite the brisky wind.

The last several days, I've been spinning Iris's mother's fiber. Her name was Mitzi. I don't know what became of Mitzi, for I did not own her. Iris is about six years old now, so I don't know if Mitzi is even still alive. Mitzi's fiber is as soft as Iris's yarn is, and just as pleasant to spin. How fun and special it is to spin a sheep "in the family"!

Now that Mitzi is all finished, I'm working on a little of Claire's fiber that is leftover. Claire is Posie's mother, and is named after the now well know Claire here in our state that is helping so many people with small ruminants. The sheepy Claire is a very gentle sheep who's fiber is of medium grade and very pleasant. Because it's not as fine as my Shetland fiber, I can card it with little worries of neps. With Shetland fiber, you must be very careful when carding, for it is so fine that neps form quickly and easily. So the carding is going quicker than with Shetland, hence, I've already finished a bobbin and a half, having just started on it.

That's my quick update for today!

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Beautiful Sheepy Gift

This was given to us late yesterday afternoon. What a beautiful book this is! Thank you!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Shetland Textile Myth

Is all Shetland yarn used to make very delicate shawls? Are delicate shawls THE garment that made Shetland sheep famous? Are delicate shawls what all the speed knitters spent hours and hours and hours working on...including the time they spent walking to market, gathering peat, or caring for their flocks? Is providing fiber for delicate shawls the primary goal of the Shetland sheep breeder?

The answers to these questions are frequently answered incorrectly. It's really neat to have textile history in a breed of sheep, and I've been excitedly stating that for years, for not many breeds of sheep can brag about such inclusive history with a closeness to the people who cared for them. Shetlands are one of the few breeds in the world who can stake such a claim. I tried to get the previous board of NASSA excited about connecting to the textile history, but they weren't interested because the ACTUAL textile history reveals too much about the TRUTH of the fiber, a truth you seldom hear them talk about (and certainly not positively!!) and would rather you don't know about. I also created Shetland Showcase to help reconnect the textiles to the animal. ( I had some success there, for even though my idea was stolen and renamed, it DID put my connection together.)

When looking back at life in the Shetland Islands, something emerges that is very interesting. Control. There is much history in control over the land, waters, and it's people. The majority of that issue is a topic for another time. However, that control extended a firm grip over knitting that is hard to believe in our modern knitting lives. It must have been miserable for those Shetland knitters who worked such long hours to create items to sell, only to have to face inspections of their work before a sale could take place! You see, Shetland garments were hot! Very hot! Ships came into the port of Lerwick from all over, looking for Shetland garments. The biggest sellers were: socks, gloves, bedcaps, and sweaters (known there as jumpers). Before a knitter could trade or sell certain garments, they had to pass inspections. Hence, we have records of how many of what types of garments were made. While this did not happen over the entire history of Shetland knitting, it did take precedence over a lengthy period of time.

This inspection history is diligently and well documented. Today, we can be grateful for that, even if it was perhaps not so good in it's day. Why? Because the TRUTH has been recorded. The truth is, the majority of the Shetland wool clip was NOT knitted up in delicate lace shawls, but rather, it was knitted up into everyday working clothes...common, everyday stuff. The fiber used for those garments needed to be sturdy and soft. From the local women of Shetland in their working "hap" shawls, to the men at sea wearing their Shetland jumpers, to hats, gloves, and foot coverings! You name it! Shetland wool was the work horse of many centuries!

So where do those lovely delicate lace shawls fit in? Well, they were certainly produced, and they were(are) certainly famous. However, it is well known and recorded that few women achieved the skills needed in making them, and that those women were fortunate enough to be excused from the harsh daily work the others engaged in to support and raise their families and manage their farms (crofts), so that hands remained fine for such delicate work. Making the shawls was NOT the work of walking to market in the wind, digging for peat to heat the home, or while searching for a lost ewe on the exposed hill. The lace shawls were a minority, specialty item...knitted by extremely skilled and practiced knitters in nearly all cases, and the work took a lengthy time to complete, despite the efficiency and memorization of the knitter and techniques. (If you knit lace, and want to be fascinated in a hurry, learn how it was done!) It is also well known, and the women of Shetland speak of this today, that the fiber for those lovely shawls was extracted (almost always roo-ed) from near the chin and down the neck of the sheep, rarely if ever from anywhere else. The rest of the wool was used for faster knitting to construct everyday clothes, that could be turned over for money or trade quicker....while walking, tending gardens, feeding the chickens, telling stories, and shooing pesty cats away.

(For those of you who might have seen the movie of a Shetland spinner...remember the kitty? I do! It sure made me laugh to see that. I've got one just as persistent right here. It's amazing how some things stay the same...)

So what does all this mean? It means that Shetland sheep are responsible for a vast amount of garments, by very industrious people, who were able to multi-task. It means that it is well documented that the items most in demand were everyday work wear for fishermen, crofters (farmers), and their families. It means that for centuries, the majority of the wool clip went into normal, everyday that had to last to be useful. Today we have written records documenting numbers of garments produced per year back then, or you can go to the Shetland Museum and view old photos to see what people wore for yourself. (see link at side of blog)

It is a myth that Shetland sheep were famous for just the lace shawls. It is a myth that breeding was for shawl fiber. The truth is, the sheep were famous for a fascinating array of textiles that PROVE the diversity of the breed, and that much more of those textiles were produced than lovely shawls. It proves that Shetland sheep are much more about popular everyday clothing than beautiful, delicate shawls. There are some out there that don't want people to realize that.

I've created a slogan just for this myth about the shawls. It's at the top of my blog. It says "SHETLAND SHEEP: RICH IN HISTORY, RICH IN TEXTILES". The last board didn't like it. Neither did the owners of the chat list! I like it. I think it clarifies what makes our breed stand out from nearly all the others. We have GREAT fiber, and soooooo much more!

If you are looking for a breed of sheep that can bring you a full, enriching experience, genuine Shetland sheep are IT! If you want an animal that might provide a little income, but you have no interest in the history of a culture and faraway places, Shetlands might bore you, and you might not ever see the value in these sheep. But if you love fascinating history, faraway places, outstanding clothes, and a very useful little sheep with a sweet personality to bring joy to your day, Shetlands are the breed for you...and that's no myth!

Saturday, February 18, 2012


giggle, giggle!!!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Morning Market and other things

Yes! We'll be back at the morning market!

Ever wonder how to bring endless giggles to your life? Invest in baby animals! We have become the house of giggles around here as we raise these little cuties. It's great fun to take them outside to run and play. This morning, they were out playing on the front porch and what fun that was! Just the three steps up created endless leaping, hopping, twisting, and all sorts of giggles. Racer liked the edge...isn't that just like a boy? They ran around some on the lawn, too, but naturally, steps and leaps drew the most time.

We are having unbelievable weather this year. Our winter is warm, in the 30's so often that there has been little change! Water buckets stay liquid all night long!!!! That cuts chore time down to a cinch. On the down side, I do not let my sheep out in mud, and the pen is very muddy by afternoon. They are taking that in stride, though, and seem to understand. Clearly, mud is not their favorite thing, either.

With regards to our national organization, great things have been happening that are very exciting for the genuine Shetland sheep enthusiast! If you love heritage Shetland sheep with a stunning and fascinating history behind them, or you are interested in learning more, you might want to become a member. For the first time in three years, I am going to advertise and promote our national group, because I feel it is now safe to do so (and I'm no longer embarrassed!). You see, the last three years have been miserable for our organization as a group moved in and attempted a secretive take over that would change our sheep from heritage sheep to something more modern, more like so many other sheep out there. They wanted to bring in high tech scientific measurements that only account for a teensy portion of a fleece, and animal. By looking at, and assessing an animal with such a narrow perspective, it's easy to see major benefits get lost. Other breeds went down this trail a long time ago, and are struggling mightly to gain good ground back, ground genuine Shetlands have never lost. In fact, it is well known that animals bred with such narrow confines generally have higher mortality rates, and are certainly known to be less hardy overall. Since that doesn't make up the true, genuine heritage sheep that is amazingly hardy on next to nothing, you can see where the friction rubbed the wrong way all across our country! The true genuine Shetland sheep needs nothing other than very close, attentive protection. NASSA's goal all along has been to not only protect the diversity in the fleeces Shetlands manifest (which will keep you gleefully busy with all sorts of fiber-related projects for a lifetime!), but also to protect all the other good stuff like good mothering, easy lambing, thriftiness, and bright, active, sweet personalities.

So! What is that national group??? It is the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association (we call it NASSA). You can find it online at their website, which is Because of the nature of the awful near takeover, this is THE only place online where you can find genuine information you can trust about the genuine Shetland sheep at this time. It does not include any other sites or Facebook.

Some quick history for those of you considering joining...NASSA was started back in the early 90's, not long after the first Shetland sheep arrived in North America. While it is based in America, our registry includes Canadian flocks. Our current President is one of those early flock owners. Through his knowledge, professionalism and skill at managing tense situations, he has successfully charted our sheep out of those stormy seas and shepherds across our nation are very grateful!! NASSA was the first and is the only Shetland sheep registry in North America, and it's leaders have carefully sought to preserve and protect the true and genuine Shetland sheep (up until the last three years, where awful changes were swiftly made...and are now being removed). In the early 2000's, there was much crossbreeding pressure here in North America, and it is now difficult to find authentic breeding stock in some areas, particularly in the midwest, where the root of the problem continues to lay. To find breeders who are passionate about authenticity, be sure to buy stock and fiber from breeders who strive for all fleece types. That diversity in fleece is the beauty of the breed, and it's what's linked to the REAL Shetland sheep, and the REAL history. Other warning signs to watch for are:

a) a breeder shears their whole Shetland flock in Feb. or March. This is common and acceptable in other breeds, but the very nature of authentic, genuine Shetland fiber prevents successful shearing so early before summer solstice. It smacks of crossbreeding.

b) a breeder's whole flock is wearing such short fleeces in spring before shearing, that you can clearly see all body definition...hips sticking out, back contour, etc. Genuine Shetlands have lovely, draping fleeces that look like gorgeous clothes covering the body, hiding those structural features by spring. Many Shetlands have fleeces that drape to their knees in stunning ways, clearly making them the hallmark of the breed! Once you see such lovely fleece, you won't forget it! Shetlands are...well....soft and fleecy!!

and c) a breeder talks, advertises, and hypes crimp, crimp, crimp. Crimp is lovely, and desirable in other breeds. However, crimp is NOT the goal of proper Shetland sheep breeding. Shetland sheep should have longish and wavy fleece, with only a little crimp under the neck and maybe a little down into the shoulder area. Waves are rolls. Crimp means kinks. Longish fiber, with lovely rolls in the staple are the fiber you need to create the genuine, sensational, knockout Shetland textiles.

What can you do to help protect this beautiful breed? First, do not buy modern fleeces that are really short, with all crimp if you want genuine Shetland fiber for knitting or weaving. If you do buy those fleeces, do not pay full Shetland price, for they are not the outstanding Shetland fiber that creates the genuine Shetland textiles, for you don't want to be disappointed. That crimpy fiber is more like so many other breeds, and is very common. Don't pay a high price for common fiber! Second, join NASSA yourself (you don't have to own sheep or even live on a farm to join), and begin learning more about this amazing breed, and all the fascinating history that comes with it! Included in your membership, among other things, is a wonderful newsletter chock full of great Shetland information, that comes four times a year. In fact, you'll find our farm in it, the most recent being a lovely doll poncho that won Best In Show at our county fair, all made with genuine Shetland wool! Then, be prepared to be hooked!

That's all for now. We have lots of new yarn coming with us to market in the morning. It's always fun to pick up fresh, local foods while you're there, too, so be sure to bring your market bags and plan for some great knitting, and some great food! See you there!

Update Fall of 2015!  THANK YOU KIM for giving us such great recognition and exposure!  You have really helped our flock and farm grow!  Shetlands are such an awesome breed, and have proven they can survive the many attempts to get rid of them in disguised ways.  They have, afterall, survived over a thousand years, and continue to do so.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bye Bye Appendix A!!! (BIG SMILE)

Well folks! It's time!!!!! It's time to do something that I've been looking forward to for a loooonnnnngggggg time! It's time to remove the Appendix A circle off my blog, because...ready???.....APPENDIX A IS GONE, GONE, GONE!!!!


Appendix A was written by a group of people OUTSIDE the Shetland Islands in modern times. It promotes a type of sheep that is not historical. It does not match the desires of shepherds like me who want to genuinely preserve and protect the real Shetland sheep. Genuinely protecting the real Shetland sheep is why I joined our national organization. Genuine Shetland sheep are simply amazing. Their wool is outstanding and cannot be matched in any other breed. They are solid, hardy sheep who are sweet, friendly, active, bright, outstanding mothers, and a joy to own.

Appendix A created lots of tension in our national breed organization. A very small group of very nasty people put it in place, without the knowledge of most of the membership. When the membership found out, there was shock and anger. But there was so much more to the story!

But for now, it's time to CELEBRATE!

AND! It's time to celebrate the return of integrity to our national organization!!!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shetland Yarn and more cuties

Wheely Wooly Wink
The last of his rich chocolatey moorit yarn for this year
Purebred Shetland ram yearling, first shearing

Purebred Musket Shetland Yarn
From slightly spotted ewe, second shearing

All this lovely Shetland yarn has been a pleasure to spin, and I wish I could keep it for myself! That's one of the hazards of you let the fiber pass through your hands, you begin to visualize how nice the fiber would be in such or such a garment. The top photo is from our Wheely Wooly Wink, a young ram, whom I've wethered. This is also the last of his first shearing.

The second yarn photo is of a purebred ewe, this being her second shearing. Her yarn was popular at the market, so I worked to finish up the rest I have. The next time we come to market, we'll have all this with us, ready for sale so watch for it!

I'm also hoping to have more black. The black is also so beautiful! It's perfect for pairing with our crocheted flowers in the beautiful colors. I'm hoping to make something, so stand by for that. I'll be working on it inbetween supervision of the care of these little cuties below...
Speaking of The Cuties!

This little guy is really eye-catching! They are both thriving and we are sure having fun with them! The weather has been great for getting them outside to play sometimes in the warm sunshine. However, that is not the case today! We've had a surprise snowstorm move in with winds up over 40 mph and light, driving snow. Makes the house cozy inside! The barn is also cozy, and everyone is grateful to be in there today. I passed out dried corn stalks to everyone this morning, for extra spoiling during the storm. Yes...I spoil them!

Yesterday, Wilbur the Goofball was outside hopping up and down over and over and over. I think he's been studying the movements of the little babies and decided to try that himself a bit! Silly Wilbur! He always cracks us up.

Have a good Friday everyone!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Happiness is Springy

Here they are!

Two little cuties! Buttercup is white and Racer (you guessed it, the boy!) is black with white. We are thrilled with how this 4-H project is moving along, and with how they've turned out so far!

Saturday turned out to be great fun! We took the babies out frequently to play in the mild air and warm sunshine, finding warm, protected places. They had great fun learning to use their legs. We found areas of concrete for them next to soft grass so they could hop around. After a little bit of playing, we let them nap in a cozy space, then went back outside again! The warm sun and fresh air was so good for all of us!

Sunday was colder with a cold wind, so we set up their indoor playpen in the barn. What fun! We gave them some low landscaping rocks that were laying around for hopping. They also got a nice, straw-filled kennel for sleeping, which they played in more than anything! Racer loves taking naps in there. We put a nice rock doormat in front for their happiness, and they were sure happy about that! Then last night, I turned a rubber lamb stock tank upside down for them to hop onto. Racer sure loves that! When they are all tuckered out, it's back to cozy naps.

Buttercup is long and lean. She's all white, with long legs. Her little hooves are so cute, too! She's already just like her mom....won't let you catch her when it's time to end playtime!!


Racer's color was a huge surprise to us! I absolutely loved his color the moment I saw him! He's going to be flashy! His white is so bright, so his legs really sparkle when he runs. I love his white ears, too! The first time I saw the black with white, I liked it. I liked it so much, I almost brought one home like that...was hard to resist. They are very striking, with dazzle. If you had asked me if livestock could be described as "dazzling" before I saw animals like this, I would not have believed it. Truth is, dazzle is the perfect word.

Their mother is doing fantastic, too! She needed to gain a little weight after birthing the kids, for we were afraid to give her too much grain at the end of her gestation. She had NO trouble kidding, and it went really fast! We are very pleased with her progress as well, and feel she has had a lifelong impact on our family. We will never forget Primrose! She has a special place in our hearts, and we're delighted to work with her every day.

Our thanks goes out to all the people who have answered questions for us and helped us out along the way as well! We surely appreciate your kindness!

Stay tuned! We'll have more pictures of Buttercup and Racer, as well as the yarn just off the wheel coming up!

Friday, February 3, 2012

They're here! They're here!

They've finally arrived! The wait was a long one, and hard! Mom was past her due date but looking healthy all along. The babies were disco-ing inside not even thinking of the journey to come.

So here's what worked best! Ready for this one?? Run out to the barn on a nice Friday afternoon to check on mom. Study her for a few minutes. Nothing unusual! With all fine, run back up to the house, put on your nice city clothes (and stupidly think a WHITE sweater would be nice!!!), and drive off the farm...with no worries because DH will be home in just over an hour or so.

Hum along in a city down the road, taking your time as you browse and pick up things for the weekend. Make sure the cell phone is handy in pocket, for it might ring during grocery store aisle social hour.

Sure enough, while chatting away in the store aisle, the phone rings!! AND GUESS WHO IT IS! :))))

Now those of you who've followed the events of our farm might be reminiscing right about now...for this is beginning to sound familiar!

Sure enough! DH arrived home and after moseying around in the house a few minutes, strolled out to the barn to finish chores. Not much needed to be done, just throw a little hay and run the sheep in. Hum hum hum...hum hum...just a normal Friday night. When he got to the 4-H project's pen, he peeked inside to talk to them, and see how things were going. As he was talking to them, he realized that there was a little white thing just in front of mom. It took a minute for it to sink in! Then he saw a little dark thing laying in the clean straw. Time to make that phone call!!!

YOU'RE JOKING! NO WAY!! HA, HA! GOOD ONE! Why suddenly does it seem the whole store is in our aisle, listening? Carts are bumping, and people have things to study near us on the's a traffic jam.

After excusing ourselves from grocery store updates with old friends, we dashed home to find DH had done a fantastic job finding the little surprises! Primrose had twins! Exactly what we hoped for! One is a little girl who is white all over like her mom. The other is a little boy who is white in the face but black over most of his coat! That was sure a surprise!

Tonight they are sleeping peacefully, in a warm box we've prepared for them, with tummies full of that warm amazing first food.

Tomorrow is sure gonna be fun!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How to decorate a pen

Well, yes...still waiting! So here's a pic of Lil' Rainbow.
Purebred Shetland Ewe

I can hardly believe we're still waiting for those babies out in the barn! The telltail (he,he) signs have been obvious for over a week now, and yet, instead of birthing, we are still all's quiet! The frigid weather has moved on once again, with unbelievable warmth coming to our region. We have been getting up near fifty degrees some days, with nights warm enough that water buckets barely freeze on top, if at all. What a nice reprieve for us!

Meanwhile, I really do believe a little disco is goin on inside that little mom-to-be's body! If you stand and watch, you can see all the disco moves. Perhaps we need to take away the disco ball! Then maybe they'll decide it's time to come out!

So we keep her space immaculately clean, with lots of clean fresh water, and the best in food we can provide. She has lovely china for tea, and lace curtains on the windows. I do believe some lovely artwork...I think a painting of leafy branches hanging down out of the corner of the painting, with a lovely bouquet of fresh roses, thistles, and pine boughs setting on a lovely log of bark has been commissioned and on it's way. Hopefully, it will arrive for her pen just in time. much longer must we wait??

So here in the house, I'm spinning everyday. I have Wheely Wooly Wink all spun up, as well as Oreo, and now I'm working on more Esther. Esther is a lovely black that I cannot wait to work with after it's spun, although most of it will be sold. I have something in mind you might like...

Unfortunately, the camera is not passing the photos on, so I have some problem-solving to keep me occupied while I continue waiting....