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.

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.  

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