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.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Meet Wheely Wooly Fair Isle!

Meet the latest little lamb to arrive on our farm! This is Wheely Wooly Fair Isle! It's not a very good picture, but at least I managed to get my camera working long enough to snap something (and he doesn't hold still much!)
Wheely Wooly Fair Isle
born April 27th
He's got his Mom's ears and his sire's bright face...

I had wanted to name a ram lamb Fair Isle, after a very famous island in the Shetland Islands last year and the style of knitting that was made famous by the women who lived there. When my ewe Mona had twins, one being a ram lamb, I knew his name was gonna be 'Fair Isle', but fate has other ideas! Mona had her twins just as a very strong storm had blown in last year...then moments later, the tornado sirens went off in town nearby, sending us all into a tizzy! We had guests here that day, and in the whirlwind of the winds, torrential rains, tornado, and our own excitement at seeing two very cute little lambs, one of our guests asked if the little ram lamb could be named "Whirlwind", or "Whirly" for short. So we obliged and our guest had a special moment to remember. Turns out, "Whirly" was the perfect name for that little fellow as he was very playful and loved leaping into the air and whirling around. (His twin sister is Maewyn, THE most playful, leapy, hoppy, goofy, happy sheep on our farm. Today, Maewyn, a yearling lambsitter, played on a mound with little Moonlight and Starlight so the mom's could rest nearby.)

So now, here I am, seeking a new ram to get the name 'Fair Isle' and here he is! I love his coloring, even though I'm not certain how he'll fade up, but I'm pretty confident he'll fade. Fair Isle knitting used so much of the moorits, muskets, and all the shades of browns to creams or white/gray that I think this little guy is aptly named! He was a very strong little lamb, getting up within moments of birth. He's also independent and not afraid to go exploring! Mom, Mona, will be very busy in the days to come!!! (His sire is Wooly Bear) She's up to the task as usual, and is a great mom. Both Mona and Wooly Bear have wonderful temperments, so we aren't surprised that he is showing likeness already!

Knitting lace for fun

I do enjoy the rhythm of knitting lace. This one was knitted on circular needles and was a joy to work on. I did it quite a while back so I don't remember all the details, and I can easily pick out a mistake or two. This is not blocked or anything, and I wear it a lot on super cold nights, under my down coat's hood. TOASTY warm! I hate taking it off! I'd in fact, love a whole blanket knitted like this. The wool is from my ewe, Honey: sheared, washed, carded, spun, and knitted by me.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Can You Guess?

Side Track!  I was spinning one of my Shetland lamb's fleeces this afternoon, and started thinking about how much the fiber reminded me of Angora bunny hair, for it was very fine.  Since I have some bunny hair from my rabbit, Zinnia, I decided to put the wool side by side with the bunny hair.  Sitting next to me on my table is a lock from Claire, my dairy sheep (East Friesian Cross).  Just for fun, I decided to put the three of them together and compare, cause you know, I have nothing better to do, right? :)

It turned out to be a very interesting case study!  Can you guess which one is the Angora Bunny fiber?  Which is the Shetland sheep fiber?  Which is Claire, the dairy ewe?  Dairy sheep, by the way, have medium grade wool.  If you work with fibers regularly, this should be easy.  What is remarkable, is that all three of them are so very fine!  Even Claire, who's wool should be coarser by the very fact of her breed.  I had lots of fun passing a few minutes this afternoon by taking a closer look and appreciating the fineness, similiarities and differences.  I put a few strands of the Angora bunny wool together with the Shetland fiber and could barely make out the difference of which one is which.  Here is the answer:

The locks on the upper left are Claire.  Her staples are blocky...meaning they have no tips. (I sheared her with handblades.)  The cut side is on the bottom, the outer ends are at the top.  She has regular crimp all the way up the staple, and it's very uniform.  The brownish at the top is not color variation on her wool, rather, it's dirt, for this is an unwashed lock.  The upper right is Angora bunny.  Zinnia, whom we lost last summer in the horrible heat (she was many years old but we still miss her!  She was a delightfully hoppy bunny, and loved chives...since we're in full chive season, I miss her even more.)  had this gorgeous mini-micron fiber that was bright white and a delight to work with.  She was a wonderful bunny who provided much wool for me to spin.  The bottom right lock is the Shetland, off one of Wooly Bear's lambs.  The cut side is on the right (hand sheared by me with blades).  The tip on the left MUST be present on a Shetland sheep.  This tip is a lifesaver to the animal in that it sheds off endless rain...downspouts and gutters for sheep...essentially.  The tip is a golden color, which is the color of the sheep when you looked at him before shearing, so the white part grew in as the lamb grew!  Fun!  This lock is washed.  Interestingly enough, when you pull on the tip to separate the fibers, the tips go all the way down to the cut part and gets finer and finer.  The fine stuff at the cut is the same as the tippy stuff at the top.  The tip wool is the same as the fine wool, all one strand.

So when analyzing my wool and bunny together, I tried to take a picture, but my camera just couldn't pick it up nicely.  Essentially, the sheep's wool has waves, where as the bunny fiber is really straight.  That was the only way I could make out a difference between the two, even after bugging out my eyes for awhile.  One thing is for sure, though.  All three animals produce a very different handle in their fiber, a very different knitting experience, AND a very different wearability! It was really fun looking at these three examples and I didn't regret burning a few minutes today in doing so.  Hope you enjoyed this little side track with me!
  Wheely Wooly Starlight, you sure are cute!

Coming up...

More pictures!  Coming up next is a picture of some lace I've knitted.  Plus, Mona had a lamb Friday night that you'll want to see if you love knitting Fair Isle...

The camera is giving me all kinds of trouble lately but I think it's all getting figured out.  Little Moonlight and Starlight are out on pasture and loving it.  Moonlight is FAST!  He is soooooo cute!  The garden has been getting planted, but just cold weather stuff as we've had many frosty nights of late.  We planted the onions in a raised bed this year.  I used to have 10 raised beds in my garden and I LOVED it!  This is the first one in our new vegetable garden (which is actually three years old now).  I love both white and red onions, so we planted a four foot by four foot square area, planting nine onions per square foot.  The first foot is white onions, the next all red, then white and so on, so when the onions start bulbing up in later in the summer, it will look like a patchwork quilt.  Fun!

Also in is the lettuce, spinach, garlic, radishes, and we've transplanted some perennials and herbs.  The raspberries have been thriving, and the fruit trees made it through all the light frosts!  Seeds started in the house are ready for transplanting already...

When it rains or gets dark, it's time to spin!  I'm also working on some knitting.  There is a time and place for everything, so when I'm on the run, the knitting comes along...when home, my wheel is whirling.

Watch for the upcoming pictures and have a nice day everyone!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

GREAT NASSA Newsletter!

Our national organization (and beyond actually) for Shetland sheep is known as "NASSA", or North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association.  NASSA puts out a very nice newsletter four times a year.  (Although in the last couple of years, it was full of takeover "education"...i.e. brainwashing....which always puzzled so many people who admitted they didn't know how to spin yarn, OR knit, were such experts at "educating" the rest of us on what Shetland fiber IS.  Thanks to my work, it's now taboo to be an "educator" without bragging how much they spin or knit.)

Anyway!  The Spring 2012 issue is a very nice issue.  It is 32 pages chock full of useful information to Shetland shepherds.  The President's message on page 2 is a big one this time.  It is full of very important information regarding the past, present, and future.  I am VERY impressed with our current President.  He had written in his profile before getting elected that he wanted to restore calm within our organization during a time of hostile takeover.  His task was a very challenging one that took an extrordinary amount of time to resolve, but he did it!  He had also written that he would protect the diversity of our breed, and he's done that, too!  So many of us felt railroaded by the takeover group, and we feared the breeding standard for Shetlands here in America would change to something much different, with the real genetics being thrown out...cast they put it in their language... "culls".  It was a very bad time for Shetland breeders, and I'm very thankful that time is OVER.

Also in this newsletter is an article written by the man who brought Shetland sheep to North America.  What a pleasure reading this!  I have great respect for this man, who's passion and amazing political skill gave us lucky shepherds the sheep we enjoy today.  I'll still working on my idea of having a Col. Dailley Day every October within NASSA, to keep his memory alive for all those who continue to benefit from his persistence, sacrifices and hard work.  I'm sure he would be DELIGHTED if he were still alive today, and could hear of our gratitude all these years later.

Also in this issue, for those of you following the mess of the last couple of years, the ads!  Oh, what a crack-up the ads are in this issue!!!!  There are farms out there that are heavy supporters of the Appendix A know, super short, super crimpy, etc?...who are suddenly advertising they are good stewards of the breed!  Unfortunately, the word "crimp" is still there in their ads, revealing their true identity, which is amazing, considering the word "crimp" is NOT on our breed standard!  Crack up!!!  Other ads have removed certain words, I guess in an effort to bend back to reality.  It's also funny to me that my work of    "Hands!  Put in in your hands!!" has made it to the furthest reaches of camp life, as now some of those campers are advertising about the handle of fleeces!  I'm SOOOO glad my common sense has reached so many people on the other side!  I know some of these people have worked very hard to learn how to spin and some to knit as well, because they realized I was can't be an expert on Shetland fleeces if you don't know how to spin or knit it!  Shetlands ARE one of the world's PREMIER garment breeds afterall!

Also,  in my plans for Shetland Showcase , the event I wanted to bring to the WI Sheep and Wool Festival, but couldn't because my idea was stolen by the MSSBA, renamed as the Handy Shepherd, and put into place without allowing me to participate, I had written immensely about halter training sheep.  Each year, as I attended the MSSBA show, I was stunned by how poorly shepherds were handling their sheep.  People were very frustrated.  Some went into the ring with little fleecy shetlands in the meat carcass brace!  Others had husky harnesses on their sheep and dog leashes on their sheep!!! The show chairman herself had her sheep in the ring with dog collars on, and no prior handling.  Several times, her sheep became loose in the ring and out of her control...full, mature rams!  The Shetland barn was an embarrassment and people needed help...

So I worked hard at educating people. (My ram won Grand Champ. by the way, and was as well trained as a dog who'd attended obedience school)  I talked to people about not showing Shetland sheep in husky harnesses.  I talked to people about not snaring sheep out of pasture the morning of the show and expecting it to show nicely in the ring.  I taught people how to handle their sheep, how to use a halter, and how to spend time with their sheep before coming to the show, so that their showing experience would be less frustrating to them, and more successful.  I taught people that Shetlands are not shown in the carcass brace like meat sheep, even though Shetlands make for outstandingly healthy meat.  People flooded our booth with questions, and my blogs about it received much higher hits.  People seemed grateful for the info, and felt genuinely lost and without direction. One family didn't need that training, though..  Their two daughters did fine with the sheep they brought every sheep.  It was obvious the girls spent lots of time with their sheep BEFORE the show, and their sheep were always calm and relaxed in the ring.  Well, their father, our current show chairman, wrote an excellent article in this issue encouraging shepherds to halter train their sheep BEFORE the show.  It's a must read for any of you out there who own, or want to own Shetlands!  If you only have a few sheep, all of them should be halter trained for ease of handling whenever the need arises...and it arises frequently!  Through my work, and the writings of our show chairman, we can strive to eliminate the confusion and be of help to those wanting to learn how to have better skill in handling their sheep.

Other great articles in this issue are the general health of the flock, written by a wonderful vet who has had Shetlands for a lonnnnggggg time, and knew the woman who founded NASSA.  Learn, too, about disease issues overseas that we all need to be aware of.  And lastly, I've been harping for a LONG time that Shetlands are one of the world's most premier garment breeds, and that I dream of more connection in our organization to those garments than what has been done in recent years.  In recent years, people who don't even spin OR knit were busy "educating" the rest of us on what a shetland fleece should be like.  But you would easily see that their fleeces DON'T match the textile and social-political, cultural history of the Shetland Islands, and THAT drove me crazy!  In this lastest issue, the link has been restored!  I don't know who wrote the article, but that doesn't matter.  The fact  is, the knitting has been linked BACK to the sheep, and the history.  I particularly liked that this knitter is not a diligent pattern follower, but rather a skilled knitter winging it to create a beautiful garment, knitting in ways that's comfortable, applying skill where needed, and making hard things simplier.  That's the way I knit....and I've been told that's the way I approach life.  It's the way I cook, too.

If I could have dreamed two years ago, in the midst of the hostile takeover, of what NASSA COULD be like, here it is!  My dreams of teaching people about halter training and the textile link have been realized with this new board.  The photos of the sheep are no longer like fingernails on a chalkboard, but instead, photos of what the sheep REALLY look like (except for some farm ads! giggle, giggle)  The tone has changed from "stupid membership, here is what we are forcing you to know" to "this is what the sheep have been all along, let's get back to having fun with them"!!  And Marybeth, the photos of your sheep are to die for! (page 28)  They are SOOO pretty!  Then on page 14, you can see a photo of the two people and their kids, who've worked so many LONG hours to restore NASSA to it's rightful place!  The kids have made sacrifices to the breed, too, in that their parents have had to work so hard at keeping the breed true.  It's nice to see their family photo, and they are very deserving to have it in this issue!

This has been an outstanding issue of NASSA News!  It has really set the tone in re-establishing the enjoyment of the breed by restoring to the membership full expression of textile enjoyment, as written on our 1927 Breed Standard, just as the impoverished people on the Shetland Islands did so many years ago.   If you don't have a copy, get one!  I'm sure you won't be disappointed!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Meet Wheely Wooly Starlight!

Wheely Wooly Starlight
born April 21st

Greetings everyone!  Spring is giving us lots to do, and lots of fun!  Late Friday night, our Shetland ewe, Sweetie went into labor.  She gave us Wheely Wooly Farm's first ever white Shetland lamb!  He was born early Saturday morning quickly and easily, and of course, his mother is awesome at her mothering skills!  Sweetie is a very gentle and loving ewe so we weren't surprised!

Little Starlight was such a surprise in that he's all white!  He's sired by "King of the Farm" Wooly Bear...who has sired all of Sweetie's lambs.  Together, they have given us moorit and Shetland black, but this is a first for all white!  We named him Starlight for the clear, quiet, cool spring night he was born in which nearly every star was out and shining brightly.  As we made our sleepy way back to the house a few hours before sunrise, we were struck by how many stars were out and glowing brightly.  Out here in the country far far away from the city lights, the night sky is indeed impressive!  We thought Starlight would be a perfect name for our first little white lamb.

Meanwhile, little Moonlight is now out on pasture with the big girls and doing great!  He's such a little cutie!  When Starlight was born, he was very excited and was prancing all around the pen.  As his little hooves hit the ground, he made the CUTEST little sounds of "thump, thump, thump"!  His all black wool makes him look like a little shadow in the night, especially to tired eyes.  I'll never forget sitting in Sweetie's jug, watching her nurse and care for her new tiny lamb, while Moonlight's "shadow" thumped happily by time and time again!

Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy my Shetland sheep? :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring is Springing!

Iris snorkeled her way through this shrub last year...

...and now it's blooming up a storm! Nothing says spring more than bright green grass, bright blue sky, and loads of blooms everywhere! Oh how nice it is! For those of you who follow my blog, you'll remember the picture last summer of Iris, one of my favorite ewes, chewing her way around this shrub? It had virtually stopped blooming and was getting hard to mow around. In fact, some baby trees had started taking hold under it and were growing up through the center of it, much to my dismay. So what did I do? Put the sheep on it, of course! And a fine job they did of cleaning the shrub up and making for easier mowing. Now, we have loads of blooms. Thanks Iris!

What did I do while the sheep pruned the shrub and mowed around it? Why I spun of course!

Little Moonlight and all the other 4-H projects are all doing great. The ewes are grazing everyday now. The grass is already grown enough to be re-grazed where I started them earlier this spring! We have more lambs coming soon. Always plenty of work on the farm!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wheely Wooly Gracelyn has her first lamb!

Meet Wheely Wooly Moonlight
born April 4th

For those of you who fell in love with Wheely Wooly Gracelyn's fleece and yarn last year, we are very pleased to announce that Gracie had her first lamb! She is loving being a mom and got the hang of it really quick. She tends to little Moonlight gently and sweetly...just as Shetlands are known for. Moonlight was named for the magnificent nearly full moon hanging low in the pre-dawn sky at the moment he was born on a cool, quiet spring night. We think he'll lighten to a lovely soft gray as he ages.

Shetland sheep are known for a lambing rate of 120% to 130%. That's quite low for modern, commercial sheep, but well documented for genuine Shetlands. If you are interested in genuine Shetland sheep, ask about the lambing rate before you buy. If the breeder talks about all the twins and triplets they've had, or higher lambing rates of 170% or more in their "purebred" flocks, you know something is fishy. Higher lambing rates come through crossbreeding, a strategy well employed in modern commercial flocks. Those higher lambing percentages are much appreciated and desirable in commercial flocks, but are not fitting for hill sheep like Shetlands who must survive in wicked rain and wind without shelter or supplemental feed, or shepherds who assist with the extra mothering. A lower lambing rate is plain and simply, how the sheep survived and in fact continue to thrive on the Shetland Islands to this day. Wheely Wooly Farm is dedicated and committed to the genuine Shetland sheep, because the rewards are fruitful and abundant! So far, our lambing rates are consistent at 125%, which fascinates me!

Gracie's yarn sold quickly last year, and I know some of you have hoped for more. She won't be sheared again until June or so, but now with her little lamb, perhaps we will have more soft, silky fleece like she gives in the future!

Sunday, April 1, 2012


How do you spell spring? BUSY! There is always so much to do in spring, so I'm feeling blissful that the weather has been so wonderful! The animals are not stressed this year, although some of them don't always get to go out due to mud. For the most part, all of our animals have been out much, much earlier than usual, and I'm getting real used to that!

Our lambing starts this month. The babies we have on the ground are all doing fabulous, and the 4-H projects are a blast. The grass is growing on our pastures, and must be grazed lightly already, or it will get out of control in this warm weather. Our pastures are from another time...a time when protein was viewed differently. We are lucky to have the pastures that we have. With the right management, we should be able to keep them going well. I know if our pastures were more modern, it would be way too early to start grazing. Old-fashioned pastures go great with heritage Shetland sheep!

Speaking of sheep, I've been very busy with the wool of late. I've dyed a bunch, and am spinning and working with the wool everyday. We've also had some road trips and fun stuff in between. I've worked with a lot of medium grade wool lately, but am done with that now. As nice as that wool is, how nice it is to get back to my soft Shetlands!!

The rams seem to have settled down from their spring sillies again. Whew! That's all I can say! Wooly Bear was literally floating above the ground despite his impressive horns! It's just not right for such a handsome fellow to be floating with such silliness! I'm glad he's happy out there. He was so silly, running and playing with the other boys. They weren't hitting on each other, just running and boinging around!

We are very excited about the upcoming sales season! We have new things coming that customers have been asking for, so stay tuned. Last year was a great year for us as we got to meet so many new knitters and see how their projects turned out! So many new people discovered our yarns and other products! More will be coming on that as we get closer to sales season.

Hope everyone is getting a chance to enjoy this awesome weather!