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, 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!

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