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, May 13, 2012

My Handsome Lerwick, freshly sheared

Wheely Wooly Lerwick
Shetland Ram, just sheared of his second clip, by me.

Wow!  No matter how much I look at him, I still just can't get over how different he looks when freshly sheared!  In full wool (meaning a 12 month clip), he gives you the impression of being a huge ram.  His wool grows all the way out to his horns, leaving a ring of wool around his face like the old English queens used to know, those white collars you see pictures of them wearing?  See the picture on the right side of my blog?  That's Lerwick last year, a few minutes before I sheared him.  He looked like that again this year. After shearing, you see that he's really just a little poodle with horns!!  It takes me weeks to adjust....

One of the many delights of having these diverse and mysterious little sheep is their colors!  Lerwick was born very black, here on our farm.  As his wool grew out, he stayed black, but the tips weathered a bit to a light brown...sun fading I suppose.  When visitors looked at him, they called him the "brown" sheep.  But when I sheared him Saturday, I was delighted to see he is starting to lighten now as a two year old!  His fleece is turning a lovely shade of light grey!  That sets his very black face and horns off so nicely.  It's truly a delight to watch these color changes, and to work with this wool!

Lerwick is one of Wooly Bear's sons.  Wooly Bear has outstanding horns, an outstanding personality, and very, very fine, dense wool with a long, wavy staple.  He has passed these qualities on to all his ram lambs.  In fact, Lerwick is the hardest sheep to shear in my whole flock, because his wool is incredibly fine and DENSE!  That density makes me sweat every year!  It's slow going with lots of smaller snips to get the blades into his wool.   I snip and snip and snip, and the wool just keeps coming with little forward progress. The blows are much shorter.  (His rise has come at a good time this year.) Wilbur (a BFL cross), for instance, takes full blows as long as the blades.  I can shear him in less than 20 minutes because density is not in Wilbur's vocabulary!  Lerwick is the other end of the spectrum, and he takes me a good hour to shear.  When I'm done shearing Lerwick, his fleece is extremely volumnous, yet it only weighs just over two pounds.  The yardage I get in yarn is outstanding.  Lerwick has proven to be an outstanding ram in our flock!

Other things to know about Lerwick:  when I shear him, I put a halter on him and tie him up to a wooden fence panel we made.  He stands there and chews his cud while I shear.  There is no flipping until the end, when the good wool is off and up on the skirting table nearby.  That's when I flip the rams to clean off the mess on their bellies from laying down in the snow or wet grass.  Tip:  be sure to check your rams from time to time in winter if they sleep outside on snow every night.  Their belly wool can mat, preventing their urine from falling clean away from their body, creating a problem.  I check my rams every few weeks.  Also to know about Lerwick, his wool sold extremely fast at the market, and he's covered every ewe given to him, which means he has lambs on the ground.  Splash, the little fellow in the feeder on the right side of my blog, is Lerwick's son.  Splash is a blue ribbon ram (well, so is Lerwick!!!).  His wool, just like his father, is extremely fine and dense.  Both have outstanding personalities and are very easy keepers, both are halter trained, both are friendly.  And both of their baas end on an upnote!...the only two in my flock like that.

These are the qualities Wooly Bear has passed on in my flock.  He has been a dream foundation ram.  As we enter phase two of our long range breeding plan, I go back to the anxiety I felt in picking a foundation ram a few years ago.  There are LOTS of rams out there, but very very few of them will take your flock forward and give you all you are hoping for.  Wooly Bear not only did that for me, but he's given me sons to be very proud of!

Hope you enjoyed seeing how Lerwick looks, freshly sheared! 

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