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, September 30, 2012

Interesting sheepy fact

It has been a gorgeous weekend here near Wheely Wooly Farm!  I've always thought that drought would brown the fall foliage but this year would certainly disprove that!  The leaves have been stunningly bright and catchy everywhere.  I spent much time outside, spending many moments just staring at the beautiful brightness...sometimes even just standing under the tree while the sun lit it up, with my mind in awe at the beauty of it all!
Swifty at the edge of LAST year's garden

Swifty loved sitting in this spot whenever he could.  When I look back at this photo, I'm amazed at how green the lawn is, how lush the flowers were, how big the pumpkins were!  It sure doesn't look like that around here this year!  Everything is brown, whole areas of lawn are dead, and the garden is just not the same.  The fall raspberries are only half as tall as usual, with tiny red raspberries hardening on the ends of the canes...not suitable for taking the time to harvest.  So I just shake them off, much to the delight of the hens waiting underneath, who promply make many happy hen noises as I send treats their way.  Thankfully, we had a nice summer crop of raspberries so we have plenty.

Today I dug potatoes and harvested another round of tomatoes that I didn't think would have matured on time.  Yum!  I've saved seed from corn, dill, sunflowers, and beans for the beanpot.  The fall garlic has already been planted with the rest in the house, and some already delightedly eaten!  I've spent a good deal of time making applesauce from apples off our tree.  The house has been filled with many, many good scents of late!  And since some of our hens went into molt early after the heat of the drought, they are starting to look pretty good again and have gone back to laying.  Great!  Molt is always a 'dry' time for eggs and comes with sadness!  So despite the drought and heat, diversity saved us.  We managed to get good things from our garden, trees, and livestock.

It seems the posts on general wool quality were much appreciated and popular posts.  I hope we were of some help in keeping your own fleeces in good order in the days to come!  There was a producer just west of here whom focused heavily on meat, but was attentive to the fleece quality on his commercial cross ewes and he was doing extremely well until the drought hit.  You do see flocks here and there where wool is just as important as meat.  It is always nice to see that.

Meanwhile, I've been spinning a lot everyday.  We'll be back at market on Saturday.  Watch for our new canopy!  Yes, we finally got a new canopy!  It's purple!  You're going to love our new set up, so come on by and see us!

Interesting sheep fact:  According to the American Sheep Industry Association, more than 4.2 million sheep were sheared in 2010!  It seems like a high number, but I remember my family talking about how in the 1950's there were thought to be somewhere between 50 and 60 million sheep in the United States.  Wow!  That's a shocking difference from then 'til now!   Where does the USA compare in total sheep numbers to other countries?  Stay tuned to find out!

Friday, September 28, 2012

General Wool Quality Cont. and market

A question came up about how to prevent so much chaff and vegetative matter from getting down to the skin line.  Preventing that is really daily management.  I know parasite experts would have a heart attack at this, but I never feed my sheep via feeders when feeding hay.  Sheep, like horses MUST have their bodies working in a certain way and there are reasons to this that are not so obvious.  As humans, we like to have our food neatly up and in it's own little place, but this actually creates problems for livestock.  We feed all of our hay on clean ground for horses, sheep and goats.  I move hay piles around to prevent excessive wear on the soil, to give options of 'feeding stations' (so that they can decide who they want to eat with or change their minds if they want), and I feed indoors if it's really muddy.  If the sheep are circled around a pile of hay, they look like spokes on a wheel.  That's exactly what you want because sheep on pasture will lift their heads and look around while eating to keep an eye out for predators or a stronger sheep.  They NEED to be able to do that.  If the sheep are around a pile of hay like spokes on a wheel, they can lift their heads and look around and the hay falls in the empty space between bodies.  Understanding this can be a tremendous tool for the shepherd who wants to raise high quality fleeces!  The worst thing you can do is bring the hay up off the ground, and force the sheep to eat in a lineup.  It's very unnatural, causes stress, and loads their fiber up with junk and matts.

Another tip is this, don't overfeed!  This is especially true with Shetlands, who carry the majority of their body weight low.  Shetland toplines are naturally bony, unlike a sheep raised with only meat in mind.  If you overfeed, all that little stuff in the hay falls in the bottom of the feeder and creates a disaster for sheep.  Sheep love to rub on things, so they rub on the feeders as they press into them to get the most hay.  Later, they rub on the feeders for a good scratch.  Sometimes they try to run through the feeders, but knock their knees and fall into the feeder.  All BAD for wool (and knees)!

To understand how to better avoid this, I took my watch out to pasture on several days and just watched how long the sheep grazed from the time I let them out, to the time they began loafing around, chewing cud, and lying down.  It typically runs somewhere between 1 to 2 hours for my flock.  Using that information, I now only feed enough hay to keep them busy for just 1--2 hours.  If you sneak a peak at them during this feeding time, things are peaceful and natural.  Sheep are taking mouthfuls, looking around, and gently changing places, just as they would if left to raise themselves.  This works great!  Why?  When I come back to check on them later, there is not a blade of hay left in sight anywhere.  They've very efficiently cleaned up every cent I paid for their meal.  Then, they lay down and contentedly chew cud.  Perfect.

Now, I have cleaner fleeces that have little or no exposure to neighborly mouthfuls or small bits of stuff getting pressed or rubbed into the wool.  There is nothing to trip through, get stuck in, or rub on.  I have efficient feeding with no waste.  I have happy sheep with cleaner fleeces.  Perfect!

Everyone has their own management style, and many different things can work great.  But if you want to raise high quality wool, you have to think about every movement the sheep make in a day that might threaten that wool.  You have to think about daily weather and ground conditions.  You have to think of vegetation in your pastures and be cautious who you buy hay from.  You also have to try mimicking natural conditions as much as possible.  It also helps to have tips on your fleeces.  Tips shed stuff, and act as a barrier to the hide. When the kids were shearing their meat lambs for fair this summer, it was easy to see how the blockier stapled fleeces were harder to keep clean.  Some sheep had skin conditions from the irritation and filth.  Others had sores from hard chaff rubbing on them.  The fleeces were very short, tangled, matted, filthy and ruined.  All of the sheep (that I saw) were fed in straight on feeders free choice hay (with waste laying in feeders and all over the ground).  Unfortunately, many of those sheep were also not healthy and came to fair in substandard condition...

Targeting high wool quality means viewing your sheep as a comprehensive animal.  Every part matters.  Every part counts.  Every day is a fleece growing day!  That's what we do, and while my fleeces are not 100% VM free, I do have very little to deal with.  I hope this answers some of those questions and that we are of some help!

Also, we are not at market this weekend due to special, different festivities that are held on this weekend each year.  It's going to be a beautiful autumn weekend with warm sun and colorful trees to enjoy!   Don't forget, you can always call or email if you know of yarn you'd like to get before we're back!   Hope you all have a wonderful autumn weekend and we'll see you next Saturday!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

General Wool Quality

We are often asked how we get and keep the high quality in our wools.  Well, I'm no expert, but after years of spinning and raising our own flock, we've come to a point where we've understood a few things about fiber and it's general quality.

Light, fluffy, soft Shetland fleece freshly handsheared

As we've traveled around to fairs, farms, and shows in our area, we come across very few Shetland sheep.  Two breeds of sheep dominate heavily in this region: Suffolks and Hamps.  Nearly every week at market, we are approached by people who either have these breeds, or have family with these breeds and their questions usually go right to fleece:  How do you get high fleece quality? Here are some answers beyond the scope of good breeding and nutrition.  Before you read on, please take note that I own the copyright to this material and that I reserve all rights to it. You do not have the right to use or replicate it for your own gain.  It's flattering that so much of my work has transpired into others' articles in sheep publications but I think it's time now for that to stop.  That said, I hope nice small flock owners will find this information useful in improving their own flock's fiber quality and we are happy to help!

The first thing we usually explain is that there are many breeds of sheep available, and that each breed has it's own fleece characteristics and qualities.  I am always amazed at how many people in my region do not know this.  The different breeds grow different types of wool.  The wool may be spongy, crimpy, blocky, wirey, cushy, dense or not dense, or extremely short, among other things.  To be successful in raising high quality wool, you need to select a breed of sheep that genetically carries high quality wool genes.  The extremely short fleeces seem to be what most people have on their sheep around here, as fleece is generally viewed as a nuisance to throw away.  That view of things, I believe, is indicative of powerful people guiding sheep production in our country  who know NOTHING about spinning, knitting, or clothing, and you never see them wearing wool.  What gets missed is that a sheep is a whole animal with very valuable qualities to it's wool.  Good wool equals good meat.  Bad wool means junky meat because bad wool means an unhealthy sheep or one raised in filth. I get questions all the time about if this wool is usable, and how can they raise quality wool.  Here is how we raise wool and I hope it helps!

First, we are very, very picky about mud.  Mud is extremely bad for wool (and the health of your sheep!).  It totally ruins the quality of the fibers so that even if the mud washes away at a later date, the fibers are already damaged and usually do not repair themselves enough to gain back high quality.  If it's wet or muddy outside, keep the sheep in!  Another good strategy is good pastures with high density of grasses.  When it rains a lot, keep them moving around on good thick grass, then they are out of the mud.  Clobs of mud in fleece attract all sorts of other problems such as flies, filth, bacteria, parasites, odor, and seems to attract vegetative matter that you certainly wouldn't want.  Mud dries out fibers, removing the natural lanolin and suint in the shaft, causing brittleness and weakness.  It stops the natural cleaning process sheep use to maintain healthy fleeces.  Mud also wreaks havoc on hooves if the sheep cannot get to dry ground.  Ongoing standing around in mud invites hoof rot, which catapults into unhealthy sheep who's bodies work is compromised and functioning at lowered levels.  That's bad for muscle, bad for fleece.   Mud is bad.

Second, watch the rain!  Good, steady, gentle rains or intermittent down pours are outstanding for fleece, especially shetland fleece!  These sheep are designed to be in rain, and need to be for health and growth of high quality wool.  If the sheep are kept in during rain, or if the sheep are jacketed, the rain cannot do it's magic on the fibers.  That's bad for Shetland wool, although I could not say if it is for other non-shetland breeds.  Rain restores moisture to the fibers, and is absorbed slowly, "cleaning out" the fibers and freshening them.  As the sheep gets wetter and wetter, they raise the fibers on their skin and give their fleeces a good hard shake like a dog.  This is extremely important to raising high quality wool!  It keeps the fleeces in high moisture without dirt or filth, helps them restore lanolin and suint to the tips, and keeps everything nice and fluffy.  This is also extremely important for healthy hides!!!  Hides need air and moisture to maintain high health, especially fresh air exchange.  Without that, suint and other gunk builds up at the base of the fibers near the 'skin', ruining the quality of your fleeces.  One bad thing about rain, especially for non-shetland breeds is felting!  Heavy, ridiculous, cloudburst type rains can ruin good fleeces in a real hurry by felting at the skin line.  This has happened to us in our crossed wether.  That is a painful loss!  If super heavy downpours are predicted, get your non-shetland sheep under a roof so that you don't have to shear felt off your hides!

Last, watch your pastures for burdock and other self-attaching menaces!  Once sticky seeds get into your fleeces, the headaches in maintaining high quality fleeces begin!  Sticky things attract all kinds of filth into the fibers while at the same time preventing the fibers from naturally cleaning.  Go out on frequent pasture walks during the growing season and either a) pull the buggers out and burn them or b) get the goats out!  Goats and sheep are not the best teammates, but goats are outstanding at keeping menaces out of your pastures, keeping them 'clean' for sheep.  Works like a charm and is a lot easier than the pull and burn method.  Also, watch your hay!  One year, a bale of hay was thrown to my ewes on a day I wasn't around and it just so happened that that bale was FULL of burdock!  Auggghhhhhh!  It was a very bad day.  Hope that never happens again!  I no longer buy hay from that source.  Look before you feed.

By following these simple guidelines, you'll be amazed at how the quality of your fleeces will improve!  Keep the sheep moving, keep them out of mud, keep an eye on your vegetation, and use rain as a tool to maintain high levels of health in your stock.  Good luck!

PS...I forgot to comment about the fleece in the photo above!  This is a freshly sheared Shetland fleece from this last spring.  Note how fluffy it is?  That's really important in maintaining high quality on the sheep and in the yarn.  Fluff is how the sheep keeps the individual fibers 'groomed by nature'.  The suint and lanolin can do it's work on each and every fiber from 'skin' to tip.  Also, notice the topline?  I often hear of and see sheep with thinned toplines, meaning that the fiber is shorter here and less dense.  That is a real problem.  I'll talk about that in another blog, but notice here how nice the topline is...dense, fluffy, with amply long fibers?  The bits of vegetative matter are extremely important here as well.  Notice how they are very small, all about the same length, and are all 'riding' near the outside of the fleece?  This indicates a fleece that is working, meaning it is 'breathing' and that the sheep was successful in keeping the debris OFF the hide, nothing is settling down on the hide and causing bad health via irritation and filth.  After I shear my fleeces, I do a general skirting and grooming on the skirting table with tips up, then I flip the fleece to tips down and give it good shakes like a wet sheep would.  Wow!  Works like a charm!!  

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's yarn! It's a fleece! No wait! It's a...

 Speckled Sussex hen!

Try saying that super fast five times in a maybe not!  Isn't she pretty?  She was at the poultry show this past weekend and  I have absolutely no idea who she belonged to.  I just love how her feathers remind me of Shetland fleeces and yarn.  All that depth of color so harmoniously blending together, just like handspun yarn!  I bet she'd be real pretty in the nest box on a nice pile of bright straw.  Waaannnnnttttt ooonnnnnneeeee!

By the Poygan Go-Getter did it again!  She came home in the blue, and so did her bird!  That's sayin' a lot, 'cause these people at this show know a few things about chickens.  She took Sweetie Tweetie, her Buff-Laced Polish hen who's six years old...yes, a six year old hen went a'showin!  Sweetie Tweetie got a first, AND Best of Variety!  It was another great day!  Wow!  It's been quite a year!
The 'tunies keep on playing all summer long

These bright and cheerful petunias have graced my back door window box all summer long, despite being positively BAKED in the blazing sun up to 110 degrees.  That's how hot it got on that side of the house on some of those wicked mornings, but they kept on blooming.  I wonder if you can get a chicken as cheerful-looking as these....

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wheely Wooly Tindall and Shetland yarn

Here is the little ram lamb I told you about, who's Wheely Wooly Hazel's twin.  You can see Hazel a couple or so posts back.  She's a lovely moorit with rich color and I anticipate she'll fade up the musket side.  Meanwhile, little Tindall here is also going to fade up.  He's black with brownish tips, but he's already getting some color transition at the skin line of a beautiful soft gray.  I can't wait to see how his color changes! :)
 Wheely Wooly Tindall, ram lamb 

Tindall has very nice horns and a very soft, bright expression.  His wool is very fluffy and soft, a handspinner's dream!  He'll be very easy to shear and I'm sure his yarn will be warm and cozy.  He also has a very sweet temperament, which as you know is a requirement here on our farm!  I don't remember at the moment exactly what his tail looks like, but I think it's as nice as Hazel's.  These twins are out of Gwennie, one of the sweetest and gentlest ewes in our flock, and Wooly Bear.  All of Gwennie's lambs have been outstanding and we are very pleased to have her.  She's on the breeding list for this fall for sure!
 cosmo volunteers
The cosmos look a little rough this year, but they did survive the drought without extra watering.  I love cosmos!  They truly are 'ridiculously easy' to grow and bring such a smile to the garden.
Wheely Wooly Yarn
We are so very pleased to bring you such a lovely spread of natural colors in Shetland yarns!  The lower left is creamy white.  As you go back, the warm browns start sneaking in, making for yarn that is very interesting to the eye and outstanding to work with if you like pairing colors, both dyed and natural.  Then in the middle are lovely heathered browns with creams to Wink's rich chocolately moorit.  Then we progress to Iris's bright grays that are so outstanding with teals, purples, and blues! And onward to a range of blacks, some with creamy whites or whites mixed in for depth of color and interest.  These blacks are excellent staples in winter wardrobes, beginning with fall!  You can look sharp AND be warm all in one garment.

Tomorrow is the first day of autumn already!  As your thoughts turn from summer's blazing sun and sweaty days to crisp leaves, fresh air, early evenings and apple cider, I hope it turns as well to mittens and warm woolly things.  Time to start reviewing or finding new patterns!  Have a great weekend everyone! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Drought Cracks

This morning, I took a few minutes to run outside and take some photos of our drought cracks.  This is what they look like after an hour of steady rain the night before last!  To a shepherdess, this is NOT good!
 I don't like that!  This one is 14 inches deep and more than 2 inches across at the narrowest part.

 This one is in the ram pen.  Thankfully, it's filled in a bit, but it sure scared me when I first found it.
Some of them are hidden under grass and weeds.  This one goes several inches down and is on the route the sheep run down to get to pasture.

It would be quite a challenge to find them all or fill them all in.  They are caused by a percentage of clay within the soil that contracts as it dries.  This causes the soil to "shrink" and become rock hard.  After such an extended period without good, soaking rain, the contracting soil is observed to be much deeper than usual, turning the cracks into deep, narrow, zig-zaggy holes.  These holes are just the right size to let a Shetland leg in, but small enough and so hard around the edges that if the sheep were running with any speed, it would be...well...not good!!!  Cracks in the soil are normal around here in the heat of summer, but having lived here all my life, I've never seen anything as deep or big as these are!  Notice the 'grass' around the hole?  See how short is is?  This runway has not been mowed once this summer!  We normally have to mow it twice a week most of the summer to keep it nicely passable.

It will take a good deal of frequent rains to return our soil to normal.  Each year, we work on improving our pastures, but this year was a giant step back with vegetative dieback.  In the last seven years, I think our farm has experienced:

1.  The hottest summer
2.  The coldest winter
3.  The driest summer
4.  The snowiest winter
5.  Record tornados 
6.  The warmest winter
7.  The most flooding
8.  The most recorded lightning strikes per hour and
9.  The deepest drought cracks!  (Ok, that's one I added. lol)

Whew!  I DON'T want to know what's next!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Post of Thoughts...

It has been a happy summer, and a weird one.  I have not experienced weather quite like this in my lifetime and I must say, it throws my confidence off.  When animals and plants go through so much stress, you visibly see how hard it is on them.  Animals are not designed to go through much stress, and it affects them.  It's frustrating to someone who loves animals to see them have to go through that!  And it's frustrating to see what friends go through with their own animals.

The drought has also brought grasshoppers...tons of grasshoppers!

Our country 'neighborhood' has been through a lot this summer.  We were on the edge of extreme drought.  We did get some rain, but not enough to keep the grass growing.  The high temperatures  literally baked the earth.  This means there are large areas of grass killed off so that what grass is left is very thin...sometimes clumps are half a foot apart or more.  That's shocking for our area!  To make matters worse, huge dry cracks have formed in the earth.  This is very disturbing to a shepherdess who has small stock!  These cracks are large enough that a whole sheep leg could fall deeply inside.  If this happened when the sheep were running out or in, it could mean a snapped bone.  It hasn't happened yet, but I worry about it every day.  Meanwhile, in meeting up with the neighbors for quick country talks, we learn of the impacts they are facing.  Our neighborhood has had a staggering amount of livestock deaths, mainly horses and cows.  Not good!  And many tears.  Many of those animals were in their prime of life.  They were not the usual kinds of loss you see in extreme weather.

Last night while I was spinning, I could hear a steady, gentle rain outside.  It struck me that I haven't heard that since last spring!!  Today, the sun is shining brightly and the air is cool.  How nice!  The blazing brightness seems to have gotten better as the heat subsides and the sun sinks in it's autumn place.  Two phoebes visit our empty bird feeder frequently.  They seem to have nested in the trees just to the east of one of our barns.  When we check on animals during the day, the phoebes are flitting about, happily calling songs to each other.  The squirrels must be desperate for food.  There are holes all over our front lawn today.  They must have spent the early hours near dawn furiously digging!  Not burying, but digging up.

The morning glories had stopped blooming in the heat, and the tomato vines stopped producing fruit.  Now, in the coolness of the seasonal change, we have gotten a bunch of tomatoes, and the morning glories delightfully greet us each morning at chore time.  Last night, I actually had enough tomatoes to make wonderful tomato soup!  Scrumptious!!

Yep.  It has been a weird summer!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Wheely Wooly Hazel

 Wheely Wooly Hazel born on our farm this spring

Meet Hazel!  She's a sweetie with a rich color to her lamb's fleece.  She has a really nice tail, nice build, and a fleece that's longish and wavy.  Woolly on her poll and cheeks, she's a nice summation of the criteria on the breed standard.  She's out of our ewe Gwendolyn and our foundation ram, Wooly Bear.  I'll put her twin brother on the blog as soon as I can.  His name is Wheely Wooly Tindall, a very bright eyed little guy with nice horns, a longish and wavy fleece, and gentleness to his personality!
Hazel has her mother's temperament...sweet!!
Yoohoo!  Hazel!  Look at the camera, Hazel!!

Hazel and Tindall are named after an amazing knitter from the Shetland Islands.  I hope she doesn't mind that I've named sheep after her!  I always wanted to name a nice little moorit that'll fade, Hazel.  It just so happens to be that she's a twin.  The suggestion was made to me that I should name the little ram lamb Tindall.  It took me awhile to think about that and adjust to it.  It's such a nice name, and so appropriate for cute little Shetland sheep!  And Tindall has such a cute, bright eye and expression...very happy and I finally agreed to it.  This little Hazel will fade in color, for wonderful dynamics in knitting.

Back to the knitter.  The real Hazel Tindall lives (from what I understand) somewhere on the Shetland Islands and is a very accomplished knitter.  You can find videos of her on YouTube knitting at an amazing speed if you search for her name.  Fun!!!  I've heard she loves the natural colors of the Shetland sheep, and enjoys knitting fair isle patterns with the natural colors.  You can create absolutely stunning combinations with the patterns in natural colors.  The possibilities seem endless to me.  

I hope these cute little sheep help us shepherds, spinners, and knitters here in America remember their heritage and all the possibilities their yarn gives us in hours of entertainment after which follows years of good looks in warm clothing. Hope you enjoyed meeting Hazel!  Hopefully, I'll get pics of Tindall up soon, too.  Have a great Monday everyone!  And welcome to little Henry!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

More about Sheep Festival..I almost forgot!

I almost forgot to mention to all of you something special that we have here at our Sheep and Wool Festival...sheep cheese!  YUM!!!

You know, I really cannot see the sense in spending millions of dollars shipping cheese across oceans when that same cheese can be lovingly produced in our backyards!  All that shipping and gasoline is disrupting relations in countries, polluting the oceans, and robbing people of jobs.  The countries that produce the most sheep cheeses are very small,  have very limited resources, with rapidly growing populations of humans.  It is absurd to think that such a small, pressurized region of the world can supply the world with sheep cheese!  It is my understanding that the folks in those regions are feeling so much pressure and cannot keep the ball rolling without collapsing, that they are encouraging sheep dairies to start up in other regions of the world.  There is plenty of work for everyone!

Let's not forget something...Americans WANT to WORK, and need JOBS!

SO!  Our festival is very fortunate to have a cooperative of amazingly hard working people who are producing outstanding sheep cheese, AND SWEET BUTTER!  It is outstandingly delicious stuff!  I tried the 'Somerset" cheese, a beautiful smoked cheddar made with 100% sheep's milk.  Good stuff!!!!!!  The milk comes from a wonderful breed of sheep known as mostly 'East Friesians'.  They are a large sheep with long ears that stick out sideways and are very cute.  They have good bone structure, are well sprung, and have very sweet, docile temperaments.  They are mostly white and have a medium grade, long fleece with nice crimp.  My fleeces are a joy to spin and wear, and take up dye so well, I can't stop having fun with them!  And the lambs are calendar picture perfect!

If you'd like to try some of the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative's cheeses, you can find them at  And coming up, they'll have sheep's milk yogurt and a new, as of yet unnamed cheese! Try the Shepherdess Butter!  I did, and I want MORE! :)

Oh yeah!  I almost forgot to mention too, that one of the dairy families is making sheep milk soap!  So I bought myself some, and I LOVE it!  Living on a farm (with sheep, giggle, giggle), I am constantly washing my hands every time I come indoors.  So our family goes through A LOT of soap!  I've been using the sheep milk soap all day, every day since I got some at the festival, and I will DEFINITELY be buying more!  My hands are in great shape, despite all the washing.  Try some!  Email that you want to try the soap.  I think I paid $4. for a bar, but I think it was $10. for three bars, plus, I think you'll have to pay for shipping.  I'm not sure, so check into it and get yourself some sheep soap!  And cheese!  And sweet butter!  Then let me know what you think!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Two skeins left & Busy weekend!

 Claire's 'Blue Ice'...only two left so get 'em while you can!

It's been another very busy weekend for us here on Wheely Wooly Farm!  Saturday was the busyness of market day.  Friday was a very fun trip to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival.  The day started out very overcast and rainy which was so refreshing and much needed!  I could leave the farm without worry, knowing my livestock and chickens would not need extra tending due to high heat.  It is always so much fun going to the festival and connecting up with sheepy friends and their year!  The price of hay and culls was definitely to main topic this year.  Nearly everyone I talked to had to feed their winter's hay this summer, leaving their barns and hay stacks sparse. And let's not forget the fun of shopping!  This year, I picked up some really cute t-shirts with spinning embroidery on them.  I always want to get them, but hold off.  I'm not much of a t-shirt wearer, but the embroidery on them is just so cute, I couldn't resist!   You'll see one of them at the end of this post.  I spent much less overall, though, as worry is in the hearts of nearly everyone.  The other main topic?  Politicians are sure disconnected with the nation!!!!!!!!!!!

Here in Wisconsin, the economy is downward spiraling, at it showed this weekend.  First, I had to pay $3.93 a gallon for gas!  I know that's cheap for big city dwellers, but around here, that's NUTS!  Then, to get into the festival, I had to pay two dollars more per person.  Ouch!  Prices are rising everywhere, while incomes and jobs are still dwindling and spiraling downward. (Speaking of rising prices, I am SOOOOOOOOO thankful my sheep don't need corn to survive and grow!!!!!!  My corn-fed sheepy friends are in misery at the 70% scalding increase in corn around here...and in one case, 100% increase, despite the fact that America has massive reserves and stockpiles of old corn, and barges are FULL of corn just sitting and going nowhere along the low Mississippi waters, and that Wisconsin will only be down about 20 bushels per acre than a bumper year!  Good thing we had saved to make this trip!  I didn't buy as much in the store this year though...with the hyperactivity of commodities.  Our hay prices were scalding!  But we haven't raised the price of our yarns yet.  Hope we can avoid that.  And I missed some of the vendors of festival's past.  It wasn't the same without them!    But there was plenty to look at and enjoy!  I did pick up a dry-erase message board that is a huge magnet for the fridge, with sheep on it.  We shopped and had fun.  We also noticed that some things have been downsized this year, many pens were missing, and Friday night was dead.  Where were all the incoming sheep?  Whole barns were completely empty and silent!  Friday evening is usually a hub-bub of incoming trailers, excited people and many baas. That was disappointing when you pay to get in to see sheep, and nobody is there!  I guess in this economy, the festival is becoming a one day event for sheep.

In the "Shetland barn" I talked to a few people and saw a few sheep from the core group of campers who are trying to make a go of something new.  How refreshing to not have to worry about things so much this year... like what the sheep look like!  I think it is really nice that the group so unhappy with the amazing genuine sheep has finally taken our advice and struck out on their own!  Now they are free to sculpt and design their own sheep just the way they like them, and don't have to worry about people like me who want to keep and maintain genuine, historical Shetlands.  I hope they can enjoy their situation, although I've heard the contrary is true.  NASSA's name was completely removed from all signage and advertising this weekend, so they have begun the process of building something new here in the heart of the midwest.  They have a wonderful opportunity to begin a new breed so I hope they embrace that and find joy in the process.  They can build from the ground up, which should surely bring joy!  I know I wish them well and hope they succeed in their dreams.  I can say that because:

a)  they are using my Shetland Showcase (a design I'd like to see succeed!) to build a conflicting breed  in hopes of competing with the genuine Shetland sheep and
b)  I'm just a really nice person!  I genuinely hope, for the sake of their heart health and families, that they can settle down and create their dream sheep in their new, fresh realm, with their modern parameters.

  Meanwhile, I can walk through the barns and just enjoy seeing what they are producing, knowing that my sheep's genetics, the history and textiles that go along with them, and NASSA are secure.

Speaking of NASSA, I've learned that things were worse in the last few years (during the hostile takeover) than even I knew.  No stone was left unturned in creating a new organization, and creepy new rules and hidden "extravagances" for a select few were the norm with that group.  Even I am surprised by what has been uncovered and cleaned up!  And I feel bad for old friends who were caught up in it and are now, well, out.  I am soooooo thankful for the actions of this current board in cleaning up the mess and restoring the organization back to it's original mission...WITH INTEGRITY!  They are re-building an organization that can once again be trusted in business and management, one that is fair to each and every member who pays dues, and one that allows members and their flocks to thrive without censorship, hostility, or changed facts.  It took a lot of hard work to restore things but they did it!  Things just really couldn't have turned out better for us AND for the other group!  As the dust settles, it's time to enjoy, raise lambs, spin, knit, and snuggle in the warmth of our new clothes!
 Pretty Posie, grazing last night
She's Claire's lamb, and her fiber is on the wheel right now.

On Sunday, we stayed home as expenses were just too high to justify another drive.  Plus, we had the pressure of the 4-H Record Book looming!  Tonight is the deadline and the book has to be finished and turned in. Last year, she won the Record Book Award, and is hoping to again this year.  In spending a whole year in building records, my Poygan Go-Getter's book is THREE INCHES thick!  Giggle, giggle!  It takes a lot of time to keep up with her dreams!  Let's's just after lunch on Monday and she has....five hours left to complete it!  Gulp!  Seven top trophies, five champion ribbons, seventeen firsts, two seconds, and one fourth take a LOT of documenting!  It's been a great year!!!!!
Isn't this just sooooo cute!

And finally, here is one of the really cute t-shirts I bought.  I just LOVE this, as it so aptly describes the true heirloom Shetland sheep!  If you want one, you can contact Sunnymeade Woolies at  The owner, Bonnie, also owns a few Shetlands. 

Oh, and I almost forgot...Lacey's yarn is nearly sold out as well...only 2 or 3 skeins left so if you were hoping to get her yarn from this year's fleece, you can email us at or pick them up at the market.  See you then!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Pot 'o Gold

A beautiful sight after blazing sun and drought!

Sheep grazing is truly a comforting and beautiful sight to a shepherdess, unless of course, there is no grass to graze!  This summer has been the weirdest I've experienced in my lifetime.  It is deeply unsettling when week after week passes and the grass gets no taller.  No matter how happy my day might be, I feel an underlying fear tugging at my subconscious as I walk the land each day.  It's a feeling I cannot shake.  At times like these, I seek out older shepherds who've perhaps lived through times like this.  They shake their heads and tell of other they made they got things have changed...and how things got better in time.  I know we are doing ok.  We have what we need, but barely a blade to spare.  My sheep are fattened and healthy, ready for the cold to come.  Their wool is strong and soft and clean despite the heat and dust.  They protest at times, thinking I forgot to rotate them.  I have to vamp up my shepherding skills to convince them that yes, this is today's pasture...don't worry...there's good eating in there!  The water is cool and fresh, ready for them, and I frequently see them gathering around it to discuss things amongst themselves.  It's been a weird summer, still hot, still very dry, still with cracked earth and blazing sun.  The rainbow was so refreshing!  The  
rain smelled so good!  Swifty had a ball racing around in the stems of storms past.  The fears don't settle on his mind.  He sails like the wind all around, ever so vigilant of where the sheep are!  In fact, I was shocked I got a picture of him actually looking at me and not the sheep!  This pose of his sure takes me back to 1987 when I snapped a picture of my other Border Collie, exactly the same pose...with exactly the same ear carriage.  Despite the worries of the drought, happy thoughts persist!  Swifty and Shimmer...two dogs so far apart in years, yet so close in sameness!

Perhaps the pot 'o gold is not gold coins afterall, but rather happy thoughts and memories that persist in our hearts to carry us through fearful times!  I'm so glad I saw this rainbow!  Hope you enjoyed it, too.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Spinning Posie

 Pretty Posie's fiber, ready to prepare for spinning

Pretty Posie is a sweet yearling ewe who is out of Wooly Bear and Claire, the dairy ewe.  I just love her history!  She comes from genuine Shetland lines, bringing fineness and softness to her wool along with a very sweet temperament, docile behavior, and mobility (Shetlands move around a lot, which helps them stay healthier than some other breeds of sheep).  She seems to have inherited her sire's hardiness and has been an extremely easy keeper.  Since Shetlands are not a crimpy breed, the crimp clearly comes from Claire, who does have nice crimp. I like crimp in the fiber of other breeds of sheep, as long as the staple length is workable.  Posie's fleece is a nice medium length (and probably a medium grade) and it spins up like a dream!   Claire's genetics also take up dyes beautifully, and I can't wait to see if this is partially true with Posie!  (I've not dyed Wooly Bear's fiber because his fiber is too dark.)  I've had a lot of fun with these two naturally, I want more! (giggle, giggle)  A fleece that is as soft as this, as pleasant to spin as this, as nice to dye as Claire's is, and wears so comfortably as I predict Posie's yarn will, is definitely a valuable sheep in my flock!

My trusty yarn basket

I frequently find my eyes wandering back to my trusty yarn basket.  If you love working with fiber as much as I do, yarn like this is very appealing to the eye!  This basket follows me everywhere.  It travels with me from one end of the house to the other and from one event to another as we sell yarn at all the events we attend all year.  The sunny yarn in the middle is the last treasured little tidbit of Claire's Marigolds...lucky me to still have it!  This color sold out fast this summer!  The minty green ball is also Claire's yarn, and the watermelon red is Shetland fiber.

 Hope you enjoyed seeing more photos of fiber and yarn.  See you next week!  Oh, wait!  I almost forgot!  Friday we will be at the Sheep and Wool Festival all day, but will be back for market first thing Saturday morning.  See you then!