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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yarns for sale!

Shetland yarns for sale!
   Our locally produced yarns make for wonderful gifts for the knitters and crocheters in your life.  Give your loved one or friend a couple of skeins with a nice crocheted flower on top for a lovely gift that will surely make a fine impression!  It's even nicer to know that all of our products are produced sustainably.   Come see what our sheep look like, feel our super soft yarns, and enjoy the outstanding colors!  We'll be at the market nearly every weekend for the next several weeks, so don't forget to stop by to wrap up your Christmas shopping!   

Monday, November 26, 2012

Knitting a ram

Well everyone, hope you didn't get too stuffed over the holiday weekend!  Despite the cold air that moved in, it was a wonderful break.  The flock and all others were cozily hanging out in the barn when the north winds began to blow, bringing the temperature down nearly 40 degrees from near 60 degrees to a much colder upper 20's.  This time of year, the barn is always a cozy shelter that they all appreciate very much.

Have you ever knit a ram?  Here is Wooly Bear's yarn, being knitted into a sweater I've been planning for a long time.  His fleece this year was just gorgeous!  It was such a pleasure spinning it up into all the yarn I'd need for this sweater.  I could sit at my wheel and spin Shetland fiber like this for hours and hours!  When it was all spun up, I washed it to set the twist and when it was dry (barely!), I began my knitting.  I could hardly wait to get started!
 Wooly Bear's yarn being knitted into a long awaited sweater

The brown (moorit) along the top of the above photo, and on the left side of the photo below is from sweet Maewyn (a ewe in our flock).  I just love how Shetland colors pair together so harmoniously.  When the sweater is put together, I'll finish it with some more details and enhancements.  I'm knitting it on circular needles, but not in the round. That means I'll have to sew the sections together after each section and sleeve is knitted.  It's not the fastest way to make a sweater, but still, it's pleasurable knitting.
 The back section, folded over, with circular needles and the current ball

Along the waist of the sweater, just above the moorit color is a cable and ladders pattern that was fun to knit.  It was pretty simple and easy going.  Then, I debated throwing in a couple garter rows of moorit above that, but decided to just leave Wooly Bear's yarn there.  Above the cables and ladders is plain stockinette stitch.  The needles are close to the neck and I'm almost ready to begin the neck and shoulder shaping.  It sure is fun to work on this!
That works for me Sophie!

Sweet little Sophie can be quite a pest when I'm knitting!  She'll insist on sleeping on my lap, which makes for challenging knitting...partly because I cannot hold my work in the most comfortable place, but also because she LOVES to swat at or try to eat my yarn as I pull on the ball!  Pesty!  How can you make such a warm snuggle kitty move under such circumstances?  So the exasperation is on-going...until that is....this little basket happened to be placed on the sofa nearby.  Within moments, she climbed in and was sound asleep.  Finally, I could knit in peace!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's Tradition!

Don't overstuff yourselves!
My Shetland ram, Wooly Bear.
Just as we love our annual turkey dinner, so too does Wooly Bear love his annual pumpkin treats!  Hopefully, we'll be a bit more graceful in our eating style at our family holiday table! lol

Wheely Wooly Splash, as a newborn with his mom, Gwendolyn

There is  news about Splash.  I thought we were going to lose him!  We still don't know what happened, but he wouldn't eat one day.  So I brought him in and began observing him.  He had no signs of injury or disease, and had been bright-eyed and healthy just that morning.  I'm thinking in hind sight that he might have taken a whack from another ram and perhaps had some sort of internal injury.  It was a sad day and I wasn't sure he'd make it.  He didn't have much pain or any symptoms to really observe, but something was clearly wrong.  Whatever it was, he is clearly getting better!  What a relief!  He is so sweet, and such a nice ram, I'd hate to lose him.  I don't think we're out of the woods yet, but his energy is clearly better, eyes bright again, and he's ready to do his work!  My rams and wethers get along great.  If they didn't, somebody would go.  They have their order that they rarely challenge.  Splashy was at the bottom, with Whirly.  They are best buds, always hanging out together.  Both are very, very sweet.  Both are getting girls this year! (...and that'll change 'em!) Let's hope all turns out ok for Splashy for good!

(In fact, I put Whirly with his girls and he INSTANTLY...I mean I don't think he was even fully through the gate...turned from sweet little guy, to a whole new posturing, sniffing, circle-turning, expert at his job!  Ok, it cracked me up at how FAST that transformation happened. lol  Atta boy, Whirly!)

I was planning on mentioning why you'd want to halter train all your rams.  Rams MUST be handled, whether it's for hoof trimming, healthcare, breeding inspections, shearing, or just plain moving them from place to place...there are many reasons why an untamed, unhandled ram is not good.  ALL rams are dangerous to some degree.  They are unpredictable animals with instinctual thoughts that are beyond human understanding.  At BEST, we can only try to follow their thoughts and needs.  That's why I always advocate for early handling of rams.  That means, we don't play with them, but teach them to respect us and that we respect them.  They are actually very intelligent and loving, but they are still whacking machines!  They LOVE scratching on their backs and chests, and they love chin scratches just where their wool and facial fur meet on the underside of their chins.  They find any touching to their horns or tops of head (even the bridge of their noses and that wooly area between the eyes), or just behind horns on heads to be extremely threatening.  Don't ever touch them there!  

If you think of them as intelligent, amazing beings, you won't have much trouble with them, unless you taunt them, handle their horns, or don't breed for proper sweet Shetland temperament.  Good breeding, good health, and good handling will give you a happy relationship with your rams. They are healthier, safer to have around, and easy to move about to your ewes.
Wheely Wooly Lerwick
I can easily move Lerwick around anywhere I want with a halter.
I halter trained him as a baby lamb.  It's second nature to him.
Here's a cutie!  Baby Wooly Bear learns the halter is not a wolf.
The very first day I had him home, I had the halter on him.
Day two, the halter was on again, and we were working on handling.
By day three, he understood that he would survive, and that I was not a threat.

Today, Wooly Bear is frequently handled.  He is very affectionate and I love giving him attention.  He is also a very powerful top ram who can whack so hard, the sound of it can make you queasy.  I also see worry in his eyes from time to time that his lambs will out-power him someday and someone else will be top ram.  I hope I'm around the moment that happens, for I've already planned that he will be pulled from the group and given his own pen with his buddy, Wilbur.  Wooly Bear is a treasured ram and I'll keep him as long as I can. But for now, he is in his glory, King of the Farm, foundation sire, cornerstone to our flock!

From your friends at Wheely Wooly Farm, have a stuffingly good Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Haven't seen this yet...

We've had really nice weather lately after getting a harmless snow the other day.  The snow came down fast but melted upon landing.  The grass is green now, after being brown all summer, while the fields and woods are now many shades of ambers, russets, and other browns.  The juncos have arrived at our feeders and the chickadees are finally fattening up.  I was shocked at how tiny and thin they were when I decided to put seed out.  Starving, the chickadees came fast...a whole bunch of them...and ate, and ate, and ate.  I think summer was rough on them, too.

The farm has been a busy place.  There is always work to do.  Sheep are getting rotated around to new pens for breeding groups.  This is a noisy time of year, as sheep settle into new, but temporary groupings with rams.  Wheely Wooly Whirlwind, affectionately dubbed 'Whirly' is getting some older ewes that are not related to him.  (Remember Whirly?  He's the CUTE little lamb that was born as a tornado was passing just northwest of our farm on a stormy spring day!)  Wheely Wooly Moonlight is getting ewes, too!  We are very excited to be using these rams, as both have yarns that sell out fast for their softness and richness of color, and both rams have outstanding personalities.  Other rams are getting used as well.  Wooly Bear of course will get his girls, and Wink is getting a couple as well much to say!

Poor Wilbur...he's stuck.  He's stuck babysitting...

Planning the groups is great fun, and takes many months of pondering and diagramming to get things just right.  Then, after getting breeding pens set up, after trimming dozens of hooves, attending to meal plans and giving everyone a good once over to verify gleaming health, the big day arrives!  I've got my list smartly on sticky notes this year so I can just stick them to the beam in the barn. The sheep seem excited!  Some are waiting to stick their noses in the halter in anticipation of their unique to them move, while others, after years of chin scratches suddenly play hard to catch...sigh!  Silly girls!  Rainbow plays this game with me every year.  When you finally get close enough to catch her, she stands perfectly still and patiently waits for the halter to be placed nicely on her head.  She has long been halter trained and feels just fine with the routine...walking easily and loosely where ever you want to take her.  It's getting CLOSE to her that's challenging on grouping day!  Meanwhile, Wheely Wooly Lacey seems to have forgotten her halter skills and is leaping ten feet off the ground (or so it seems through all the giggling!) instead of taking steps!  She knows the routine of halters and walking, but seems to take joy in leaping instead, even through gates.  So we just let her, being careful to open the gates wide enough for her to leap through rather than squeeze through.

Other chores are getting done around all the sheepy excitement.  There are many things to do in preparation for winter besides planting garlic and cleaning up the garden, such as getting leaves over the soil in the garden to smother weeds, feed worms, and enrich the soil.  There's pruning to be done, general clean-up, and things to bring in for the winter.  Plants get divided and relocated, the coop gets winterized, and the barn gets an overhaul of cleaning and repairing.  Well, maybe that barn thing is more a dream in my head some days than it is reality.  Seems there is always something needing fixing in the barn!

Next up, why it's important to halter train your rams!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

WHO migrates?

Fall is a time of migration...of humans as much as for birds and other such things.  As temperatures drop, humans migrate as reliably as our furred and feathered friends do.  When the wind starts to howl, when the skies cloud up,, when frost grays the dawn, humans begin their computers, shopping malls, and to comfy chairs with knitting needles and balls of yarn nearby!

Welcome to our farm blog!  This is not a personal window into a million friends, how times are changing, or opinions of lousy politicians, but rather a blog about a sheep farm struggling to become known in a sea of agri-illiteracy.  In our modern world, sheep farms have fallen off the radars of most of humanity, it seems.  While the animal lovingly known as domesticus sheepus is more reliably seen behind fences on the pages of children's stories and the word 'fleece' makes people think of fuzzy plastic at the craft store, truth is, sheep farms and their fiber are flying under the radar with as much sophistication as the modern day bat planes of spying governments (well, almost...ok, maybe that's a tad exaggerated...).  Armed with loud baas, soft wool, and fierce determination to be finishers of all things knitted, Wheely Wooly Farm is surely an adventure for all who migrate to the posts and pictures of our farm story!

We hope you enjoy reading about our little woollies with their sweet, funny antics and featherlite fibers!  We hope you learn of the adventures domesticus sheepus bring to an otherwise doldrum modern life (such as finding motivation to remove yourself from that comfy chair REAL quick when you see sheep bounding past the living room window...).  We hope you will be inspired to see the sheep with the eyes we see them partners in joy, adventure, and living.  The lens of this blog has already inspired many people, brought awareness of that feeling we've dubbed  'sheepus joyous', and perhaps even educated a person or two.  But mostly, this story has made the migratory journey, just like ourselves, from fields and concrete grayness to the warmth of a cozy arm chair under the click of swift-moving needles intelligently tangled in the lightest, fluffiest, most amazing yarn a knitter can find.  It's a call to all those who migrate.  Come find us at the market for a wonderful rest stop in a sea of soft yarns.  Tired muscles find rest and restoration in the thoughts of time spent knitting something beautiful and rewarding to wear!  Feed the weary modern mind while looking at the pictures of the animals, fibers, yarns, flowers and views at the farm...while sitting in the glow of your computer screen or mePAD, safe and warm.  Experience the joys of knitting with the lightest, fluffiest, nicest smelling yarns you've ever had, while anxiously anticipating the outstanding performance of warmth on bitter cold or wet and clammy days.  All of these things are anticipated in the migratory preparations.  Needles and patterns are gathered up, the chair is moved to the warmest place in the room next to the brightest light, inventory of old clothing is taken, coffee and tea supplies are stocked up (and maybe a bag of cookies is stashed away...), battery chargers found and put in place.

We welcome all of you, both those who've just flown in and those who've returned year after year!  We hope you'll enjoy following the life of shepherds on a sheep farm.  And while resting in our waters, squawk, whistle and howl about us to all your friends and neighbors about the joys of domesticus sheepus!

Happy squawking, whistling and howling everyone!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lookin' out a country window...

Looovvvvveeee iiiitttt!

silly rooster

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wheely Wooly Farm on TV!

Half our booth in October with our new tent

The first day of the winter farm market was great!  Thanks to all of you who stopped by to purchase fine Wheely Wooly Farm yarns, shawls, scarves and flowers!  The market has expanded this year, with more awesome vendors, but I didn't get to walk around much and see them because we were pretty busy.  It's always so nice to visit with friends, sip delicious coffee and be a part of the local movement!

As exciting as that all was, we were also very excited at the opportunity to be on our local news!  Watch WBAY Channel 2 for video of our booth and our comments about how the market helps small farms like ours!  Thanks goes out to WBAY for supporting the efforts of local farms in their struggle to bring so many fine products to the people of northeast Wisconsin!

If you missed us on WBAY, come down to the market next Saturday and see for yourself all of the fine products to be discovered!  In one swoop, you can fill a big part of your grocery list AND Christmas shop AND find warm clothing all in one stop.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Speaking of outsourcing...

As autumn creeps into the holiday season, Wheely Wooly Farm has wrapped up another summer farm market season.  I'll surely miss all the bright sunflowers, wafts of fresh dill and basil floating in the air, the joy of long, chatty lines for blueberries and sweet corn, and smiling faces brightened by the wonderful sensory experience that being close to nature brings.  People are happy at the market.  It's a wonderful place to be!

We want to thank all of you for supporting our farm with your purchases of fine yarns this summer!  It is clear to see that many of you are not waiting for a president to fix or repair our outsourcing problems, but rather, are taking action with your own dollars.  We heard over and over this summer how senseless it is to ship yarns here from overseas when beautiful, high quality yarns are being produced right here in our own 'backyards'.  So many of you have come to realize the pollution such shipping brings, as well as other ethical issues both environmentally and socially, and how unsustainable that all is.  Americans have long been good at raising fine quality fiber, and using it to design beautiful and functional clothing.   We are thankful that so many of you recognize the quality and work that goes into producing such fine yarns, and are voting with your dollars to support our domestic wool supply!  Thank you!

You can continue to support our fiber farm and our sweet Shetland sheep as the winter holiday season slips in!  We will be at the market on most days leading up to Christmas, and some days afterwards, so be sure to come back for your Christmas shopping and projects!  The market moves indoors now, with music, special events, and lots more good stuff!  Each week, we pick up things on our grocery list there from local producers such as meat, apples and soap.  If you are not raising a huge garden like us, you can also find (if things are like last year) fresh greenhouse tomatoes, potatoes, squashes, onions, jerky, buffalo meat, baskets, beautiful hand painted glassware, our hand spun fibers, locally made chocolates, awesome relishes and sauces, local honey (scrumptious!!), tasty jams and jellies, local fresh breads (heavenly!) and healthy soaps, lotions and balms for winter weary skin, and so much more!  What a wonderful way to help fix the outsourcing problems our politicians have created!  With all the modern frustrations with our politics, here is something you can take control of.  Create a job, meet a neighbor, buy local!  See you there!

P.S.  We are continuing our special to show appreciation for you, our customers!  Buy two skeins of yarn and get a crocheted flower of your choice, FREE! (while supplies last)