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.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
The real deal, a real Primrose
The long leaves remind me of someone's long ears...
Well, the day came....and went! We are still waiting for that 4-H project to give us babies. The weather became mild, making us feel grateful that it would be mild for the big event. Then, the mild weather left, and it's cold again. Still, we wait!
So what to do while waiting? Let's see...I cleaned a store room, cleaned the house, baked lots of bread, made cookies twice...cleaned out my fleece inventory, cleaned a lot in the barn, helped teach someone how to sew, did a lot of spinning, and went shopping for primroses and african violets!
A bright sight for winter eyesight, a pink african violet
The african violets were the idea generated by 4-H projects. It's great fun to learn about plants, where their native habitat is/was, who "discovered" them, and how they've since been distributed. Studying this pretty little plant brings a whole host of learning in geography, culture, trading, and more.
There are many cultivars...
...and we don't have a clue what they are! It's fun to learn about them, and remember the day when plant societies were stronger.
We've named this one "Dainty"
All of the violets and the primrose now have names...not cultivar names, but name names. :) The white one is mine, and when pressed for "her name", I picked Dainty. Isn't she pretty! These are all grocery store-type plants so we hope we'll be able to keep them healthy for years to come.
I guess when you're waiting for babies out in the barn, anything can happen!
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
What was all the yea's about? It's a good day in the Shetland sheep world here in the U.S.! After struggling the last couple of years with integrity issues within our breed organization, progress is getting into four wheel drive. Integrity is being restored, piece by piece, and Wheely Wooly Farm is pleased to actively assist in this endeavor. We believe an organization must have and maintain integrity to be worthwhile, as old-fashioned as that sounds! Some things just never go out of importance and integrity is certainly one of those things. We believe maintaining the integrity of this amazing, heritage breed of sheep is a much worthwhile effort, for these sheep are worthy of being treasured! You know, it's sort of like apple pie. You can buy apple pie from the store, all modern and easy and like so many other frozen pies and "bakery" pies. They all taste chemically and overly stiff. Or, you can make a scrumptious, fresh homemade apple pie from apples you acquired nearby and fill your home and stomach with mouthwateringly fragrant and soft apples baked to perfection in a flaky crust minus the chemicals. I can just taste the richness and depth of flavor right now of fresh apple, cinnamon and nutmeg! Yum!
Sheep are just like that. You can get sheep, or breed sheep to be just like the modern sheep, all copycats of each other in competition for a narrowly defined, commercial market, or you can raise and breed sheep that are full of richness, softness, liveliness and suitability! Instead of flavor like in apple pie, genuine Shetlands yield an amazing sensory experience in the handle of their fleeces, and in the way they knit up and wear. No other breed can compete with that special uniqueness the Shetlands have! To us, integrity means not only keeping those awesome qualities in the breed, but in managing the organization with human integrity, too.
Enough said, for I think everyone knows where our farm stands! On to what I'm up to lately! Below is a photo of the fleece I'm currently spinning. It's from a young ewe that reminds me a great deal of my little Gracelyn in sweetness and friendliness. This little ewe has a fleece just like her sire's. That sire's fleece is one I've spun pretty much all the years he's produced a fleece, and he's getting old now. He passes on these lovely longish, wavy fleeces with very pleasant density and softness that I cannot get enough of. These are hallmarks of the genuine Shetland sheep. The timing of this photo is not meant to coincide with the announcement from our national organization. Rather, it's just what happens to be on my wheel right now.
Young Shetland Ewe's fleece
This little ewe's staple was taken just behind the rib, near the hip. It shows the lovely density and hence, softness and fineness Shetlands possess. Notice the longish, wavy tip? That wave actually goes to the cut line on the left side, and adds a beautiful feel to the yarn when you knit with it. It's also what gives the fabric that perfect ease when it's worn...nice stretch for ease when you move your body, but not to the point of baggy, saggy. I've spun her britch wool first, and am moving up past the hip now. Up next, I'll be spinning some dyed fiber from a fellow...don't tell him!...with pinks and greens. This popular dyed yarn sold out fast, with many requests for more. That's what I'll be working on next!
Also, today is baby watch and progress is beginning. Thankfully, the wicked cold moved out and nice winter days have returned. The water buckets have barely been frozen on top the last couple of mornings where last week, the bucket would freeze solid through overnight, into a heavy ice cube. I'll be out in the barn a lot the next few days! Sure hope everything goes ok.
And last, I'm working on my annual inventory cleanup. Each year in January, I go through my fleeces and yarns to organize, clean, and see if anything has been forgotten or lost. Not much to go through this year! It feels good to get things reorganized after a busy sales season. This year, I think I managed to stay on top of the organizing pretty good. It helped that I have better storage.
That's all for today, except to say that I'm about to begin a sofa lap blanket with lovely three-ply yarn I made from this little ewe's sire. Those photos will be coming next.
Suddenly, I feel like making a pie. Happy knitting everyone!
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Peaceful Summer Grazing
Sheep are peaceful. They are easy. They are sweet. They produce warm wool that keeps me going outside for two hours in below zero weather without a tinge of cold or frostbite. I love to see them outside my windows. I love caring for them. I love sitting out by them on warm sunny days. I love how they greet me when I pull in the driveway. Sheep are some of the nicest animals you'd ever want to keep around. There is a lot of joy found here. I love sheep.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Yep! I'm missin' the garden!
Thank you to those of you who came out to the market Saturday morning! It was another busy day with lots of goodies to pick up! We enjoy so much the chance to meet all of you! Lucky all of us that we can preserve so much of the garden and wool harvests to save for the dark cold winter days! Winter is just not that bad when you have delicious soup or scrumptious meats to enjoy while knitting on a warm garment or mittens or something, while those mouthwatering smells fill the air in the house! A deep sense of satisfaction and contentment rise out of such pleasantries. How wonderful to share in those feelings that generations long ago felt so frequently.
I finished the shoulder wrap I'm knitting with Iris's yarn. I am thinking I'll embellish it with a garden feel, so stay tuned! I'll put pics up soon. Meanwhile, let's revisit the warmth of late summer outside with our beautiful hens. They all have names so we can care for them to the best of our ability. We know each of their eggs, and can tell who laid each day....well almost! These hens have a wonderful life out here and we enjoy them immensly. How did it ever get to be that hens were so removed from so many people's lives??? Here are photos of two of our favorites, Penny and Silks. Penny is the black Australorp hen who is now six years old. Yes, that's right, she's six. She has weathered some mighty wicked winters and an ocassional bout with a rat or two. While she now goes stretches without laying, she is currently laying just about every day. So much for that "spent hen" theory! Her eggs are beautiful, a light brown with rich yellow yolks. She loves to come around for treats and is known to politely follow me around the farm as I pull weeds or clean in the barn. I hope she lives a long time! I've always wanted to make her a pretty yellow apron to wear, for I think she looks as if she walked out of the pages of a sweet children's story book. She came from a very experienced breeder of fine Australorps that repeatedly win top ribbons.
Next comes sweet Silks. She is five years old and will always be remembered here on Wheely Wooly Farm. She is not show quality, but has been an outstanding home farm chicken. Her breed is called "Silkie", an interesting little breed no doubt called "feather-legged bantam" Bantams are much smaller than the standard sized chickens most people are familiar with, in fact, bantams have been dubbed "the flower garden of the poultry world"! Her skin is black (and so are her bones), but she has these lovely irridescent pearly blue ear lobes on the sides of her head! She has just the sweetest temperment and is a very gentle little hen. A GREAT start for kids! Her eggs are about 2/3rds the size of a regular large grade egg, and are plenty usable in the kitchen. She is also an excellent mother, having raised a brood of chicks for us. That is the Silkie's reputation! They are all mother! If you've never seen little bantam chicks peaking out from Momma hen's wing, put it on your list of must see life experiences! I caution you however, once you see it, you'll want a hen of your own to go broody!
I hope you enjoyed learning about two of our hens here at home. We'll post by the end of the week if we're coming to the next market! I think if it's possible, we'll be there but we are on the 4-H project countdown to baby watch! Am I nervous about that? Yes!
Friday, January 13, 2012
Huh. It's snowing out there.
We are pleased to announce that we'll be at the morning market tomorrow! The roads should be pretty cleaned up by then and good for going out. In fact, the sun is trying to peak out as I write this! So glad this storm moved on fairly quickly.
We have several inches of snow out here, with lots of blowing into cracks around windows and such. However, the coop is very cozy and even though the barn had lots of snow blown in under the door and into the aisle, it remained cozy and nice. Water buckets are just beginning to freeze on top this morning.
The rooster in the photo above is of Winslow. If you're looking for a nice rooster that will pass on good laying genes, this is your fellow. He's just come into maturity and is ready for your hens. He's a Buff Orpington but is a little leggier than an Orp should be, so I suspect he has nice Leghorn genetics in him as well. If you're interested, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or talk to us at the market in the morning.
See you then!
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Minus the pretty red geranium...
It's January. Here at Wheely Wooly Farm, January means smashing out frozen water buckets, double layer wool mittens and an extra 20 minutes to get ready to go outside...each time. It means fishtailing down to the barn, shoveling drifts away from barn doors, and sad chickens who cannot go out to scratch. Are we experiencing that today? GIGGLE, GIGGLE! No!
Today has been the most remarkable January day in memory. It was 51 degrees out there today, with bright sunshine and calm winds to boot! Seems the big storms are to the SE of us, and NW, with a huge, warm, blessed gap in between, right over us. No snow, no mud, no slush, and no frozen water buckets! Today was a gift.
So what do people do on such unusually nice spring-like days? This is a multiple choice question...remember those? :)
a) keep on with the daily grind
b) go shopping 'cause the drivin's easy
c) eat fudge bars on the front porch
d) both b and c
If you chose d, you are correct! Now, now! I know that might not have been the most RESPONSIBLE thing to do! But the way we see it, we were making special memories that will last a lifetime, and it was FUN! While we slurped on our chocolatey bars, the hens chased each other in pursuit of a good cranberry off the bird feeder. The chickadees were calling back and forth, and the finches were singing spring mating calls. Every tractor in the neighborhood was puttering off in the distance. We didn't need to wear coats. It really did not feel like January!
I did get back to responsibility shortly thereafter by cleaning out the barn. I organized, swept cobwebs and picked up things left after the busy holiday season. I did the same in Coopville. Then I spent some nice time with everyone out there, cause I DID hear the news at noon. Gulp.
Seems our AprilJanuary is coming to a screeching halt in about 12 hours...good thing the sled is waiting so patiently by the back door, and the mittens are nice and dry. I have chicken and dumplings ready to go and we're stocked up on chocolate. The snow shovels are strategically placed all around the farm and wool has been stuffed around the windows on the coop.
Speaking of chocolate as a little side note: I sacked out just after the holidays for a little "paws in the air" reading time myself. I picked up Sheepish, a book about people who have sheep, like me. In a chapter about lambing, I was struck with profoundly wise words. You see, when we lamb here at Wheely Wooly Farm, we're organized. I make main meals, breads, and blueberry muffins ahead of time, wrap them individually, and throw them in the freezer to be ready in an exhausted moment when I'm more worried about a little lamby than I am about when I last ate something. Problem is, I completely forgot I did that! I was so attentive to the ewes and their lambs I completely forgot to even grab a muffin! Weeks later, I realized my really dumb mistake, but then we ate good for awhile! So what were those profoundly wise words? Skip the healthy stuff!!! Just go for the cookies and chocolate! Just send them out to the barn! Fill your pockets! Profoundly wise. Things will be different around here this year.
Switching topics, I thought Swifty was too young to snore, but here he is, paws midair right next to me, snoring away quite loudly! I'm shocked! Obviously, he enjoyed this AprilJanuary day, too! He did sail around the farm a lot while flinging crispy pumpkin shells around. I hope he's dreaming about drift surfing, for that just might be what he'll be doing in the next day or so!
Brace yourselves everyone!
Monday, January 9, 2012
Wool is an amazing thing. It is so versatile, so flexible, so wearable! You can make so many wonderful things for wearing, or for your home. It can be knit, crocheted, embroidered, or felted. How sad that so many of us went a generation or two without this marvelous stuff!
I thought I'd include a picture of wooly flowers today, here in the midst of January and the brown season. These flowers are popular sellers for sure! They make great pins to wear on the outside of a coat, or on a pretty turtleneck when working indoors. They are pinned or sewn on purses, backpacks, and bags galore. I like sewing them on wooly socks. They've become so popular, I've noticed that flowers are popping up all around town! People have bought them and made instant bracelets out of them to wear as they walk on, or pinned them on right away! They have that lovely Shetland appeal that catches people's eye, just like clothes made from Shetland wool. They are a beautiful accent on a turtleneck or scarf, or even on the tops of mittens or half mitts. The possibilities are endless!
Also, our thanks goes out to those who found us this weekend at the market! It was such a nice day outside, and so much fun inside! We enjoyed hearing about the projects you've made over the holiday break. We also heard about some pretty fun gift-giving. And we heard of gifts knitted that never made it to the intended recipient because the knitter fell so in love with it, they wanted to keep it, so came back for more!!! I can understand that! :) It was a great day! Since we have babies due out in the barn soon, we'll be watching them closely but check back on Friday evenings to see if we're coming to the next market! In the meantime, happy knitting!
Friday, January 6, 2012
Due to the number of calls we've received, we have decided to head to the market! You will find us there tomorrow morning so come on down and pick up the yarn you've been waiting for! We won't be in our usual space, but we shouldn't be hard to find. Be sure to check out the other booths as well to pick up fresh meat, awesome potatoes and beautiful painted glassware for those special gatherings, among many, many other wonderful products.
See you tomorrow morning!
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Iris turns into a cozy shoulder wrap
How did we ever lose sight of the wonders of wool? As a culture, how did we ever forget the benefits wool brings to body and home?
I love wool. The more I raise it, work with it, and wear it, I love it even more. Wool comes off the bodies of sweet Shetland sheep who are a delight to own and care for. The fleeces are densely soft and luxurious. I love petting my sheep on a day like today. Today, it's delightfully warm and sunny out there. The fleeces have warmed up in the sun, and are heavenly soft. I can't WAIT to play with those fleeces when the time comes! Add to the pleasures of petting sweet, soft Shetland sheep by hearing the chickadees flit about on the branches as they play in the dripping, flowing water off the barn roof. True joy in the simpliest, littlest things...
The photo above is of Iris's britch wool from her last shearing. I saved it for myself because it's not the highest quality wool she provides. I spun it into a soft, loosely plied two ply yarn at about a worsted gauge. I'm making it into a shoulder wrap which calls for yarn overs at the beginning of every row. This is a technique I learned on dish cloths years ago. I like this technique because it's terribly simple, and adds a nice decorative edge. Later, when I'm done, I'll crochet off the edge to add some additional embellishment, just for fun. Iris looks so lovely in purple. I might use either a drink mix purple on some of her yarn, or I'll use leftover roving...haven't decided yet.
Another benefit of this project is that it's just knit across the rows after the initial yarn overs. I like that simplicity during the holiday season when everything is so chaotic and busy. I like knitting when things quiet down for a moment, to reflect on the gatherings, fun, and food the holiday times bring. Peaceful knitting during the darkest, most peaceful time of year.
Waaaiiiitttt a minute!!!!! Most peaceful time of year???? Did I write that????? Ha, ha! Let's see, the roosters are crowing like crazy in their cozy, sun-filled coop, the rams are butting heads and galloping around, hopping and leaping in the warm sun...no wind today! The ewes are boinging up and down their pen, gleeful to be out on such a beautiful day! Sometimes when I look out the windows, I'll suddenly see one of them just go straight up in the air in pure joy at the nice day. Well, Goldie the farm clown IS sacked out on Annabelle's dog bed! She's left to wonder HOW it happened that the CATS have STOLEN HER cushy pillow! And Swifty is gleefully tearing around the back pastures at full speed, ears back, tongue hanging out in absolute joy! A beautiful, but NOT quiet day, indeed!
Back to wool! Wool is a renewable resource; a CLEAN renewable resource! What a benefit that is! I can improve my land AND provide high performance clothes at the same time! And wool is a high efficiency business if you start out with good livestock. Strive to do your honest best in your breeding program and you'll have very few culls, with years of production. I love wool!
Sunday, January 1, 2012
What can a genuine small family farm contribute to a community?? LOTS! The year 2011 was another very exciting year for us here at Wheely Wooly Farm! We began the year with greater commitments for selling than ever before which was a little worrisome...could I keep up? Could we always be where we needed to be?
Here in America, fiber, especially fiber with the breed of sheep we love so much, the Shetland sheep, is practically a whole new business. Despite being well linked to the industry, we realized early on that we are definitely ground-breakers. Everything we've done in our community has been from the ground up, and everything we've done to set up our farm has been created or invented by us. There have been no coat-tails to hold onto! So many said we couldn't do it! From inventory management, marketing, design, and production, to the shepherd's calendar, shearing, and predator management, we've had to make dramatic adjustments that absolutely boggle the minds of those in the industry, frequently leaving them so puzzled they are speechless.
We are unconventional! (giggle, giggle)
The President of the United States resoundingly harped to American citizens that what America needed to get out of our current economic woes was invention. I'm quite confident he never imagined sheep and fiber to be in that request for ingenuity and invention!!!!
Along the way, we bravely changed, tweeked, altered, and went forth. The rewards were many! First, we've come to realize how important local businesses are to the community. When people come to know each other, swap money, talk, and share, things happen that benefits the whole community. We've been able to touch the full spectrum of generations through our flock of sheep which has strengthened our community in ways I would have never imagined in our early days! We've also noticed people are really tired of things manufactured on the other side of the globe, then shipped here at great expense, with massive pollution to boot, then deceptively sold in a "local" shop. Now an orange in the north is nice in January, but would it really be necessary to ship oranges here if we could grow them here ourselves? Is it really responsible? We've discovered that people have caught on to the insanity of that shipping mentality with all it's political and pollution woes, and are eager to support true local.
Beyond the rewards of invention, sweat, and dedication, we've found much joy in bringing our yarns and products to the people. As people stream past our booth, soooo many reach out just to touch. Some make bee lines across the street, some are absorbing and reflective, others just dive in! Few pass our booth without touching, or they come back to touch our yarns and garments. Shetland fiber naturally draws people. The colors and softness are amazing. Compliments come from knitters and non-knitters. The most frequent comment made is "that is soooo beautiful...I gotta (learn)(take up again)(find)(try)knitting!" Shetland yarn inspires. It draws people out of the racket of the modern world, back into the peace of natural.
Also, we've come to realize how important it is to keep money flowing in the community. Money spent in a local economy seldom lays idle. Big businesses act like gigantic bathtubs in a local economy, with local money being sucked down the drain, with little return. If a tiny percent DOES make it back to the local community, the turn around time is frequently dragged out over a long time. When money is circulated in a small local business, it not only remains in circulation in that community, it circulates much quicker than if slurped into the big business drain.
As the sheep lay in their pen tonight, I'm sure they are not pondering the powerful impact they've had on their local community. But as I lean on the fence and peacefully watch over them, I feel an amazing bond to them. Having heritage livestock as sweet and intact as Shetland sheep are, you come to realize how they bring joy, laughter, health, and friendship to your life. While the work is hard, the sheep bring us many benefits not measured by economics, but rather health. Caring for them keeps us moving physically, strengthening our muscles, maintaining our balance, and getting us out in the fresh air. They also bring us much joy and laughter with their sweet personalities, curiosities and innate happiness. They flex the muscle of my mind as I strive to improve efficiency, solve problems, and keep their home safe. They are also the source of many new friends and opportunites! We are very thankful for what they've brought into our lives.
So was I able to keep up this year? Yep! Our most frequent type of customer is the returning customer. The discovery of the fine knitting hand spun Shetland yarn yields brings us all back for more, including myself! We were able to keep up, thanks to prior strategic planning. On top of the sale days, we were fortunate enough to be asked to educate the public with a sheep ambassador from our flock, demonstrate spinning for the public, help in raising funds for a popular local charity event, as well as give spinning and knitting lessons to all ages. We also attended our county fair and other shows, bringing home several trophies and top awards in hand spun yarns, fiber preparation, spinning, knitting, and livestock.
Lastly, we were able to help significantly in maintaining the genuine Shetland sheep here in North America. The threat of modern breeding to "improve" the breed only brings on unintended disadvantages. We here at Wheely Wooly Farm do not think of "improved" breeds as improved at all! How can you improve on a sheep that supports and propagates itself with little input, in terrible weather hot or cold, that grows volumes of soft, ethereal wool that spins, knits, and wears so beautifully to keep you warm and safe from the elements as you scratch chins so sweet and friendly??? The genuine Shetland sheep needs no "improvement", only diligent and watchful maintenance. Our sheep are the envy of the industry, and we'd like to keep it that way! The biggest challenge for our breed organization will certainly be to protect and preserve what we've had all along, what is right, and what is most wanted! The history is fascinating, powerful and indeed completely relevant to today's markets. This challenge, to keep this amazing breed of sheep and it's special textile history alive is what I've come to call "Hunter's Hope". Hunter's Hope is named after the man who was quietly asked to select the genuine sheep off the hill on the Shetland Islands to start a historical flock on a new continent. The hope he packed into the plane with the sheep as they flew over the ocean back in 1980 will not be forgotten by us here at Wheely Wooly Farm, and we will remain dedicated to his hope, and the hope of others that the genuine Shetland will be genuinely protected and preserved on this continent for future generations.
It's been an awesome year! We have so enjoyed bringing genuine Shetland yarn to you and sharing this treasure! We love seeing what you've made from Wheely Wooly Yarn, too! Thank you for supporting Wheely Wooly Farm and we are looking forward to serving you in 2012!
Happy New Year everyone!