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, February 28, 2013

Working Historic Farmhouse

The busiest tool on the farm!

Life around here is busy.  We are constantly in and out.  There are animals to feed, trees to prune, eggs to gather, snow to shovel, and dogs to manage.  There are two feline employees in the barn that come in for an occasional rest, no matter how pouchy their stomachs look!  With all this activity, this good 'ole farmhouse tool is positively the busiest and most useful of all.  It's in use many times throughout the day.  It's never far from a door.  It's never far from my hands.  What would I do without it?

Some things will always have a useful place, no matter how much the world changes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The LATEST storm update!

Yet another storm has rolled through our area.  This time, our farm was barely hit.  Whew!  The rams stayed outside and were fine.  Wilbur was up and walking around when I pulled the curtains aside this morning.  He baaed like normal, to greet me as I stepped out the door.  Love that!  We did have strong winds and a little drifting, but only a little snow.  The water buckets had no ice on them this morning, as the air is mild...about 35 degrees F.  That always makes for a great day! :)

Unfortunately, our neighbors to the south and east were not so lucky.  As the storm moved in off Lake Michigan, a lake effect snow occurred.  The winds were up to 51 mph!  Fourteen inches of snow fell.  I heard the roads were terrible and that even tow trucks were getting stuck in the tight drifts.  I surely hope our shepherding friends over there have come out ok!

We really only have about three more weeks of this type of weather to worry about, before the air starts getting milder.  As we say around here about the month of March...'In like a lion, out like a lamb'!  While we are still a couple of days away from March, I'm sure many people in our state who live along the lakeshore will be seeing lions the next few days.

I have lots of catching up to do.  I've got more pictures of skeins of yarn to put up.  I want to come back to the concept of striving for restoration on the farm, and I have photos of farmhouse scenes for you!  These are not about my old farmhouse, but rather about what things look like around here as we go about our work raising sheep, collecting eggs, and raising a garden.  In the meantime, I'm spinning lots of fiber!  Right now, I'm working on a Shetland wether who's fiber is incredibly fun to put in the dyepot.  When I get it all spun and plied, it will be time for color...just in time for spring!  It will be fun!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Snowy Update

Just a quick update that this latest storm was a well behaved, quiet storm!  Whew!  The snow fell quietly through the night last night, then stopped for several hours after sunrise.  It didn't start up again until later.  We got several inches out of it, but no wind.  The no wind part really saves the day!

The rams are still in the barn because this storm was forecast to have good winds with it.  It will be fun to let them out in the snow and watch them leap around tomorrow.  We are very grateful for the deep snow this winter overall.  Perhaps it will put us on a good green up for spring.  I must say I watched the grasses finish the fall season looking very weary and sparse.  I'm sure the grasses will be thinner, with more bare spots, and will exhibit slower regeneration come snow melt and mud season.  Around here, mud season usually starts mid March, lasting to about mid April, with grass greening up mid to late April.  A good muddy, cool spring is just what we need for recovery of vegetation.  So far, so good!

Also, thanks goes out to those who've already bought yarn!  Thank you for supporting our heritage flock and our small family farm!  We appreciate you!  Because of your support, we are able to keep this special breed going in a time of change.  Isn't it great to know that when quietly working on your knitting?!  Truly a knitter's delight!  I'll post more pictures of yarn available in the days to come.

Have a nice weekend everyone!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

More Wheelspun Yarns

 Beautiful colors are sure to please!

Most of these are sold out, but we'll be making more!  The remaining skeins can be seen three posts back, if you scroll down.  There are a few left, so if you are looking for beautiful wheelspun yarn, it's your lucky day!
Just email us to order what you want.

It was back to being a beautiful day here on Wheely Wooly Farm.  The sun shone brightly and the air was once again calm.  So were the rams.  They are still right where I put them.  Good boys!  Unfortunately, they will be stuck there a couple more days, cause we are due to get yet another unpleasant storm.  Yesterday's storm caused many mulit-car pile ups on area highways and hundreds of slide offs.  Power went out in some areas as well.  And here is my mailbox...
Ugh.  Grrrrrrr!  Sigh....
A snowplow snap.
That's winter in Wisconsin!  Can't wait for spring...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wheelspun Shetland Yarn+Update

Beautiful colors!

All of our yarns are wheelspun for superior quality.  Wheelspun yarns retain the natural properties of the fibers, allowing the breed of sheep to express more of their distinct attributes in knitwear.  This is really important when spinning Shetland, or other breeds with special qualities.  Shetland fibers yield an unmatched lightness and softness to yarns, qualities that are very difficult to find in other breeds.  Wheel spinning the fibers not only keeps the soft lightness in the yarn, the yarns are noticeably nicer when knitting.  For example, you'll notice that the fibers nearly float from one needle to the other.  You'll also notice that when stitching more complex stitches, such as knit three togethers (k3tog), or passing slipped stitch over (psso), the yarn performs in such a pleasing way with elasticity and lightness, as to make the maneuvers very pleasant, rather than tight or difficult.  Wheelspun yarns are very easy to get the tip of the needle into when making a stitch.  They are more workable, more flexible, and more responsive.  

If you are desiring to upgrade your knitting skills, but have found the making of more complex stitches a challenge, you need to try Wheely Wooly Farm's yarns!  If you find yourself struggling to get the needle tip into stitches, you need to try Wheely Wooly Farm's yarns!  If you are tired of pushing the yarn from your left to right hand needle, and hearing that dreadful squeak along the way, it's time you try the natural goodness of Wheely Wooly Farm yarns!  We are sure you won't be disappointed!  If you'd like to knit longer in a sitting, with less or no hand fatigue, you need to try Wheely Wooly Farm's wheelspun yarns!

No doubt about it, wheelspun yarns make knitting more pleasant.  Your hands will experience less fatigue, if any at all.  Your knitting won't squeak or be so tight or unforgiving.  The yarn will feel soft as it moves through your hands, and warm on your lap as your knitting grows.   You can't help but love a yarn that works WITH you!  Most importantly, the way a yarn performs ON the needles is what you get when you WEAR the yarn!  Do you want to squeak when you move?  Do you want to wear clothes that feel tight and unforgiving? How a yarn handles during stitching is exactly how it will handle during wearing.  Do you want to wear clothes that feel like dead weight on your body?  I know a lot of projects made with those yarns don't get finished.  Is it any wonder why?  

We'll have more photos of remaining skeins available soon.  Until then, stash away those unpleasant yarns and get your patterns ready for wheelspun yarns from Wheely Wooly Farm!  

Update:  Rams drifted in!!  Last night, our mild weather (upper 30's and spring-like) turned into quite a storm.  The weather forecast wasn't too serious, just colder air moving in with some light snow.  In reality, it's pretty nasty out there!  Upon rising this morning, I did what I always do, move the lace curtains aside and look out at my boys.  What I saw was worrisome.  Blowing snow, high winds, and deep drifts!  And nobody in sight.  I quickly pulled my winter outerwear on over my pajamas and headed out to check on the rams and wethers in a pasture outside.  It was shocking!  Shetlands will lay down in the snow as a stress/survival mode.  The boys had done that, and some were barely visible!  Wilbur wouldn't turn his head to look at me, nor stand up, nor baa.  I was VERY worried, that is NOT Wilbur!  Wooly Bear was entirely covered with snow, with a swirled drift along his back.  There was an inch of blown snow all over his face and head.  Only his eyes and horns were visible.  Their backs were not buried, but covered entirely with frozen snow.   When I got them to all stand up, Wooly Bear, and tough Lerwick were shaking on their back legs.  So I ran and got a halter.  These boys know this routine well!  On returning to the pasture, I discovered that melted snow and rain had pooled around the bottom of their gate, freezing the gate in solid!  Now what??  The wind was roaring, snow was blowing so hard I could barely see, and the drifts were up to my thighs.  The wind chill is well below zero.  Then, I remembered where we had a gate once, and had "patched" the fence nicely with new wire.  I hiked over there, undid the wire there, and had them leap out, one by one.  They all waited nicely while Wilbur, goof-ball, tangled himself a bit.  I think he was just cold and anxious to get in the barn!  I had the barn door secured wide open, with wind and snow swirling around in the barn aisle.  Carumba watched all this with great interest!  After freeing Wilbur, we all headed to the barn, leaning into the strong wind and plowing through deep drifts.  Wooly was on the halter and behind me...King of the Farm, with all the rest in line behind him and following like well-trained school kids in the hall.  As we came around the corner of the barn and the door was in sight, they shot through the snow and we all blew into the aisle at once!  WHEW!!!!!!!!!!

After I got the door shut, I secured them in a waiting pen. (Wilbur started leaping in the aisle in glee!  Thankfully, he's ok!)  I gave them fresh, warm water and some hay.  I think they'll be pretty tired today.  Rams don't sleep well in conditions like that.  Wooly Bear was soaking up many chin scratches, and Wilbur got a bunch, too!  They sure are nice boys!  I am SOOOO thankful for their good temperaments, halter skills, and flock mentality!  Those good things saved the day.

So why don't I just let "hardy" sheep live through the wind chills and snow?  First, they are ALL valuable to me.  My culls are gone, and I've chosen to keep each one.  Losing any of them would be unacceptable, if I can help it!  And I know plenty of shepherds who've lost sheep in storms like this.  Second, while conditions in their homeland are frequently tough, it rarely is this cold and snowy there.  Temperatures here will be below zero (F) tonight, with ice and snow, and high winds all night.  When the wind blows, the air seems much, much colder.  Shetlands are very hardy, and are known to survive this just fine, but it does weaken them!!  Flocks left out in such hostile conditions have a higher mortality rate, and they require more feed to just stay alive.  That inefficiency sounds expensive to me!  By bringing the boys into the barn, they are out of the wind, shiver less or not at all, need less feed, drink more water, and continue to lick their salt and minerals.  Outside, they stop drinking, and won't mess around with salt or minerals, only eating hay, then laying back down to survive.   It is much easier, and better for them, to just bring them in and let them hang out for a day or two.  When the weather clears, they will happily return to their pasture.  There you have it!  Shepherding in snowy Wisconsin, and the realities of loving sheep. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Look! Mouse! Over there! and Farm History

Even farm employees deserve some time off!
Resident Farm Clown, Goldie

I have more pictures coming of yarn!  But first, I though you'd enjoy this picture of goofy Goldie.  He is such a nice kitty.  You can see his old eye injury (his left), which doesn't do well in severe cold, so we are letting him in.  I think he's enjoying his house time, don't you? lol  By the looks of things, I think he's been doing his job pretty good...

It's a bright, sunny, but cold winter day here on Wheely Wooly Farm.  The hens are all sacked out in the one streak of sunshine they can find, the horses coats are nice and warm in the sun, and the sheep are playful today.  We had a lot of ice after all that rain last weekend so now that things are firming up, the sheep are happy to bound around again.  The nuthatch has been visiting our feeder frequently, as have the chickadees.  On Valentine's Day, I heard the cardinal sing his spring call for the first time this year.  Was a nice surprise!  I always love that.

Even though the days are getting longer, with the sun now setting after 5 p.m., there is still much time to study indoors.  I've come to realize that sustainability of a farm is just not good enough, but rather, our goal should be to strive for restorative.  So I began researching what the land was like here before settlement.  It didn't take much to be mesmorized!  Wow.  Things here have really changed, and not for the better.  Our area was once described as being "the beautiful forests of Poygan".  (We live in an area described locally as Poygan.)  It turns out, our area was rich with open prairie grasses and oak forests.  There were also lots of butternut trees, maple, hickory, and others.  Where did they all go?  The wolf was prevalent here, as were prairie hens.  I read over and over, by many different accounts of passers-through, visitors, early settlers, merchants, fur traders, and others who all wrote about "the beautiful forests of Poygan".  

I also learned that the people who settled our farm were Irish, and that they left Ireland sometime between 1845 and 1849.  It was the time of the Potato Famine there, which I do not understand.  How were people starving with such an abundance of lamb to eat...and seafood from the sea...and such a good growing climate for other foodstuffs? And busy shipping lanes on the sea...ships that could bring in emergency food from elsewhere?   Our farm's founder was recorded as being here in 1850, some of the very first to settle here, being the FIRST year the government had opened the land to settlement.  Wow!  They came from hardship, traveled to a new land where lumber was in dreamy abundance and land was very rich in nutrients!  Here, there was an abundance of food, heat, building materials, and new neighbors also from Ireland.  They built a Catholic church here.  It's a very pretty church, and still stands today, surrounded by huge, lovely old trees.  They were all baptized there, married there, had their funerals there, and were a community there. Their boys went on to be lifetime farmers.  In fact, they are all buried there in the little cemetary next to the church, just down the valley and up the hill from our farm.  The census records the family that lived here.  They had several children.  They had several kinds of livestock.  They grew wheat.  The farm was of high value just 20 years later...recorded in 1870 as a very nice farm with one of the highest values recorded in Poygan.  The house was built with local timber while they lived in a simple log cabin they constructed.  This farm was described as their "loved homestead". It's all fascinating to me.  They are all gone now.  All that is left are some buildings, and their graves.  Their farms have been cut up, ripped up, divided, and planted in corn.  Roads are everywhere.  The prairie hens are long gone, so are the wolves, and the fur traders, and most of the families of those earliest settlers.

I sometimes wonder...did they have sheep?  Was this farm a sheep farm from the very beginning?  I know the first sheep arrived in our county in 1840.  They arrived on a ship from eastern America into the port of Green Bay, which today is an hour's drive from here.  The flock was then walked from the port, down the Tomahawk Trail along the west bank of the Fox River to the area where we built our house in the year 2000, 10 miles east of our farm.  It took a few days.  They stopped at springs along the way to water the sheep, and passing by burial mounds.  Menominee Indians were frequented along the trail, as it was their trail, for it is thought, hundreds of years.  I wonder what they thought of the sheep, seeing them for the first time!  It's all hard to imagine.  And I can hardly believe the fields around our then new home were once grazing the area's FIRST sheep flock!

I'd love to learn what kind of sheep they were.  I can also stretch my mind into how easy it would have been to load some lambs onto a boat on the shores next to that first sheep farm, and paddle them up the waterways to an area just north of our farm...a then well known landing.  The sheep could have easily rode in those boats for a day, then walked from the shore to our farm in about an hour or less.  I would think such a journey would have been reminiscing about life in Ireland for this Irish farmer who settled here!  It's amazing to think about.  In the 1870 census, there were sheep, horses, pigs, chickens, and a few cows in Poygan.  I'm sure some of them lived here, on the "loved homestead", farmed by our Irish farmer, his wife, and his children.

In looking back, I've come to learn what resources were once here.  Things have really changed.  I am not proud of our generation's ongoing stripping and killing of the land and soil nor the depletion of ground water.  We have the science and history to know better.  That is why we want to dedicate ourselves to going beyond sustainability, to restorative practices instead.  Stay tuned to learn more!

In the meantime, enjoy the yarn and have a great weekend everyone!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shetland Yarn for Sale! (and others)

Poof!  It's February!  Not sure how that happened so fast!  It's a beautiful winter day here on Wheely Wooly Farm.  There is much catching up to do, but first, here are the photos of SOME of the remaining yarns we have for sale from our 2012 season.  They are the last of the colors and fleeces spun from our 2012 shearing and I have to admit, I'm making more!  I have very few fleeces left that I've saved for pre-lambing spinning, so I'll be updating as spring warms it's way onto the landscape.  I think this is the first time I've opened up sales to a wider market.  We started small, and it took time to gain confidence that we'll be able to keep up with demand beyond our local market.  We hope to meet your requests for online sales in the near future.  In the meantime, here is a small start!

About the yarns:  we don't call ourselves Wheely Wooly Shetland Sheep Farm because from the very beginning years ago, I've enjoyed spinning many types of fleeces.  When naming our farm, I wanted a name that covered handspun yarns that was non-breed specific.  Therefore, you will discover amongst our yarns fibers from a variety of breeds, but mostly Shetland because they are hands down my favorite to spin!  I'll start with some Coopworth and East Friesian (from our ewe Claire) and then progress to Shetland, some from our flock, and some from fibers I've carefully sourced.  We have a wonderful range of Shetland fiber to choose from, with colors that blend so beautifully with each other, or with the dyed colors (which you'll see towards the photos at the end)!  The skeins are all sold by weight, with sizes ranging from one to nearly four ounces. Gauge ranges are based on your knitting personality!  General gauge will be posted. Gauges that are near each other (for example light worsted and worsted) can be successfully paired using needle and/or tension skills.  The gauge changes can also add lacy affects to garments.  Prices start at $10.00 and up per skein, based on weight.  Price does not include sales tax or shipping.

 If you see some yarns you'd like to purchase, email us at!

Ready?  Have fun and here we go!

 Summer Marigolds-last two in this special color!
Shiny color with creamy undertones, soft!
2.2 oz $17.05 and 2.1 oz $16.28
gauge: light worsted

Claire's Lemonade-3 Skeins left
A bouncy, soft yarn!  Nice warm color for dreary winter days!  Excellent paired with other colors.
2.1 oz $16.28, 1.9 oz $14.73 and 2.2 oz $17.05
gauge: worsted

 Claire's Pink Lemonade 2.6 oz $20.15
Bouncy and soft!  People have strong warm reactions to Claire's Pink Lemonade, making it a favorite!
Also very popular with girls who love to knit.
gauge:  light worsted to worsted

 Claire's Blue Ice 2.4 oz $18.60
Very popular/trendy color...bouncy and soft!  One left!
gauge: light worsted

 Purple Handspun-hard to keep in stock as this shade of purple goes with nearly everything!
2.9 oz $22.48, 2.2 oz $17.05, 3.4 oz 26.35
gauge: light worsted

Oreo-moorit fading to musket Shetland ewe-outstanding heathered natural color!
Very soft! 2.4 oz $17.40, 2.4 $17.40 (they are the same)
gauge: worsted

 Three headbands left-black yarn is from Mona (very soft Shetland ewe)
blue trim is crochet coopworth, flowers from various sources (made by me).
Flowers are securely sewn on.  Popular with women and girls alike!
$12.95 each 
 Lerwick-wonderfully soft Shetland ram (see his photo on side of blog)
2.5 oz $18.13, 2.7 oz $19.58, 2.4 oz $18.00
gauge: light worsted
Color is black with grey heathering-outstanding! 

 Mona-soft black Shetland ewe
Her whole fleece sold out in one purchase last year as yarn!  Very little left.
2.4 oz $18., 2.9 oz $21.75, 2 oz $15.
Gauge: light worsted
Second and Third Skein, SOLD!

Here is an example of combining natural Shetland colors with dyed colors.
This is two skeins Mona with the remaining Claire's Pink Lemonade.
See prices above.

 Two skeins Lerwick with one skein purple.  Gorgeous! (see prices above)
 Two skeins Oreo with remaining skein Claire's Blue Ice.  Lovely! (see prices above)
Two skeins Oreo with one skein purple-in real vision, colors are soft and harmonious...lovely!

That's today's start!  There are more skeins, and some knitted goods that I'd like to move on, to make way for our 2013 clip.  Claire will be ready to shear by the end of the month, and so will our new little mini-flock that belongs to someone else.  They don't roo, so can be sheared anytime.  The Dailley-descended Shetlands cannot be sheared until late May at the earliest, because they roo (fleece rises based on daylight), unless I cannot wait, but then they would need to be resheared (which I've been known to do :).  No...I have no genuine Shetlands rooing "early"! giggle, giggle

Have a good day everyone, and hope you found something you like!
P.S.  Yes it's true, for those of you who know her, little Hepatica went to school last night as an ambassador before an audience of about 75 people!  She did a great job, except for that little part where she almost chewed on the microphone cord...:)