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.

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!


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