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, January 27, 2013


It's surely been an interesting day!  I spent the afternoon outside, tightening things up after predators have been sniffing around.  I also puttered about, too.  It was nice.  Temps were about at the freezing mark (very balmy for us lately).  As time passed, I noticed the skies were getting grayer, but the air was calm so I kept working around.  Soon, huge flakes of snow were coming down, and I needed to do some shoveling.

Then, I got quite a surprise!  A huge flash of lightning filled the sky!  WOW!  I scurried back into the barn.  Almost instantly, there was a low clap of rumbling thunder.  Lightning in January is not unheard of, but is certainly unusual.  It's not expected, so I was surprised.  Then, freezing rain began to fall.  It was cozy in the barn, so I continued on with my work.

For the next three hours, lightning continued to fill the sky every little bit.  More thunder was heard, and the storm continued to give us freezing rain.  The lights flickered in the house every little while.  When it came time to leave the barn for the warmth of the house, I scampered as fast as I could, not comfortable with the flashes.  Weird for a January day!

It's all past now and quiet has returned.  Yarn pictures coming next! lol

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cold Snap..No time to rest!

Well, my feet weren't up for long! lol  We've been hit with a cold snap.  This is not the worst cold snap our farm has ever seen.  It's been much, much colder at times.  But somehow, this one has kept us unusually busy.

The hydrant froze up.  Heat lamps needed to be placed and tended.  Vitamins needed dispensing.  Extra feed needed to be doled out.  The rams needed to be moved.  Misty (a Friesian lamb) got the bright red water bucket on her head and needed a rescue!  The handle was hanging down so she was not tangled it it, but it seems that the little bit of water remaining in the bucket quickly froze a bit to her wool before she put her head down, so she was wandering around for about 10 minutes, bumping/clunking into things, and seeing red!

We also had some high winds this week.  Despite the ground being frozen, I don't think we have a straight tree left on the place!  The horse fence needed fixing after that, too.

And somehow, certain frisky little animals seem to have become especially playful and mischevious during this cold snap!  I have to admit I've (we've) been chasing after them daily, and I'm not sure who's giggling or them!  Unfortunately, they are always WAY out ahead of us.  Who needs a treadmill??  It's a great way to stay warm.

Did I mention the mitten snatcher?  It's been cold enough that our mittens have been instantly freezing to all metal stall latches, door knobs, gate chains, feeders, fence lines, and bucket handles.  If you are not careful, you are quickly without your wooly covering!  How luxurious it will seem when things warm up and we can once again touch everything without feeling like tree frogs...

Up next, photos of the yarn that is left after a season of sales at the farm market.  Stay tuned and stay warm!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Time to Rest was the last day of our winter market.  We attended more markets this year than ever before, hitting the road nearly every weekend!  We are ready for a rest!  It was a busy year with many miles driven, lots of hauling stuff, and lots of lifting, lots of loading and unloading, (and lots of sandwiches!).  Thankfully, yarn is easy to transport around in that it is easy to manage, easy to pack away, and lightweight!  We've already been getting hopeful questions and comments from customers regarding the summer season, which we won't miss, so watch for us again come summer in our new purple tent.  We'll be back with more fresh yarn in all your favorite Shetland colors!
Wheely Wooly Wink...handsome fellow!

In the meantime, we'll keep in touch here on our farm blog.  Watch for new developments to come!  We are discussing and planning ideas that would help us better serve you in convenience and accessibility.  Our goal is to fulfill your wishlists on what you'd like to see in the future from Wheely Wooly Farm and the fine yarns we produce.  We will also keep you posted on who is lambing and what their little lambs look like!  

Remember little Posie?  She's Claire's little lamb.  Pure sweetness!!
Don't miss out on 2013's lamb photos so stay tuned!

So now, as the sun sets, and the warm air stirs into a chilly breeze that's bringing in a deep freeze, I'm going to put my cozy wool socks on, put up my feet, and take a rest.  Here's an old picture of what that will look like....giggle, giggle!

Shepherdess break!

Beauty in winter

The beauty in this rest, though, is that you don't need to be afraid to email us if you want/need more yarn!  My email link is on the right side here of the blog.  Truthfully, I'm still sending some things out in the mail, so I'm not completely at rest yet.  We have some nice skeins of blacks left, as well as one of Claire's Pink skeins, and a few others.  Maybe I'll put them up on the blog for you to see and if you are interested in them, just email and we'll be in touch.  Remember, all skeins ordered through the mail receive a FREE crocheted flower! 

Have a nice weekend everyone and don't forget to come back and see what skeins are left in next week's blogs!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A January Day

What is January like in northeast Wisconsin?  Usually cold and sunny!  And today is just that.  The sun is shining brightly but the air is very cold.  The sheep are not fazed too much by the cold air.  They are mostly outside, watching the birdies flit about in the trees.  The chickens are tucked in the coop so that we can find all their eggs as they lay.  The sun shines in through the windows, warming the space nicely.  Occasionally, you can hear "Brights" or "Red", our roosters, crowing through the walls.  Love that!

Just outside my window, the chickadees are busy, busy, busy!  They are singing their sweet little chickadee songs and frequenting the feeder for black oil sunflower seed.  I could literally be entertained by them all day!  The nuthatch has been visiting a lot lately, too, and we've had two different types of woodpeckers come for homemade suet.  The finches come for thistle seed we've put out.  I love the bird feeder!  I should get a picture of it for you!

I think everyone knows how much we love sheep and fiber around here...but did you know we have a growing love of African Violets?  How positively lovely they are on a cold winter day!  Their flowers simply glow.  They are a bright, perky spot on otherwise socked-in, snowy days.

 A feast for winter eyes!

As my spinning wheel whirls, I love to take peeks at this glowing violet.  She's sitting on furniture right next to my wheel.  How pleasant!

I don't think I'll mention all the work of frozen water buckets...sounds too much like January chores!

So here's Clairey again.  She is SUCH a fun ewe!  I positively LOVE her fleece, even though it's not quite as nice as genuine Shetland fleece is.  It takes dyes beautifully.  She's very easy to shear, and I can shear her early if I want because Friesians don't roo like Shetlands do.  Claire has a very sweet temperament and is very easy to handle.  I halter trained her as soon as she was home.  Training her to have hooves trimmed took much longer however!  She weighs probably around 200 pounds, so her kicks are very powerful.  

Did I mention that I don't flip anyone when trimming hooves?  All of my lambs are trained to accept hoof handling as baby lambs.  I 'imprint' them right away as newborns, touching them all over and pretending to trim hooves.  That sure makes things SOOOO much easier when they grow up!  Claire came to our farm as a nine month old so I didn't have that opportunity with her.  I gotta admit, flipping dozens and dozens of  panicky sheep, and trimming their wild hooves upside down doesn't sound like much fun to me!  Human backs get thrown out, sheep struggle in fear (BAD for wool growth), and an occasional hoof strikes a face.  Flipping Claire is out of the question for me for when she's in full wool because she's massive!  Just bending over all her body and wool would take a giant.  We both like standing hoof trims MUCH better!  It's very fast and efficient.  Another dirty wool!

We now have some 'downtime' coming on the farm...a period of winter rest.  The breeding groups are all back to normal, the hens have begun laying like crazy, and everyone is just spending their days chewing cud and growing woollier!  Our lambing is scheduled to begin in April, as March is a very busy month for us family wise.  Lambing in March is probably my favorite time, but it always conflicts with family requirements. Plus this year, everyone has sparse forage supplies as a result of the drought.  So we put our lambing off this year until April, when the grass begins to 'green up' around here, which is super great for milk production in the ewes, and more cost effective.  Again, I've staggered the lamb window, so we don't get the intense rush.  I did that last year...trying to mimick more the natural way sheep lamb on the Shetland Islands.  It was wonderful!  I'm doin' it again.  And besides, then I don't have to stuff my pockets with cookies....

Have a great day, everyone!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What else can one do...

...when you feel crummy about things?  Work!

The weather has been very warm here the last few days, so I've taken the opportunity to do many things outside that would normally wait until spring.  It always feels good to do those things!  As rain came down, I went to work.   I also worked on trimming hooves, checking on everyone to make sure they were all good.  The trimming is just one of many things that goes on behind the scenes of sheep farming that many people don't think about.  Some sheep need trimming infrequently, others need it every 3-4 weeks.   Like Claire for example.  She's not a Shetland, and she's a very large sheep.  Her hooves need trimming much quicker than Shetlands do.  She's not as active as a bright, alert little twinkle-toed Shetland is, so she doesn't wear down her hooves...pretty much at all!  (Claire is really good at standing still and looking pretty...sweet....sheepy!)

Hi Claire.

  So I trim away at the new growth about once a month to keep her standing nicely and comfortable.  Meanwhile, my Shetlands can go as long as six months, or longer (!) depending on who it is.  Wooly Bear moves around a lot, being King of the Farm, so his hooves need little care.  He doesn't even get much flap growth on his hooves...that little piece of hoof that folds over and can cause problems if left untrimmed.  Meanwhile, Lil' Rainbow's hooves grow fast and need careful watching, even though she's very nimble and active.  When I first got her, she would just collapse in fear at being trimmed.  Now, with good and loving handling, trimming her hooves is a piece of cake, and she feels fine the whole time.  I can catch her, put a halter on her, walk her through the gates, trim her hooves, scratch her chin, and walk her back and she's not a bit afraid anymore.  In fact, her eyes sparkle because she knows she's loved and well cared for.  They come to understand you are not a wolf, and that a good trim feels good.

The knitting on my Wooly Bear sweater is coming right along.  I had set it aside during the holidays as there was too much else to do then, but have gotten back to it now.  I'm on the second sleeve, then the whole thing will be knitted and I can start assembling.  Well, I guess the button band will still have to be knitted after that.  Then comes blocking, drying, and wearing!  Can't wait!  I've had so much fun making this sweater, I'm thinking of making another just like it only in different Shetland colors.

A pretty primrose can cheer things up, too!

When things seem haywire or all screwed up, sheep can sure make you feel better whether you are indoors or out.  Everybody loves sheep.  Knitters are found the world over, and knitters adore sheep.  You can talk to people about historical knitting, or about the latest plans for yet another pattern to be made available in the future.  Sheep make people think of good memories, or of favorite relatives now gone.  They also make people think of people yet to be born, or of hopes in the future.  Sheep and knitting span all time.  They have never gone out of favor.  They have been with us, and will continue to be with us.  There is comfort in that!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Happy Picture

We all need one sometimes!

Today, I need a happy picture.  Yarn is always a happy picture!  I love the colors, both natural and dyed.  I love how the little balls are just waiting for me to think up something creative to do with them.  It takes my mind off the crummy-ness of the day.

Yes, that's right.  I feel crummy.  Something is very wrong.  Our state is in trouble.  People are being violated as never before.  I can feel the pain in people since the new year.  Wisconsin has gone off it's own cliff.  Our state is dragging financially and emotionally behind.  People are upset.  Doesn't matter which side of things someone is, there are boundries.  There are good ways to solve problems.  There are bad ways.   Hate is being generated in our state.  It's not any one thing, but a bunch of things that are creating hate among the citizens of this once fine state.  As I watch this unfold, I just feel bad. Who would have thought my state would become this???  Is this what Wisconsin IS now???

Spinning is always a good thing to do when bad news comes out.  Knitting is another nice thing to do when things are getting bad.  I've noticed how knitting connects people of all walks of life.  There is no "demographic" to knitters.  They are young to old, poor to rich, male and female, and live all over the world.  That's one of the things I love about knitting.  In fact, I'm proud of that fact.  It's for everyone, and everyone enjoys it.   It makes many people happy to quietly work on making stitches...building something good....something useful...something that will become loved, something that brings warmth.  It is positive work that is good for others, and good for yourself.   Knitting brings good things.  There is much comfort in that.

I wish every day that I could heal what's going wrong in our state.  I wish I could make people feel better.  I don't think I've ever blogged about politics before, but things are getting so bad, I just want to offer some form of comfort.   Perhaps through knitting I can, even if it's just a little bit.  It's a good time to knit.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Crewel Sheep!

More needle fun!

Did you know that Wheely Wooly Farm produces a humble wool embroidery yarn created from LFS (Local  Friendly Sheep)?  That's right!  We ever so humbly produce a lovely variety of yarns suitable for crewel or embroidery needle work.  We have many lovely colors to choose from, and the price is very affordable!  Watch for this sign on one of our tables in the booth!  The yarns are labeled and in neat little bags for ease of transport home to your embroidery hoops.  Our supply is limited, but each bag comes with three coordinating colors suited to spark your creative style!  They are not only fun for yourself, but make great gifts as well!

I did mention the word "crewel" above...what does it mean?  Crewel is a very old form of needle embroidery that uses a needle with a large eye, wide body, and sharp point.  The large eye is for the ease of threading wool through it.  In fact, the word crewel is a reference to wool itself in that it interprets to curl of the staple.  The sewer secures a backing (could be wool or linen) into an embroidery hoop, threads the needle, then uses a variety of embroidery stitches to fill in space.  Wheel spun wool was readily available historically, and gave a lovely look to the finished designs.  Often, the sewer would design their own work, lending personalization and uniqueness to each finished piece.  Of course, the people living so close to nature in times past loved working with designs emphasizing things they knew well...flora and fauna.  This style of work is free form, meaning there are no counted stitches, as in other embroidery.

Well, I'm hooked! 

 Want to see something that I found fascinating?  Take a look at a stunning historical crazy quilt brought into the Antiques Roadshow one year!  When I saw it (on TV), I was stunned and captivated.  It's made of wool backing...smaller pieces that were embroidered on with wheel spun wool yarns, crewel style.  Then the pieces were fitted together, hand sewn, and filled with more decorative crewel stitching...all by hand many, many years ago!  Just look at the items the sewer embroidered...chickens, geese, a fork, botanicals, the Bible, a platypus!, other wild animals, butterflies, and other interesting items.  It must have taken a stunning amount of time to create all the pieces, much less the decorative joins!  It is simply stunning!  I would surely love to see the full detail of each figure.  If any of you out there know more about this quilt, please email me!  

I hope you enjoy today's post, and the work of talented hands of days gone by when you see the quilt!  Isn't wool GREAT?!?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 - An Amazing Year!

Tinsel on trophies?!?

I had to laugh when I found the trophies all decorated for the holidays in their own tinsel!  These trophies are not instruments of bloated pride, but rather symbols of the happy realization that rarely does hard work, problem solving, and dedication not lead to something beautiful and special, and many precious memories!  If you dedicate yourself, try your best, do your work, and get really, really good at catching frisky baby animals, all while containing your endless giggles at all the silliness, precious memories form, new friendships are made and good, honest work gets done.  Who could forget that moment during grocery store social hour when the baby call that one little hour in which we'd left the farm?  

2012 has been an amazing year for Wheely Wooly Farm!  It was a year of hard work and many cold hours out in the barn.  It was also a year of much sweat!  I don't think I've ever walked so many miles rotating fence as I did this year, or wiped my brow so much!  It was a year of growth, diversity, and dedication.  We put in many miles on the road, met many new friends, and brought home many special family memories!  It was also a year of many trophies and ribbons!  2012 was indeed a special year to remember!

2012 was also a year of fear.  As the drought dragged on, I began to learn some lessons that cultures and generations of the past knew oh so well, but that modern people feel insulated and separated from.  I've learned that the hardships generations past faced are just as worrisome and real to us today as they were in the past.  Truth is, we are not insulated from anything.  In fact, the way our agriculture is set up, we are more vulnerable than any other generation before.  I don't like that realization.  It's frightening.

This year, our lamb crop grew to be healthy and join the flock, with again, a zero mortality rate!!  I know it's statistically impossible for that to happen every year.  Hands down, easily, we have the rock bottom lowest lamb mortality rate in our county, if not in the whole surrounding region.  As I have in the past, I sheared the entire flock myself with handblades, bringing in some of the nicest fleeces our farm has ever raised.   Yarns from lambs raised on our farm sold quickly, with customers recognizing and requesting yarns from their favorite sheep...sheep they bought yarn from in prior years and created something memorable to wear with it.  It is such an honor for us to provide you and your family with warm, high quality clothing.  We take pride in helping you look good AND be warm at the same time!  Our yarns and my knitting also won many awards this year, as did our acorn needles for which we are also very grateful!  It's always scary to submit your work to the critique of others and get feedback.  I'm sure glad we did! 

 We made it through those tough 100 plus degree days with careful vigilance of the flock, hosing down anyone when needed.  We didn't lose one sheep.  We also...somehow!...managed to find enough winter feed for the flock.  That was indeed the biggest challenge we faced this year!  Waiting at the edge of the hayfield with the truck, ready to hitch on the hay rack was just not good enough this year in supplying all we needed.  We are very, very grateful to the croppers who worked with us this year in selling us all they could, so that Wheely Wooly Farm wouldn't face winter without feed!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

It was also tough some days to make it to market, when the temperatures soared!  By noon, the heat was nearly intolerable, yet people continued to buy wool yarn!  Why?  Because Shetland wool yarns are so nice!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you so much to all of you, our customers, who've kept the sales up through such an amazing heat wave!  We hope you enjoyed working on your projects in the cool of your homes, or with your toes in the lake, while sitting in the shade!  I can certainly say with confidence that shopping for yarns from your friendly local sheep, while sipping on an icy fruity drink is truly a pleasant experience...especially when you see all those bright sunflower bouquets strolling by!

Another amazing thing about 2012 is the progress made in the Shetland breed organization, and our registry. Much dirt had to be shoveled away to get to the bottom of all the bad changes, and as more dirt was removed, more icky problems were discovered!  I'm positively shocked at all the things that were going on in those bad years!!!  I know I'm not alone in feeling grateful for the leadership of our current board in restoring the organization to the integrity it once had.  I can see that due to the depth of the dirt pile, that restoration process will take longer than we all thought, as I don't think any of us thought it was as bad as it actually was.  Hopefully, there won't be any more bad surprises in the year to come, and progress will move along nicely.  With our 2012 elections complete, the future of the genuine Shetland sheep...that wooly, fleecy, lovable, personable little sheep, has been once again restored and secured.  The work of Col. Dailley, Mr. Hunter (whom I've named 'Hunter's Hope' after) and all those who, in the early years, worked so hard to establish this amazing producer of clothing's future on a new continent, will not be erased or buried in misty confusion, but instead, will be available to all new shepherd's or shepherd wannabe's who happen upon this humble little breed.  There is so much to be thankful in that!

And now, with our farm deep in the glittery snows of winter and the sheep snuggled in the barn, we look to the year ahead.  We planned our lambs to be late this year, and we are hoping the drought becomes a thing of the past.  With market dates coming up at least the next three Saturdays, we'll be there to get you off to a great knitting new year!  We've already received contacts from customers seeking yarns after the holidays, so watch for our booth Jan. 5th, 12th, and 19th!    Also, watch for our ads in local publications and the Farm Fresh Atlas for more info!  

We here at Wheely Wooly Farm hope you had a peaceful and restful holiday season, as we did here!  And now it's back to the wheel for me!  Thank you everyone for your support of our little family fiber farm, and for supporting your local friendly sheep (LFS)!  You've created an American job!  Happy New Year everyone!