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.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wheely Wooly Lerwick, Top Sire 2014

 As a yearling with his dense and luxurious fleece.
Sheared...what a poodle!
I LOVE those horns!  Such Shetland character in his face, too.

Our top sire this year is Wheely Wooly Lerwick.  We are very fortunate to have such nice genetics in our flock so as to keep the Shetland breed alive and strong!  Lerwick has been a very strong ram in many ways.  First, he has nearly outstanding conformation.  I am not one to say any ram or ewe is total perfection.  There are things I'd like to see improved, but his conformation is very close.  As a two year old, his topline became beautifully level, just like his sire and dam.  He exudes amazing Shetland character in bright eyes, a super good face and snout, and a nearly perfect tail.  I LOVE his horns!  Not one to buy into new fads, we believe horns tight to the head are a deficit in a ram, making him a question mark for breeding.  Tight horns are a problem, and do NOT indicate quality in Shetland genetics!!  Rather, they are a huge management problem, and they are super hard on the fleece in one of your best fleece areas, around the neck.  Neck wool was very important historically, as neck wool provided the super soft and fine wool for finer knitting.  Horns that are tight to the head ruin the wool there via rubbing, and make for very challenging rooing or shearing...something I've since learned was not desirable to Shetland women who did all the work.  Felted fleece equals lost money!!  Rather, horns that cleared the head were very desirable as they kept the wool from being felted and ruined, the wool was easier to roo or shear, and the horns were less detrimental to the ram, and his fellow flock mates.  Rams with tight horns get caught...especially on each other!  Sheep who are tangled, and not assisted, rarely manage to free themselves and would be lost.  Since Shetlands live (lived) on the hill, not entirely supervised every day of the year, entanglement-prone horns were (are) NOT desirable!

Learning about the history of Shetlands helps keep breeding today in the correct place.  The reasons for the breeding choices of the past keep us from wandering today.  We feel very fortunate to have Lerwick, who is out of Wooly Bear and Mona.  He is also of ideal weight and frame size.  We here at Wheely Wooly Farm do not breed for miniatures, as that would be a disqualification on our standard.  Rams should be well over 100 pounds, and Lerwick is.  He is beautiful.  His wavy fleece sells out every year and he has developed a following of repeat buyers.  Not bad for a ram!  His fleece is now turning to a lighter shade of dove gray, with black closer to his hide.  Makes for beautiful yarn that can be used in many types of projects...another reason he is so popular with buyers.    Last, something we take very seriously here at the farm is temperament.  If a ram isn't a personable fellow, and willing to accept handling, he is not eligible for breeding.  We handle ALL of our rams.  It doesn't make them dangerous, it makes them SAFER.  Period.  The worst thing you can do is NOT handle your rams!  Each one learns to walk on a halter, have his hooves trimmed, and get inspected overall, without threatening me, the handler.  I want my rams to communicate with me.  They tell me important things that I don't want to miss.  Afterall, THEY are the true 'keepers of the flock', not me!  Rams were historically given a band of ewes that were theirs alone, and those rams felt responsible for their group.  They will engage in similar behavior today, if you give them that chance, and they will tell you what you need to know regarding your fences, predators, or if a ewe is not well.  I've only had one ram in the years we've had sheep who did not meet these standards, and he outgrew his aloofness before he was big enough to cull.  Despite that, he was never a candidate for breeding because I would find breeding that temperament undesirable.   My rams are not run out with the ewes except for breeding season.  The rest of the year, my keepers are with a wether, and they can whack each other around in their ramness all they want.  The girls are my charges all year, except breeding season.  When I put my ram in, those girls are his and his alone!  His job is to take care of those girls, and he was instantly on the job the moment he realized where I was taking him. I don't mess with that, and the rams have been so good, I've never had to intervene.  Well, that is until Rainbow jumped the fence into the lane! lol  But Lerwick worked with me, and was very safe as I put her back in.  He knows and trusts me as HIS ( lol ) assistant, not his threat.

I guess I have to know how old 'wives tales' hang around in a culture?  Well, there are some 'ol shepherd's tales' hanging around, too.  One of them is to never handle your rams.  That to me is like saying, never clean an open wound, for you might open it further!  Cleaning a wound is critical.  So is training your rams to accept handling, and to respect you as top guy.  If someone tells you a handled ram is a dangerous pet, you are in a bad situation and you should leave!  Don't buy sheep from someone like that as they obviously don't tend to their ram's temperaments and who knows what nasties they've bred on!!  You horse people who say "Yeah, he's a real good boy, but I never touch him and he's not trained for the halter or saddle,  but he'd make a real nice boy for your kid to ride...."

We also chose Lerwick for his outstanding parasite resistance.  He's only been dewormed twice in his whole life.  First, as an unborn lamb, and again as a two year old when we did a whole flock deworming in the fall one year.  We are very reluctant to use chemicals as we are very grateful for their effectiveness, and want to keep it that way!  We watch our sheep every day.  Parasites will rear their ugly selves in many visible ways and you can catch them plenty in time, but doing whole flock deworming every few weeks has not been our strategy.  After all these years, we have just now removed a ewe from the breeding line up for showing weakness to parasite resistance.  Wow.  We are very lucky.  We believe our luck doesn't lie so much in us, but in the true Shetland sheep.  They are really good sheep to have!

So with Lerwick's fleece, Shetland character, conformation and temperament, he was an ideal candidate for top ram.  To test him, we bred him slowly through the years to see what he'd produce and he's given us some of our finest lambs such as Splash and Lacey.  His fleece, drive, health, and temperament have all checked out and come through the years at the top.  It is for these reasons we picked him for most of our ewes this year.  None of them are related to him, and we can't wait to see what spring brings! 

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