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, May 27, 2014

Did you know?

Everyone has heard of the black sheep.  You know, the one shepherds supposedly always wanted to get rid of?  The one who 'contaminated' the white wool?  Well, there is some of that thinking around the world, but there is also another view not often shared...that of the treasured black sheep!

A few weeks ago, back when the weather was still more like winter than spring, I discovered an old book that had a section on old timers, sheep, and spinning.  It was part of a series known as Foxfire.  I found the old stories pleasantly interesting as I read about how people in days past here in America tended their sheep.  There are so many different ways to "do" sheep, that it made for interesting reading.  Amongst the old time stories, was a story about the value of black sheep.  Rather than being the cast out sheep or the sheep nobody liked, the black sheep 'disappeared' so as not to be stolen or taken because the black wool was treasured.  It meant less work in that the black wool didn't need the extra step to be dyed, and the black was a color most men preferred to wear.  The black wool never faded or bled into other colors.  It showed less dirt, and it was coveted because it was not real common!
 Some of our black sheep running out to grazing with their mothers last spring.
Not every sheep in this picture is a Shetland.

People who have Shetland sheep are lucky people!  We have the rich black color preserved in our breed, and that black color is loved and appreciated! It's fun to save our pretty white wools from other breeds for dyes yet having the rich blacks of the Shetlands.  Our flock has a diverse range of blacks.  Our deepest blacks are really a very difficult to tell dark brown.  Our lightest blacks are a tweedy blend of color of various shades of gray or brown.  Shetland colors are so much fun!  I wonder what the old timers in America would have thought of our Shetland sheep today? 
 An example of 'Shetland black', a very dark brown that appears all black in most natural light.

It's fun to read the old timey stories, and see how as a nation, we have grown.  The need and desire for wool is still strong today, as people treasure their wool socks, mittens, hats, scarves, and sweaters!  Wool is renewable, all natural, and can be easily raised by people who don't own massive chemical plants or oil refineries.  And, I might add, wool comes off of some pretty good eating, too!  Sorry....

Anyhoo, guess what?  It's almost summer farm market season already!  We are working hard to be ready, but I must admit, we are scrambling to be ready!  And it doesn't help when some days, rather than getting ready, I'm chasing sheep!  The thoughts of coffee smells, fresh flowers, and scrumptious egg rolls wafting on the air brings alluring memories for the excitement of sunny mornings at market!  We hope you all plan to come, even if you are from out of Wisconsin!  Our market is huge, and draws thousands of people each week.  Every week, I'm talking to people from other states, so if you are ever near Wisconsin, come check us out!
I'll leave you with the lovely image of our flowering spring tree!
Hope to see you this summer!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Breaking news...sheep on grass! lol

Well I haven't had much time to take pictures or blog much!  The good news is the sheep are now grazing!  Yippee!!  We are all happy about that!

The bad news is we've had a little trouble with lambs stuck in the fence.  One little moorit ram lamb has been tangled twice already.  Yesterday, he was in a boggy spot when he became entangled somehow.  We've been checking on them every little while and it's a good thing we do!  Everyone is fine, and today he is grazing just like all the others, except for the mud on his lovely wool!

Easing the sheep on grass is a slow process.  Many people have no idea how time consuming a flock can be in the spring with lambing, winter stress, and the return to summer grazing.  First, the shepherd must ease the sheep back on their rumens time to build up healthy bacteria to digest the grass.  If you don't take care to give the sheep time to ease on, they can bloat up, and if the bloat is bad enough, they can die.

Second, the lambs must be trained how to move with the flock without worry or stress, and how to find their mothers again if they get mixed up.  Even though the lambs are not nursing as much now, they still seek out the comfort and guidance of their mothers, and the mothers are still seeking the lambs and trying to keep them within sight.  They don't like being separated too far.

Third, the lambs need to be trained on the fence.  We had them all trained, and could confidently trust they'd be fine all day, until juicy grass was on the other side!  Now the lambs are getting a review of what happens if they stick their heads through the fence to reach that good spot, even though there are LOTS of juicy grass patches INSIDE the fence! Sigh...

And last, I hate to say it but...even some of the ewes need a tad of a reminder not to touch the fence!  Sigh...

After several days of running them out and in, their bellies are plenty full of the best nutrition in the world, everyone has napped in the sun and warmed winter's chill out of their bones, and now the sillies set in!!  It is great wisdom that a shepherd not sit on the sofa all winter and get out of shape! for the sheep will put your fitness to the test when the sillies set in!  Sigh...

TG for Border Collies!!!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Showing and Mittens in May!

I wore my wool socks and mittens out to do my chores this morning, and my winter coat!  Crazy!

The sheep are still not out on grass as it's been too cold for the grass to grow properly.  I've been walking my pastures and am very pleased to see how our improvements have materialized!  The sheep will be getting good eating when the warmth finally comes!

The farm is a very busy place, with lots happening, lots going on, but the sheep are just basically stuck and waiting it out at this point.  We are body clipping other animals, hoof trimming, and caring for other babies and loving every second of it.  Decisions are being made as to what shows to attend this year, and who to take.  We will not be showing any sheep, as the person showing doesn't want to do that, especially Shetlands.  Our very historic wool has sold extremely well over the years and people seem to love it just like we do, so we will be doing our sixth market season this summer!  We've had huge success first with showing sheep, then other species, but had a LOT more fun showing in other venues, and we've brought home many top trophies, including Grand and Reserve Champion, and top poultry showman three years in a row, and Champion of Champions in another species, as well as top herdsman trophies!  So there are many decisions to make, paperwork to fill out, and travel plans to pull together.  At this point, it's all speculation right now as it's early in the season.  We've now been outstanding in the shows in THREE species of animals!!!!  That is really something to be proud of, and shows excellence is at work here at Wheely Wooly Farm!  We'll keep trying in the season ahead!  In fact, we are going to switch family lines and see if we can do it again!  F-U-N!

The reason I'm sharing about showing is that I think it's a great idea to get off the farm and present your daily work before others.  It helps you set goals, and see where you are doing well and where you could do better.  It helps you focus on what you like, and gives you a better sense of direction for improvement.  I love doing that kind of thing.

So in this time of the lambs nearly weaning themselves off their mothers, and the grass nearly ready for grazing, our thoughts are turning to the show season, goal setting, tossing around ideas, and maybe making plans.  And maybe...just maybe...the warm air will find us as we work on this, and bring sweet summer back to our farm!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Shetlandy Weather

The sheep are very happy...that is when they can be outside!  We've had lots of rain in all forms, from mist to light showers to heavy downpours to fog to quiet times to high winds and driving rain then back again to drizzle or simply just a quiet break.  I send the sheep out and they gleefully run out, then play after eating up some hay.  Afternoons are for snoozing.  What a life! lol  Then evenings are back to lamb races and playfulness, with everyone up and just enjoying being out.

During some of the heavier rains, I've run them in earlier simply because our land is very, very boggy right now!  Our soils are quite slippery when wet, and water has been pooling on the surface.  Not good!  So in they come, until the saturated ground can drain a bit.

The turnout pasture is a compromise space.  The sheep cannot go out on grazing just yet, as our grasses are still too short, still recovering from being buried under nearly five foot tall snow drifts for five months.  We are hoping that by sometime this weekend, we can put up fence into the grasses to get the sheep started.  Boy, that will be a very happy day for them!  And me.  It's always a joy to see them back to what sheep do best...graze.

In the meantime, it's been a good week for spinning, of which I've done a lot of.  It's also great for listening to the rain on the barn roof and observing the lambs at play!

There is always something to do on a sheep farm!