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, September 22, 2016

Winter is just around the corner!

It's hard to believe how fast time flies, but it's true, winter is just around the corner here in the northern United States.  Hello again to all of you, our world of friends and fellow sheep admirers!  It's been a long time since we've updated our blog, and I know many of you have mentioned you cannot wait to hear from us again!  The farm has kept us super busy, as has the market, but today I am taking a few moments to say hello again.

While I don't have enough time today to update everyone on the farm, I can say briefly that the flock is beautiful right now!  We've had a great year for fleeces!  Coming in soft and huge, the sheep have converted all that lovely grass into massive amounts of fleece (but a lot of that has been sold already).  Our lambs this year (the largest lamb crop we've ever had) have grown the best we've ever had!  Our lambing season started February 1st with Daisy giving us FOUR!  That was followed up by two more ewes lambing on the 5th with each giving us gorgeous twins, so that was 8 lambs out of three ewes in five the heart of deep cold in February!  Wow, what a start!!!!  The season went on to give us the highest percentage of twins we've ever had, thanks to Holly's investments, whom are not Shetlands, although, we had the highest percentage of twins in our Shetlands this year as well.  Posie, who is a Shetland cross (a Lerwick lamb) gave us an amazing surprise in her lambing moments.  She fell ill, and collapsed in the snow after we let them out in the morning.  We immediately tenderly brought her into the barn, into a comfy pen and nursed her all day.  We later realized she had a lamb presenting tail first.  It was a hard time, as I could not get the lamb turned around.  Time to call the vet!  As we waited for the vet to get here (takes 45 minutes), I was in a panic, thinking I'd surely not get a live lamb.  Then, Posie did what had to be done and the lamb was delivered tail first!  Ever see a wiggling tail come out first?  What a moment!  In all the years we've been doing this, tail first has not happened, and certainly not a wiggling one!  At a point, I could assist, so I did, and amazingly, a live, healthy white lamb was delivered!!!  As he was getting up on his hooves, Posie promptly delivered a second, which shocked us!  She always singles, but here was a little black heap, shaking it's head, alive and well!!  Twins! One white, one black!  Posie came through, survived, both lambs survived, and all did great!  The vet arrived as we were celebrating with joy and was amazed to see our success! (and relieved he wouldn't be pulling a dead lamb)  He gave us bounteous compliments and went on his way, leaving us in happiness!  We named the twins Shell and Shale, for two Shetland lace patterns using those words, lace patterns that are a joy to knit!  (Shale will be for sale.)

There were terribly sad moments to the lambing season as well, with our first ever ewe lost just after lambing.  Awful!  And we lost one lamb.  Another lamb was nearly rejected by his Shetland mother when the first born, a ewe lamb, was so vigorous, she was up and off way across the pen, with bewildered first time mom (Gansey) in tow!  This mother was so worried to watch out for her little ewe lamb, she totally either forgot, or didn't realize another lamb had come out.  He landed by a sheep door, and a wickedly cold draft was blowing in.  I found him not long after, and with frost on his back, and feared he was lost.  But nope!  Alive, and hypothermic!  I raced him into our farm house and brought him back.  But here is where modern life and sheep farming collide...we had to run off to an orthodontist appt. that could not be changed, so little lambie rode along with us, warm and safe!  Later, the mother sort of took him back, but not wanting to take any chances, we milked her and bottle fed the little guy.  He is small as a result of his experiences, so we named him Bobble!  It's perfect!  (We named his moorit ewe twin Bobbin...also perfect as she is so cute!)  Today, Bobble is still about the size of....well....a bobble!  lol  He's healthy, vigorous, but weakened from not being raised by a mother.  He is producing a ton of soft fiber for his size, so I'll be shearing him soon to give him more chance to grow.  One pound of Bobble yarn, coming up!

The summer was a good one for rotational grazing, and the sheep have become quite spoiled by the tasty pastures.  There is no eating down the grass to a good point, THEN rotating, before the sheep decide to rotate themselves so that they can lop off the best of the best!  They like to pick the hottest days, when shepherds and sheep dogs nearly collapse in running them back in!  Speaking of sheep dogs, Swifty has matured into the best asset this farm has, even if he is far from a properly trained sheep dog.  Under graceful management, he has turned into my right arm, and I could never manage the flock without him.  He makes it easy!  For those of you who followed our farm blog in the past, Swifty is our Border Collie.  He's six years old (or something like that!) now, still strong, healthy, and sailing like the wind! But it won't be long before we'll need to train up a new dog.  All of our dogs get socialized on leashes, obedience, and house training before going into flock training, so it takes a long time to get a dog up to speed, a process that I personally love.  I can't wait to have the honor of bringing another dog into the work these amazing creatures are bred to do!

On a side note, the oldest ewe we have in our flock right now is nine years old.  On our first summer flock run through (where we give each sheep a health inspection and parasite check), I discovered she still has ALL of her teeth!  lol!  Shepherdesses are amazed by things the modern world would not even imagine!

The market is keeping us just as busy as the sheep!  We ran a sale on our popular dyed yarns, which kept us very busy, and we've had trouble keeping up inventory on needles and scarf balls, for which we apologize, but a bunch more are coming again!  The natural colors are very low right now, as three of my moorits are not going to give us salable fleeces right now, thanks to Lil' Dipper!  Did I tell you about Lil' Dipper?  Handsome dude!  He was born right about now, last year, under the big dipper in the sky which hangs low over our autumn pastures, hence his name.  We practice very controlled breeding on our farm, but somehow, Dipper managed to disrupt that!... giving us a first ever surprise....with three ewes lambing this summer unexpectedly!  This was not planned, and the lambs made it extremely easy to see who the only possible culprit could be....the fella out there on pasture, grinning....

Anyhow, so the moorits fleeces have been a bit "lambinated" this year, due to lambies jumping onto their mother's backs and playing rock hopping games.  I did manage to get Gracelyn's fleece in, but her next fleece will not be available.  And speaking of Lil' Dipper (now 'Big Dipper....), I sheared him in late August of his lamb's fleece, and spun it up.  I am truly amazed by the intensity of black it is.  Light gets to the yarn, and just stops!  It is the richest, blackest, loveliest  black yarn I've ever seen, and I cannot take my eyes off it.  It's also not like Shetland yarn, as it is thicker and cushier than Shetland (he is out of a Shetland ewe and a non-Shetland ram).  Ideal for hats or mittens, due to it's loft, cush, and softness, it's now at the market and available for purchase.

Well, there is so much more to tell, but time is up!  Come visit us at the market and see all of the beautiful yarns the flock has produced!  Our wraps will be going on sale in October...20% off, so watch for that!  I'm currently working on a dyed wrap, which is our Glacier blue.  It will be trimmed in purple, which is stunningly pretty together!  Can't wait to finish this one and get it out there, for I know everyone is going to love it!  I'm hoping to knit another dyed wrap after that. There are only a few available (in mostly natural colors), as they take up a lot of resources to make each lovely, one of a kind piece that will last you a lifetime of comfort!  So if you have one in mind that you really love, don't wait to get it!

If I get the chance, I'll put up pictures of a wrap and some of our lambs this year!  Not all decisions have been made yet as to who we are keeping, who is to be sold.  We have four Shetland lambs that give me much indecision, so I've taken out my breed standard to scrutinize them further.  So far, Motif (a handsome Shetland black fellow with a perfect tail) and Saxony (a very nordic-looking moorit little guy) really tug at me as keepers, but Cosmic (THE viking of the group!) and Tassel, a very handsome hard to decide!  All of them have Wooly Bear's amazing Shetlandy expression, and all have an amazing gait, very Shetlandy.  These decisions absorb my mind day and night, as they are such a pleasure to have.  Each one will be sheared of their fleeces in the days to come, and their yarn also offered for sale.  Many of our rams are gone now, replaced by new fellas except for Lerwick.  Lerwick passes on outstanding conformation, growth, and the loveliest, densest fleeces you can imagine in Shetlands and other breeds, plus super nice temperament.  We LOVE this guy!  So there is always more to watch for on our tables at the market!  Peerielyn, the little moorit fall lamb from last year is now sheared and her soft chocolatey yarns are available.  Also coming are yarns from Poppy (a Claire x Lerwick lamb), Penny (Posie x Clipper), more Misty, and the natural colored lambs, and more!  And there are only a few of Violet's skeins left, so if you like Violet, don't wait if you have a project in mind for her yarn!

So much to update, but must move on today!  If you cannot make it to our market but would like to pick up more yarn, please email us (click our link on the right side of the blog)!  We ship anywhere in the U.S.   Happy first day of fall everyone, and happy knitting/crocheting!

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