When I am an old Shepherd,
I shall wear muddy barn boots and woolly socks
and a cashmere sweater that suits me just fine.
And I shall spend my pension on herb tea
and fine treats for my sheep and goats, and say
we’ve no money for bread!
I shall sit upon the stanchion with my faithful Corgi by my side
and a kitty in my lap.
And I shall listen to the gentle baaing!
In Spring, I shall lay in the field with the lamb and kids all around
and I will make cheese.
When I am an old Shepherd.
(Adapted from original poem by Jenny Joseph)
My love affair with sheep has endured for more than 30-years! In the past, my small flock has included Corriedale, North Country Cheviot and Shetland sheep. Today, my small spinner’s flock consists exclusively of natural colored Shetland sheep (NASSA Registered Flock “Woolytyme” Shetlands).
Meet ‘the newest’ addition to our farm flock: ‘Fascinator’ (nicknamed ‘Fancy’) and my daughter, Katie!!
Snowdyn, single ewe lamb!
Shetlands are the smallest of the “primitive” breeds of sheep related to the Romanov & Icelandic sheep. They were probably brought to the Shetland Islands by Vikings over 1000 years ago. Shetlands are the most colorful of all breeds having 11 main colors (black, shades of gray, browns & whites) and over 30 patterns/markings. Varying from a more primitive dual-coat to a single coat that is fine and crimpy, Shetland is a multi-purpose wool. Traditionally used to make warm rugged fabrics, including Fair Isle knitwear & woven tweeds. Famed handspun Shetland lace yarns are made from selected finer/softer neck wool. The average fleece weighs between 2-4 lbs. with an average 2 to 4.5” staple length. Occasionally, the wool will shed in late Spring as it did generations ago when it was “rooed” or plucked-off by hand. Spinners find it easy to spin from its open locks either washed or ‘in the grease’ as Shetlands do not produce as much lanolin as some other fine wool breeds.
A very important characteristic of the Shetland sheep is their beautiful wool, upon which the world-renowned Shetland woolen industry is based. Shetland wool is one of the finest and softest of any British breed, with a Bradford count usually in the upper 50’s to lower 60’s and an average fiber diameter of 23 microns. This soft, yet strong and durable wool is a delight to spin and is ideal for knitting. It was traditionally used in Shetland shawls so fine they could be drawn through a wedding ring!
Shetland wool comes in one of the widest ranges of colors of any breed. Besides the white, which dyes very well, other colors include light grey, grey, emsket (dusky bluish-grey), shaela (dark steely-grey resembling black frost), musket (pale greyish-brown), fawn, moorit (shades between fawn and dark reddish-brown), mioget (light moorit), dark brown and pure black. There are these 11 main colors as well as 30 markings, many still bearing their Shetland dialect names. Unfortunately, many of these colors and markings have become quite rare as white wool is dominant and has historically commanded better prices.
We raise a few lambs every Spring for the small homestead/hobby farm. Shetlands are a true delight to raise as well as their beautiful wool fleece for the fiber enthusiast. Our Farm Shop, Wool & Wit, LLC, has a small offering of natural and colored Shetland batts, roving, hand-dyed yarns AND one-of-a-kind hand crafted primitive sheepy folk art, felted faux pelt rugs and a variety of hand felted/needle felted fiber art. Visit my ETSY shop! Special orders welcome… firstname.lastname@example.org
I love your blog and website. Your pictures are so colorful and cute. I love the sheep. I’ve been looking for a breed of sheep to buy for my future spinning adventures and I think you’ve sold me on the Shetland Sheep. I was already sold on the Alpine Dairy Goats. I have several and LOVE them.
Hi! I visited your blog and your goat kids are beeeeautiful!!! My girls will kid later in April. I have also owned Corriedales and Cheviots, but I LOVE my Shetlands! Blessings, Jen
Jen, so sorry about your bunny. I spent most of my time the last couple of days chasing sheep in hot morning sun, stopping cars from hitting sheep in hot morning sun, dowsing sheep with cold water in hot sun and milking a friend’s goat while she is on vacation. I have bottles and bottles of milk waiting to be turned into? I have made Cow’s milk cheddar…and want to do goat. But, again, it takes ALL day. I love pics on this post! The currants, the cajeta, the jam pic/recipe! Beautiful! I don’t know about you, but I would give three gallons of goats milk ice cream for a cold breeze right now here in Dexter! -Amy
Amy, It’s been sooo HOT! It seems I’ve been in slow motion this past week – carefully monitoring the barnyard menagerie! Hopefully a little relief comes with the badly needed rain! I finally spent a little time harvesting grosso lavender. I’m afraid most of my munstead & hidcote are past bloom…before I could get to it!!! I can’t bear to waste a drop of goat’s milk either. Sunday morning we had blueberry ricotta pancakes! YUM! And I made a perfect summer-tyme cake with chevre! I’ll post the recipe! Jen
Your poem is GREAT I must give it to a shetland sheep owner here love this site!
Hi! I think I’ll write another ‘version’ just for my goats too! Glad you enjoyed it! Jen
My wife live on a little 2 1/2 acre place where we have chickens, pygmie goats and shetland sheep. My favorite is buttons, He butted me the day we brought him home. He greets me every morning ant 5 a.m. when I feed everyone, My wife wants to learn how to shear and work with the wool. She does not care much for going out in the cold so I take care of all the KIDS. It is great, they don’t talk back and give you unconditional love. I spent a few years in the Marine Corps, had a few animals growing up but not like this. I got to see different animals over seas back in the 70’s. Working a full time job, working on my daughters house and trying to work on our house stretches you. I really enjoy reading you blog. I still not too good at this new technology. I still feel like I am still stuck with gradually moving into the technology era. My wife and I will finally get it right. Being a home owner is great!. When something happens it does happen big. Oh yal, we have 2 Vietnamese pigs. One is Magnumand the other izzy, ugly as sin but a sweet heart. I got to get back to work. Enjoy the winter. I live in Dalton City, Illinois. My older sister lives up in Gobles, Michigan, It sounds like they are having it rough up there with the snow.
Hello David! It sounds like you and your wife enjoy your sweet ‘farm-ette’ life…and yes, I love the unconditional love of all my barnyard critters! As a homeowner AND caring for the animals, it’s a full-time job!! Your daughter must be thrilled that you’re able to help her! That’s what dad’s are for! YES, your wife absolutely must learn to play with your Shetland wool…begin with wet felting, since it really requires no tools! I want nothing to do with ‘pet’ piggies, thank you! haha
If you’re ever in the are, drop in and say ‘hello’. BTW, you’re doing great with this technology thingy…soon you’ll be blogging about your own adventures!!
Best wishes and thanks for visiting!! Jenny
Hello! I have East Friesian sheep and a neighbor has a Shetland ram lamb that we are talking about doing a trade on with one of my new lamb rams. I am trying to research how well the two breeds would mix to not lower my milk production but allow me to introduce new genetics on the farm as I only have one ram currently. Do you have any thoughts on if this might work for me? Thank you!
Hello Kelly! Well, in my opinion, I would think that while Shetlands are a smaller, hardy breed, you could see a decline in potential milk production genetics. Thru history, Shetlands are able to sustain themselves in harsh environments. A link http://www.shetlandsheepinfo.com/MEAT&OTHER/dairy.htm suggests Icelandic sheep, larger cousin to the Shetlands, would be ‘better’ choice as a dairy sheep. While my ewes are all good mothers often nursing their lambs well into nine-months of age, they simply can’t compete w/my Oberhasli dairy goats… or larger dairy-breed sheep. I saved an article in Hobby Farms Mar/Apr 2010 issue about a Vermont Sheep Dairy [Vermont Shepherd] who raise East Friesian-Tunis-Dorset crossbred flock for ‘food efficiency and mild temperments’. Here’s another sheep dairy I ‘follow’ http://www.shepherdsmanorcreamery.com/dideweknow.htm
They also raise East Friesian and Lacaune (apparently most common dairy sheep in France). Good luck!
Thank you so much for your information, it is very helpful. One of my original ewes is EF/Lacaune cross. She suffered damage in her teats at the farm that I acquired her from and cannot milk, however she has given me several wonderful babies. I currently have two of her ewes that will be ready to breed this fall. I am hesitant to breed them back to their father. Do you know if it is safe to do so for one generation? Both my original ewe and ram are both triplets and both of the young ewes from her are from triplet births. I would love to continue that line if possible. This shetland would come to me at no cost, which is why I was hoping I could integrate him in.
Thank you again!
Kelly, here’s an excellent article on inbreeding or line-breeding which is also common practice in dairy goat herds. http://www.dairygoatjournal.com/issues/83/83-6/Alice_G_Hall.html
Is there ANY possibility of trading a breeding/or ram lamb from the farm where you originally purchased your first ewe? Is there ANY other local dairy sheep candidates that would barter/trade? Have you considered AI…but that can be $$$$. If all else fails, follow your heart!
Hi Kelly! I came across a few dairy sheep sites… and they’re X-breeding their dairy ewes w/larger ‘meat’ breeds. Capitalizing on market lamb sales! Wishing you well on your dairy travels!
Thank you for the helpful information Jenny! After reading everything, we are going to pass on trading for a Shetland and will try to locate another diary ram lamb next spring. I think it will be the best option for us to maintain our desire for optimum milk output. Blessings with your precious wooly friends! I am grateful that I am able to use our dairy wool for felting and my own spinning even if it is not high enough quality for the handspinner market.
Hi Kelly! I think you made a wise choice. ‘FREE’ may be tempting, but think of your goals…and surplus babies [particularly ram lambs] could be sold as market lambs, in which case bigger is better. Good luck with your dairy! 🙂 Jenny
Love your blog! Love your Shetlands!
Whoa! Thank you dear fiber ‘n farmer friend extraordinaire! You are an amazing lady!! 😉
Thank you! Happy Spring!
I am seriously looking for a female dairy lamb, do you put any of yours up for adoption? Or know who might have one?
Sorry, no dairy sheep.