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 a quarter century! In the past, I have raised Shetlands, Corriedale and North Country Cheviot. Today, my small spinner’s flock consists exclusively of Shetlands (NASSA Flock Woolytyme).
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 Shetlands 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 has a small offering of natural and colored Shetland batts, roving and hand-dyed yarns AND one-of-a-kind hand crafted primitive sheepy folk art/fiber art. Visit my ETSY shop!