Friday, July 2, 2010

Why Shetland Sheep?

This post is my take on Shetland Sheep and why they are the best type sheep for a small land owner and what brought me to love them so much, diversity! I get tired of hearing how they should be just one thing. Like for insistence their fleece an "improved" fleece like all the others breeds of sheep, all the same, even from neck to britch, all short with x number of crimps per inch, soft and silky.

I live on a smallish piece of property with no irrigated fields in Nevada with the annual rain fall for an average year of  7 inches. I was first introduced to Shetlands in 2003 with the soul purpose of raising them for fiber to spin. In my mind they were perfect, small, I can keep more animals per acre, easy to handle with all the colors any one breed of sheep could have plus neat markings to keep them diverse. The next best thing was that they all had different types of fleece. Some were long and lustrous all the same length. Some were very double coated with the softest under coat, 4-5 inches and longer outer coat of  5-7 inches. Some were short coated with a nice crimp from end to end. Most of my sheep now are soft and fine, some with high bold crimp some with small tiny crimp and a few are not so fine. This is just perfect. Instead of having six or eight different breeds of sheep I could have just one, the marvelous Shetland with all it's diversity in one small package. Not improved to the point of other breeds who had one main objective in the way their fleeces grew.

My sheep have a fleece weight of 2-5 pounds. Even when you divide the fleece, softest fiber on the neck, soft/medium fiber in the middle, and the britch being a bit coarser there is more than enough to do most projects. If there is not, say I need more britch for a project I have many more animals with the right colors to add to the pile. If I were to do a sweater the fleece will give me at least two pounds of fiber more than enough to finish a nice sweater, warm mittens and a hat. I know this because my first ever sweater weighs about two pounds and you don't want a sweater to weigh that much! It needs to be -20 outside to even wear it for more than a few minutes.

Judith at BSG passed a Shetland sweater around and it had to be just ounces. Very light and airy yet warm to wear. She also passed around our NASSA tartan woven fabric, not soft at all but a cloth made to wear like iron both made from our little Shetlands!

And yes my sheep will always have a diverse fleece, softest neck, soft middle and not so harsh britch this is an unimproved not for commercial fleece. A perfect fleece for a spinner who likes diversity and can not afford to feed large massive sheep or buy a 14 pound merino fleece. Sounds like a Shetland Island land owner would want a sheep like this!

 I can do almost any project with my Shetlands fleeces. If I want to make something that is drappy and fine like a shawl my sheep have that type wool, small tiny crimp with less memory. If I make some thing that works up best with more memory I have that type fiber too. I can felt slippers that are next to the skin soft with microns about 30 for a durable end product. Or a purse that felts up easily and does not scratch your arm as you wear it and does not "pill" like softer cotton like wool would.
I love my Shetlands just the way they are diverse.
And in answer to a comment on a Shetland Yahoo List we west coast Shetland breeders are not morons! I will preserve all the diversity in our sheep you can do what you want. They are all Shetland Sheep.


Anonymous said...


~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

Why do people have to be so rude!?!
Well written Mim!

Kara said...

Well said Mim. :)

Sharon said...

Here, here. The one-stop-shop sheep! What's not to like?

Gail V said...

Sorry you had to defend yourself against morons, Mim.
Lovely sheep, lovely wool

Fiber Floozie said...

I think your little shetland sheep are the bomb. :-)

Tammy said...

Very good commentary and I agree one hundred percent! I didn't get Shetlands to have a cookie cutter 'improved' breed of sheep. I love the diversity and most of all their hardiness and character. As a side note, I've even had someone ask for any extra britch wool compiled from several different fleeces so that they could have enough for socks! Thanks for the great post, and I'm pretty sure you aren't a moron! ;-)