The farm has new additions to its’ livestock… Shetland Sheep. Although mowing the yard is one of the reasons they came to Belle Manor, it’s not the only reason. These sheep will provide meat for the table, wool pelts for craft and sewing projects, and wool fleece for spinning.
I will give you a little background on these sheep.
Shetland sheep are a small, fine-wooled breed of sheep originating in the Shetland Isles, but now also kept in many other parts of the world. They are one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep, a group which also includes the Hebridean, Soay, Finnsheep, Norwegian Spaelsau, Icelandic, Romanov and others. Shetlands are classed as a landrace or “unimproved” breed. This breed was raised primarily for meat but is rapidly becoming more known for it’s fine quality wool.
Although Shetlands are small and slow growing compared to commercial breeds, they are hardy, thrifty, easy lambers, adaptable and long-lived. The Shetland breed has survived for centuries in difficult conditions and on a poor diet so they thrive in better conditions. Shetlands retain many of their primitive survival instincts so they are easier to care for than many modern breeds.
Shetlands appear in a wide variety of colors, many of which are called by their traditional names by breeders. The Shetland is one of the smallest British breeds. The ewes are usually polled (hornless) and the rams usually horned. The breed is noted for its very fine, soft wool and the high quality of its meat, though its smaller size limits its use in commercial meat markets. They are small-bodied animals with no wool on the face, nose or legs, and have small erect ears. The legs are of medium length and finely boned. A distinguishing feature of northern short-tailed sheep is the short, fluke-shaped tail, broad at the base, tapering to a point, and covered towards the tip in hair instead of wool.
Shetlands occur in very many different colors and patterns, most of which have particular names.
Rams usually weigh 90 to 125 lb (41 to 57 kg) and ewes about 75 to 100 lb (34 to 45 kg).
The wool produced by the Shetland has historically been a valued commodity. Shetlands produce numerous shades of wool colors, and this variety made it commercially important to the wool industry of the Shetland Isles, where natural wools are often used undyed. Tweed is also produced from the coarser Shetland wool but the Isles are best known for their multi-colored knitwear and for the traditional knitted lace shawls which are so fine they will pass through a wedding ring. Fleeces usually weigh between 2 and 4 lb (0.91 and 1.8 kg).
The usual gestation for sheep is approximately five months (150 days), but Shetland ewes tend to lamb at about 146 to 148 days. Ewes become fertile in October and November (in the northern hemisphere), lambing in spring or summer. On the poor grazing of the breed’s native Isles the lambing percentage is about 130%. However, when the ewes are on better pasture, twin lambs are common, especially from mature ewes. Shetland ewes are hardy, easy lambers, good mothers and produce a lot of milk. Healthy lambs are born weighing around 4 to 7 lb (2 to 3 kg).
Colors and Patterns
Many of the numerous colors and patterns have Shetland dialect names. Eleven main colors are recognized (most including many different shades): Light Grey, Grey, White, Emsket (dusky bluish-grey), Musket (light greyish-brown), Shaela (dark steely-grey), Black, Fawn, Moorit (reddish), Mioget (honey-toned, yellowish-brown), Dark Brown.
Over thirty different coat patterns are recognised, incorporating various combinations of the colors. They include Katmoget (dark belly and dark shading around nose and eyes, lighter elsewhere), Gulmoget (light belly, dark face with light marks around eyes, dark elsewhere), Yuglet (generally light with dark “panda” patches around eyes), Bleset (dark with white blaze down face), Smirslet (white marking around muzzle), Bersugget (irregular patches of different colors) and Bielset (with a collar of a differing color).
The farm’s new ram is a beautiful grey and looks quite different since he was sheared. His registered name is Whipping Cream (who would do that?) but he’s usually called Little Man. His disposition is so nice it is a real pleasure having him around. You do have to watch your backside if he’s too close behind you, but he’s only wanting attention. Here he is before he was sheared and again after he was sheared.
One of the ewes is due to lamb on April 29th. I’m hoping for twins as big as she is. Her name is Twizzler and this photo is before she was sheared. She’s a little shy but is getting friendlier.
The other ewe is also bred but not due for a little while. She wasn’t sheared last year so was a little matted when she came here. TwoStep is allowing a pet here or there as well.
Although each has a black face, the body wool on all three is quite different. This will give me a variety of natural colors when spinning the wool for weaving or for knitting and crocheting.
These wonderful creatures are a delight and a good addition to a homestead. Since they are not real large sheep, they also fit in well on a smaller homestead while providing many benefits. Sheep do not compete with cattle for graze preferring the broader leaved grass and weeds to the tall grass cattle prefer. This helps to keep the pastures in better shape in a natural way. This is just another piece in the puzzle on the way to becoming more self-sufficient while also helping heritage and endangered breeds.