22 Jul Shetland Sheep: A 4,500 year history living at ifarm
The sheep flock is settling in to life at ifarm. After they acclimatized to the barn and their enclosure, we spent time sitting with them and invited the Windrush Farm Giddy Up and Grow program participants to bring treats so the sheep get comfortable with new faces. They are highly motivated by food. At this point, they are relaxed but alert around the farm.
The History of Shetland Sheep
An ancestor of the Shetland sheep is the Soay, which has roots going back to Neolithic farmers in Scotland 4500 years ago! Those farmers (and their Scottish descendants) prized tough sheep that could run wild for most of the year. They would only gather the sheep a few times a year, for shearing the wool, culling the herd, and ensuring the lambs were healthy.
Because of this selection process, Shetland sheep grow fat on minimal pasture and don’t have many issues with parasites or lambing complications. Unlike more modern breeds that prize individual traits like wool or meat production, primitive sheep breeds tend to be more well rounded. They produce wool and meat, but are also hardy and intelligent animals who can take care of themselves for much of the year. See here for more information.
Our flock is certainly demonstrating its resilience this summer! In the heat, we have made sure our shetlands have access to plenty of water and shade in the cool of the barn foundation, but they seem very happy to graze outside.
Shetlands have amazing wool. As you can tell from our kaleidoscopic flock, their wool comes in many colors. It also grows in two layers, a thick and coarse outer wool and an extra-fine under wool. The coarse wool is long and makes for very durable clothing (Vikings wove their sails out of this type of wool) while the soft under wool is shorter and makes silky clothing comparable to merino.
When we shear the sheep next year, we may separate these two layers to produce different wool products, or combine them for wool that is soft and has a good staple length for spinning. We look forward to that; the first shearing of a sheep is special because the wool is softer than at any other time in their life.
We will continue to help the sheep acclimate and keep you posted on changes!