Keep Shetland Sheep

Small, hardy, and colorful, Shetland sheep are a natural choice for shepherds and fiber artists alike.

Shetland sheep can be horned or polled; typically, rams have horns and ewes do not. Photo by Adobe Stock/dianamower

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When I was growing up, my family had a variety of livestock, including Angus beef cattle, chickens of all kinds, horses, and Corriedale sheep. I would show a few of the sheep each year at the county fair when I was in 4-H, but my mother spun and knitted the wool. To her credit, she tried to teach me to knit and crochet several times. I learned to crochet but never caught on to knitting. Fiber arts just weren’t on my radar in my younger years.

When my husband and I eventually moved back to the family farm, the sheep had been sold off, but the beef cattle and a few horses were still around. We added chickens but, until I finally learned how to knit, we didn’t think to add sheep. I started knitting with commercial yarn, and then local, hand-dyed yarns, and then I learned to spin so I could make my own yarn. Meanwhile, we sold the beef cattle and ended up with plenty of pasture growing grass. The next logical step was to get sheep, shear them, and transform the fleece into yarn. It seemed like a great idea at the time. How hard could sheep farming be?

My first choice was Corriedale, the sheep breed I thought I knew. I remembered them as relatively docile, good on grass, able to produce good wool, and medium-sized. Guided by my memories, I went to a local shepherd who raises champion-caliber Corriedales, bought a few ewe lambs and an unrelated ram lamb, and was on my way. I then discovered that a lot had changed in the world of Corriedales since the 1980s.

These sheep were docile and friendly and, as time passed, undoubtedly growing good wool. But they kept growing and growing. Knowing I would be the one shearing these sheep, I was a bit nervous that they’d prove to be more than I could handle on my own. They were lovely animals, but I needed sheep that were like the Corriedales I remembered, and I went back to the internet to restart my search.  My searches kept turning up Shetlands as thrifty sheep that mature at 125 pounds for rams and 100 pounds for ewes, with good mothering abilities. That they come in 11 colors sealed the deal. I needed to find some of these little guys.

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