Shetland Sheep Wool Provides Shear Delight
Small in stature, but big in personality—that’s the best way to describe Shetland sheep. The pint-sized wool-bearers are one of the smallest of the British sheep breeds, and their size makes them easily manageable.
“They’re starting to gain popularity because of their size,” says Michael, a Wake County Farm Bureau Member and owner of Rare Find Farm, a small, family farm, with her husband, Jim. “They’re good for people that have little places, and they’re easier than bigger breeds because you can handle them yourself.”
Typically ewes weigh between 75 and 100 pounds and rams weigh between 90 and 125 pounds. But their convenient size is only part of their appeal, particularly for family farmers. Michael says the sheep are easy to care for because they require little maintenance. “We shear them once a year, we don’t dock their tails, most of our ewes are polled [naturally hornless] and we only need to trim their feet once per year and give them annual vaccinations.”
Passersby are even drawn to the appeal of these fluffy creatures.
“There is a certain satisfaction you get from watching them graze. It’s tranquil. As a society, we need more of that,” Michael says. “People hold up traffic on the road just to watch them out in the pasture, especially around lambing time.”
Michael halter breaks all of her sheep to get them used to handling. While the sheep typically have a docile demeanor, Michael notes that people handling them should be careful, especially around rams. “A ram is a ram, and he has that name for a reason.”
Shetlands were originally thought to have been brought to the Shetland Islands by Viking settlers more than 1,000 years ago, but didn’t make their first appearance in North America until 1980. This flock remained in quarantine in Canada for five years before they could be sold, and in 1986, Shetlands made their way to U.S. farms.
They are most commonly used for their wool, which is one of the finest and softest of the British breeds. Shorn once annually, the fleeces typically weigh between two and four pounds per sheep, but fleeces up to six pounds are not uncommon.
There are 11 main colors and 30 markings found within the breed. While white wool has become increasingly popular in commercial use because it can be easily dyed to other colors, Shetlands are one of the few breeds that can also produce a true black fleece that requires no over-dyeing.
Since Michael started the farm in 2000, she has been involved in spinning yarn from the Shetland sheep wool. “When I first started selling the fleeces someone told me that I needed to try spinning to really appreciate the fiber,” she says. “Working with the yarn and feeling the fiber—I’ve never done anything so relaxing.”