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Raising Shetland sheep.

The Shetland's roots go back over a thousand years, probably to sheep brought to the Shetland Islands by Viking settlers. They belong to the Northern European short-tailed group which also contains the Finnsheep, Norwegian Spaelsau, Icelandics, Romanovs and others.

Today they are considered a primitive or "unimproved" breed. This means that although they are small and relatively slow-growing, they maintain natural hardiness, thriftiness, easy lambing, adaptability and longevity. Shetlands survived for centuries under harsh conditions and on a meager diet, although they do very well under less rigorous conditions. Having retained most of their primitive survival instincts, they are easier to care for than many of today's "improved" breeds.

Shetlands are one of the smallest of the British sheep. Rams usually weigh 90 to 125 pounds and ewes about 75 to 100 pounds. Rams usually have beautiful spiral horns whereas the ewes are typically polled. They are fine-boned and agile and their naturally short, fluke-shaped tails do not require docking.

They are a calm docile and easy-to-manage breed. Most respond well to attention and some even wag their tails when petted! In addition, the rams are usually safe to be around.

Classified as endangered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) in 1977, Shetlands are now enjoying renewed favor and numbers.

Shetland in North America

With the assistance of the RBST, Col. Dailley of the African Lion Safari in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, imported 28 ewes and four rams from the Shetland Islands in 1980. This is the only importation of Shetlands into North America documented by the RBST. Due to tightened importation restrictions, it is unlikely that any more will arrive in the near future.

Tut and Linda Doane of Vermont brought the first Shetlands into the U.S. from the Dailley flock when the 5-year-old offspring of the original imports were finally released from quarantine in 1986. Currently, only about a thousand Shetlands exist in all of North America.

Shetland Wool

A very important characteristic of the Shetlands is their beautiful wool, upon which the world-renowned Shetland woolen industry is based. Shetland wool is one of the finest and softest of any British breed, with a Bradford count usually in the upper 50's to lower 60's and an average fiber diameter of 23 microns.

This soft, yet strong and durable wool is a delight to spin and is ideal for knitting. It was traditionally used in Shetland shawls so fine they could be drawn through a wedding ring!

Fleeces usually weigh between two and four pounds and have a staple length of 2 to 4.5 inches. Occasionally, the wool will shed in late spring as it did generations ago when it was "rooed" or pulled off by hand.

Shetland wool comes in one of the widest ranges of colors of any breed. Besides the white, which dyes very well, other colors include light grey, grey, emsket (dusky bluish-grey), shaela (dark steely-grey resembling black frost), musket (pale greyish-brown), fawn, moorit (shades between fawn and dark reddish-brown), mioget (light moorit), dark brown and pure black. In addition to these 1 1 main colors there are 30 markings, many still bearing their Shetland dialect names.

Unfortunately, many of these colors and markings have become quite rare as white wool is dominant and has historically commanded better prices.

North American

Shetland Sheep Registry

The North American Shetland Sheep Registry (NASSR) was established in coordination with the Shetland Sheep Breeders' Group of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in Great Britain. The purpose of the registry is to assist breeders of Shetland Sheep in North America in maintaining the purity and quality of the breed and to provide accurate registration and pedigree records for informed breeding decisions.

Other related goals of NASSR are to promote Shetlands in North America, preserve and protect this rare breed (particularly the rarer colors and markings) and facilitate communication and information exchange between breeders.

As NASSR is coordinated with the Shetland Sheep Breeders' Group (SSBG) of Great Britain, its breed standards and registration rules are based upon those of the SSBG.

Members with registered flocks receive pedigrees, certificates and eartags for all sheep registered as well as a copy of the annual NASSR Flock Book. New members also receive a copy of the SSBG's informative Handbook on Shetlands. A newsletter, NASSR News, provides educational articles as well as current news and views about Shetlands both in North America and in Britain.

Your membership will assist in the preservation of this rare breed.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:743
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