Tuesday, July 31, 2012


           12" plus length on this fleece sample that was pulled from a bag of "Shetland" wool.
          (I won't say where this came from, as I have no desire to attack people or their sheep) 
This sample is approx. 8" plus in staple length and the shortest sample among 12 bags of fleece that is supposed to be Shetland fleece.  
Excessive length......I found both these samples to be very coarse and not breed typical at all.  I am going to send them in for micron testing, just so I have a number to attach to this for my own fleece sampler book. I'm not even sure how you could spin these fleeces, , they have a lovely color and they would look nice in a braided rug.  These overly coarse and long fleeces are no more breed typical than a merino type fleece on a Shetland sheep....my point being that extremes on either end of the limits is changing the breed. 
Excessive weight......The other excess that I am finding hard to understand is the new weight limits for Rams and Ewes that have been changed in the NASSA judges packet.  Where did those numbers come from?  Where is the historical data that supports this trend upwards in weights?  I'm not trying to be sarcastic or mean, I honestly want to know where those number originated. 
Old ranges were: Rams 90-125# and Ewes 70-100#'s....new limits allow the rams to be 150# and Ewes 115#....  that seems to be changing the breed to satisfy the livestock judges in the show ring.  I don't know why it was changed or where the historical data is that supports such a large increase in size limits.   Over the last couple years there's been a lot of discussion and disagreement about the correct type of Shetland fleece. I actually thought that the only differing of opinions was fleece styles, but now I can see that I was incorrect in that assumption.

How long before Shetland sheep are allowed to be even larger?  This truly concerns me, far more than the fleece debate. 

Longer fleeces, larger animals, loss of crimp and bounce in the fleece, loss of fineness... how much more will we lose before we care enough to say something or take the time to educate ourselves about what a Shetland should be or what they were?
I think it's time for breeder judges to be trained and utilized, it's time to leave livestock judges in the ring with meat sheep.  They do a great job judging the sheep they know,  market sheep, let's leave them to their area of expertise and develop judges that have their own area of expertise.......the Shetland sheep that conforms to the 1927 Standard! 

How many of you feel the breed is being morphed into something other than a Shetland sheep by the large increases in weight limits?  I'm very curious............


  1. I definitely agree, and have seen Shetlands and Icelandics here that are indistinguishable in size and fleece length. If the general public can't tell them apart in the show barns or ring, what is the point of having a separate breed?

  2. I'm with you on this Kelly and Michelle. I too have seen both breeds at a couple of shows in the Midwest where you could not tell them apart. And unfortunately this is the type of Shetland that was winning at these shows.

  3. I have been saying this for years. Breeder judges, plus mandatory micron tests for anything in the ribbons at any NASSA sponsored show. Let the membership see what their money is going towards promoting.

  4. AnonymousJuly 31, 2012

    For hundreds of years the Shetland provided a sustainable fiber source for the island people. They needed ship sails, rugs, coats, hats, pants, dresses, underwear and wedding shawls. A variety of fleece types is what the breed provided. Some sheep provided the braided rugs while others the wedding shawls. If all the breed produces is short stapled fine wool then we will have lost the sustainable aspect of the breed.

    1. I don't disagree with you that they had were used for many things..... if you reread my post, you will see that I said BOTH extremes are moving the breed in the wrong direction. Excess in either direction is not good, that is the point I was trying to make with this post.
      Britch wool and neck wool each serve a purpose, and I use a lot of my britch wool for things that would fall apart if I used the finer fleece. (these were not britch wool samples)
      Thank you for your input, I don't mind respectful discussion at all. But in the future, I will only post comments that are signed.

    2. Anonymous - you are incorrect in saying that Shetland wool provided sail material. There has been no evidence to support that. Sails were made in Norway using Vilsau and Spelsau wool and used to sail TO Shetland.
      As far as dress cloth (actually skirt material) and pants cloth, this was only done in the early history on the Shetland Island and this was made with woven cloth that was fulled (called wadmal). Pants and skirts were never made with knitted cloth.
      Coats (for the fishermen) were generally made with seal skins. If made of wool, it was made from wadmal as well.
      Rugs were not braided on Shetland (no evidence), but they were woven (called taatit rugs).
      From the mid to late 1800's to early 1900's, the majority of Shetland wool was made for socks, stockings, sweaters, hap shawls, underwear, hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, and some lace shawls (made from the very finest neck wool). The wool to support all of these goods HAD to have bounce (knitted goods) and HAD to be in the fine category (20-30 microns for Shetland wool or even finer for lace goods).
      This is the Shetland wool that is described in the 1927 standard and clarfied/translated by the SSS with Appendix A. Anything other than that (long, straight, coarse wool) was not able to be utilized in the production of the type of good that made Shetland famous.
      One more thing - according to the time frame of the writing of the standard, short wool was considered less than 2". The Shetland should have a staple around 3-5" (2 1/2 - 4" was used for a long time) which they called "longish". Over 6" is considered long wool/carpet wool.
      A crimpy 2 1/2" Shetland staple can easily stretch to 4-5". A 4" crimpy Shetland staple can easily stretch to 6". Plenty long on both accounts for any spinning technique!!

  5. Excellent post Kelly. Excessiveness of the many characteristics that you listed in the Shetland breed has been rampant in the show ring since the beginning of showing Shetlands in this country. Judges have been educated that large bone and frame coupled with long, coarse fleece is the "best". When most are only meat judges, they think this is the way it is supposed to be and do not question or research what Shetland sheep were used for or what they were known for.
    "Primitive" has wrongly been confused with "long" and "coarse". Primitive simply means non-commercially bred. It is as close to the "original" as you can get. This is a term that needs to be correctly defined, then the breed characteristics need to be outlined (once again) as to why they are so important for this primitive breed. Characteristics like fine bone (flintiness, not roundness), fine and crimpy fleece (required for traditional garments), small stature, and breed type head and tail. All of these are easy to weed out if you go to the 1927 standard.

  6. Interesting post, I appreciate your insight.

    To be honest, I always have a problem with the word 'coarse'. I have had single-coated and double-coated sheep who have fleece that is very soft, but obviously not fine. I also have had fine, crimpy single-coated sheep, who have very rough fleece. I would describe both as coarse....kind of a hit-and-miss sometimes when advertising.

    I wouldn't discount double-coated sheep, I've used my ewe, Fairview Farm Angelina every year. She has a very soft 12 inch fleece. Produces GOLD when crossed with UK lines (Andrew Johnson's ewe Abba is her daughter out of Wintertime Moth). My neighbor has Angelina's dam,Gwenhwyfach, and loves the lengthy fleeces she throws. He's used Wintertime Blues, Underhill Beethoven, and Wintertime Fudge on her the past few years, conformation and fleece are TOP!

    I guess, in general, every breeder should always breed for improvement. If you're going to raise double-coated sheep, your inner-coat better be longer than the outer-coat.Crimpiness and softness is always better.


  7. The weight limits concern me as well...I just don't really understand how they decided they could be bigger, or why.

  8. Danny - you said, "your inner-coat better be longer than the outer-coat." Please explain.
    The outer coat is ALWAYS coarser than the inner coat, unless you have short kemp fibers in the fleece. The longer fibers are the primary fibers and the shorter fibers are the secondary fibers. The primaries grow faster, longer, and thicker (coarser) than the secondaries. This is what gives the characteristic tip on a Shetland fleece.

    The biggest problem is there is no evidence to support those long (greater than 6-7"), coarse (40-60 micron for the outer coat), straight fleeced, strongly double coated sheep with large bone and fast growth under the 1927 breed standard. The deviation is too great in all areas to call those animals "Shetland". The physical size is unsustainable on Shetland (for the length of the history of the native breed) and the excessive length and coarseness of wool cannot be used in traditional garment goods made in the traditional way (carding the whole locks). The crofters certainly did not keep very many sheep with wool that did not contribute to the making yarn for the hand knitting industry!

    If you take into account the crossing with Scottish Blackface (which was done in the area of the importation for quite a long time), faster growth, bigger bone/frame, and excessive length and coarseness of fleece makes more sense. Unfortunately, these are the characteristics that are being concentrated on, displayed, and rewarded in many areas of the US. Are traditional, made with finely spun yarn, Shetland goods made out of the wool of those sheep to PROVE that they produce Shetland type wool (the WHOLE wool, not the undercoat)? If this question is not answered, well then, you have your answer.

    If all that can be made from sheep with long coarse double coats are braided rugs or woven goods (because of lack of crimp/bounce), something should be done. And this does not entail the changing of the breed by a select few. Shetland sheep, the traditional, fine wooled, native, FlockBook type Shetland sheep, produce goods that range from lace to socks, with the majority of the wool in the "hap" or "sweater" category. All garment quality goods. Rugs out of the britch ONLY.

    The Shetland breed in NA started out as a fine wooled, 1927 breed standard sheep, because all imported sheep were inspected and passed that criteria. If some sheep have substantially drifted in certain flocks, these sheep do not meet the 1927 standard. A new standard needs to be made specifically for those sheep for them to continue and they need to show under that standard as a different breed other than a Shetland sheep. The viewing public is quite aware of the difference of Shetland "types", especially when they can see an Icelandic side by side. Why have two different breeds when, for all appearance's sake, those animals (the big long wooled and the Icelandic) are the same? The emperor has no clothes. There is a substantial difference between a breed standard, flinty boned, fine wooled Shetland and a large boned/framed, very long and coarse fleeced one, than there is between the latter and an Icelandic.

  9. The percentage of inner coat on the lock should be greater than the percentage of outer-coat.

  10. Lots of discussion about fleece again.......what about the larger size?

  11. Large bone/frame and fast growth is intertwined with long, coarse fleece. None of these characteristics are Shetland.

  12. My personal opinion is that the president of nassa along with his cronies decided they needed to up the standard for weights of shetlands to match what they were raising and showing. It has long been known in the states here that Heavier bone and LARGER sheep get the judge's eye in the show ring. That is what the breeders who do the most showing are breeding for. Those ribbons are very important for their sales.


    1. Stephen, I think most of the reason that judge's place Shetlands by size is because they only know what the University judging coach taught them about club lambs and black (coughs) Maine Anjou... Travis Hoffman from CSU and I had a good talk at the CWGA convention about this, and he is notorious for sizing out breeds he is unfamiliar with. He listened too, and I invited him to the AGM in Estes Park next year to observe and maybe team judge. We can catch more flies with honey, right?

      There are certainly breeders producing for the show ring, but are we buying in big sheep? Nope.

      I think that showing is superfluous anyway, both here and in the UK apart from the networking, locating new breeding stock and getting to visit with distant friends that happens at a show. Shetland, British, Canadian or American, we all seem to place too much value on a judge's opinion on a given day.

      Too, I have a horn genetics question for you later...

  13. I'm not too worried about the size change. This will probably only affect the two or three farms that breed for that size. Alot of people are probably completely unaware, and will just continue breeding as they have been.

    1. Right. I don't support a change, but on that note it won't affect my flock. I don't buy in that type of sire. Anouk was the first outside ewe I've brought in since the 2001 AGM, and she's English x Cochran/Dailley bred. So my ewes haven't changed except the weird Anglo-katmoget patterning from the Minder influence, the crisper handle and coarser fleeces that he produced. Otherwise, they look the same as their Dailley grand-dams and Island great-grand-dams in type, color and size. I try to keep my bloodlines as UN-updated as possible.

  14. Danny, since the new size limits are published in the JUDGES PACKET, they will affect every single person who shows under the judges so educated! Most judges already predictably line up their choices from biggest to smallest with few exceptions; this will only serve to reinforce and encourage that. Since so many new shepherds think that buying from "champion stock" means they are getting great examples of the breed, the breed will continue to get bigger. And that hurts us all, as Shetlands have a unique niche with their small size and efficient conversion. If we are going to let them get as big as other similar breeds, why have a Shetland breed at all?

  15. Danny -
    This is what the judges packet should read (and did in 2010 and 2011, when it was passed). Please note where the emphasis is:

    The size of the Shetland sheep is addressed in many of the bibliography citations, though not specifically in the standard or the appendix. Because of different climatic and feeding conditions, weights range from 50 lbs for ewes outwintered as lambs on the hills of Shetland to ewes that average 99 lbs in the south of England. Generally, most citations list ewe weights from 70 to 100 lbs. Rams weights are listed as ranging from 90 to 125 lbs, though Dr. S. H. U. Bowie indicates that rams can weigh up to 143 lbs in peak condition. Here in North America, there seems to be a wide range of weights but severely undersized or oversized animals should be discouraged. So, taking into consideration the above information the following guidelines should be observed. For adult ewes, the range of 60−115 lbs is acceptable. For adult rams, the range would be from 80−150 lbs. Animals that fall in the middle of this range should be given preference over animals that fall in the outer limits. Since Shetlands are a slow growing primitive breed, care should be observed in placing lambs and yearlings as they will not reach maturity until age three or older.
    What is most important is the size of the bones of Shetlands. They should be light and fine, not coarse or heavy like a commercial breed of sheep. Fine bones will mean that the sheep will be agile and have a good meat to bone ratio, which is indicative of the slow−growing nature of the Shetland sheep. Shetlands are also prized for their excellent meat quality and the slow growth allows for this.

    1. You make it seem like size is the only factor a judge takes into consideration when choosing a champion.Are the judges completely ignorant when it comes to fleece?

    2. I have seen many shows where it sure seems that way, Danny.

    3. Nope. Judges go by industrial finewool standards, and in NCWGA sanctioned shows, the fleece counts for 60% of the score. Compared to the SFBT standard of the 1970's that values the fleece at 20%, there's quite a wide margin there. I've seen a lot of placement that I don't agree with, but when we're judging the fleece based on fineness, luster, handle, uniformity, etc. sheep of either primitive or modern types place well or not. It depends on the judge and their training.

      The only reason I don't fully support breeder-judges in the States, is the same reason a LOT of Shetlanders and Brits do not (usually old timers and crofters who do not use the internet)... Cliques and opinions. A lot of the mainland Brits have a few things to say about the show circuit, and the direction the SSS has shifted the style of their stock. Some grumble, others don't care, and others value the extreme refinement that has taken place.

      The Blackface breeders regularly chide the American and Canadian producers for having sheep that are a hundred years behind the fashion. Cheeky. A hundred years ago our blackies and English Leicesters were the same. So were our Border Leicesters. Forty years ago our Bluefaced Leicesters were the same. Thirty years ago our Shetlands were the same. That's why you'll see New Zealand and Australian Border Leicesters and Romneys that look the same as ours, but likewise don't resemble the British stock. If you can find photos of Wensleydales from fifty years ago, you can see that they hardly resemble what the breed is right now.

      Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn cattle too...

      We simply cannot keep up with the British show styles.

      Now there are pockets of traditionalists in the UK. But the show jocks are rather hostile to them as well. Hebrideans are a good example of this. You'll notice that the bulk of the show flocks no longer keep polycerate animals, the roan fleeces (like our Iset) have been largely bred out and the fleeces are more uniform and consistent... Not qualities that any of the Dunface descendants possess.

      I think there is value in keeping the old lines of any breed.

      Pleiotropy for instance... We have no clue what other traits are being bred out by selecting for ARR/ARR stock. Bubkes. Heterotypical, endemic strains need to be maintained. This is why I strongly advocate and value equal recognition of primitive, hill, commercial and exhibition lines in Shetland sheep- and other heritage breeds.

      There are trends in the States that bother me in this breed... Longer, pointier (some rounded), lower set ears. Lack of poll wool. Apple heads. Extremely refined type with some lambs resembling mini-club lambs. Merino-type birth coats. Frame size going ^UP. Trashy fleeces; too long, too stubby, too hairy. Dull, cottony wool. Fleeces with no lock distinction or individual feathering. Fleeces that are too open, or have mule-type character. Coarse bone. Aberrant and scrobby horns on rams. Grain fed sheep kept in-bye. Ewes having dystocia and C-sections. Ewes with mastitis. Ewes who reject lambs. Shetlands that look like Finnsheep. Shetlands that look like Icelandic sheep. Shetlands that look like Merinos... And so what?

      We can't (or shouldn't) police other breeders, and can only control what is produced in our own flocks. That should be our emphasis... And valuing, cultivating and maintaining our relationships/friendships and networking. To me, that is most important.

      Are people seeing our relationship with the Lord and His influence in our lives in how we have been handling all of this? In how we speak to or treat each other? Let's all try to hold each other accountable to that. I know that I need the accountability. The amount of damage that we've all done may not be completely irreparable...


    4. Danny - Yes. Meat judges are trained "bigger is better". I've been to dozens of shows. Very few pick any other way and it is usually an exceptional animal that does win over bigger ones and that judge actually knows more of the truth about the breed (that they aren't supposed to be big hairy Icelandic knock-offs).

      Jared - The Shetland breed in this country is extremely variable. There is no "norm" or standard, unless you go to a flock that has only been breeding for long fleece and/or big bone or you go to an established FFSSA flock. The difference in the ring is like two different breeds. And yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you that judges should not influence the breed. I have bucked the trend in this area for the past decade, and still do quite fine. Correct conformation, soft, fine, crimpy wool, and good Shetland type. That is my focus and always will be (along with hardiness, parasite resistance, good mothering, . . . .)

      I can and will "police" my own flock according to the standard per Appendix A as it is the best "translation" straight from the flock book breeders themselves (not from people who have never even been to Shetland!). I also hope that other breeders are doing the same so when I need new genetics, I can move forward in my breeding program, not several generations backwards.

      An interesting comment was made by Trevor on the ssbg list just yesterday: "There may have been a sheep with a little bit of Scottish Blackface (or other breed) in its ancestry when the original Shetland sheep were exported to North America."

      I agree, especially when it was pointed out in the Shetland 2000 Proceedings that "SBF were crossed in every 7 years" from the importation district. I also think there is a strong Spelsau influence too. Couple both of those breeds, and you typically get big frame, fast growth, long fleece with a hair outer coat, and for color - usually grey. This is the focus of concentration that has been happening for the past 20 years for a few breeders.

      I'm not trying to change the world here, but we do need to take the blinders off. Are Shetlands historically known for fast growth? Big frame and bone? 12+" fleece? Carpet wool? To me, those questions are a resounding NO.

      As a spinner, knitter, weaver, and felter, the wool performance is the best indicator of historic accuracy and thereby the best window to type. If I can make traditional garments the traditional way with the wool my Shetlands are producing, I believe I am on the right track and doing the right thing by the breed. If there are breeders that do not spin and knit with their wool, that is a great loss to their ability to assess the breed, their flock, and the breed's future.

      For me, a breeder judge who spins and knits Shetland wool, is the only Shetland judge I would ever "listen" to. No others. As the saying goes, "Honey catches more flies", so that is why I breed soft, fine fleece on 1927 breed standard App A sheep. The wool attracts . . and holds . . the hand's attention. Speaking of which, now back to knitting that corrugated Fair Isle ribbing on my natural colored Shetland sweater . . .

  16. Agreed, extremes of fleece and extremes of size should be avoided. If we're not looking to breed the best SHETLANDS we can, what's the point of keeping this particular breed? Heritage livestock has an important place, and it's not in the show ring with big meat stock.

    NASSA flock 2188


He who angers you, controls you.

And my favorite.......You can't control what others say or do, but you can control your reaction.

Mike and I

Mike and I
Mike and I at Nick and Emily's wedding

Raised beds & chickens coops

Raised beds & chickens coops
Can't wait for this stuff to actually be food....