Shetland Sheep
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About Shetland SheepAbout Shetland Sheep



Shetland Sheep are one of the smallest of the British sheep.rnThe ewes are usually hornless, and the rams have nicely-rounded horns, not toornheavy, nor too close together. Their head is well carried, their face is ofrnmedium length with a straight nose and bright eyes, the back is straight and ofrnmedium length.

rnrnThey originated in the Shetland Isles, but is they are nowrnkept in many other parts of the world. They are part of the Northern Europeanrnshort-tailed sheep group. Shetlands are classified as a landrace orrn"unimproved" breed. They are kept for their very fine wool, for meat,rnand for conservation grazing.

Although Shetlands are small and slow-growing compared torncommercial breeds, they are hardy, thrifty, easy lambers, adaptable andrnlong-lived. They have survived for centuries in difficult conditions and on arnpoor diet, but they thrive in better conditions. They retain many of theirrnprimitive survival instincts, so they are easier to care for than many modernrnbreeds.

rnrnUp to the Iron Age, the sheep of the British Isles and otherrnparts of northern and western Europe were small, short-tailed, horned only inrnthe male and variable in color. Short-tailed sheep were gradually displaced byrnlong-tailed types, leaving short-tailed sheep restricted to the less accessiblernareas.These included the Scottish Dunface, which until the late eighteenthrncentury was the main sheep type throughout the Highlands and Islands ofrnScotland, including Orkney and Shetland.The Dunface died out on the mainland,rnScotland, in the late nineteenth century, leaving its descendants limited to arnfew islands, including the Shetlands. The Shetland type of the Dunface has beenrnregarded as a distinct breed since the early nineteenth century or before.

By the early twentieth century, Shetland sheep were perceivedrnas threatened by cross-breeding, leading to a decline in wool quality. Torncombat this, the Shetland Flock Book Society was formed in 1927, and thisrnremains the body responsible for the sheep's protection on their nativernislands.

By the time the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was set up in thern1970s, the Shetland had become rare, and they were listed by them asrnEndangered. Since then, they have become popular with smallholders, they have arnpopulation of over 3000 in the UK.

rnrnThe US President Thomas Jefferson for several years owned arnShetland Ram. Unlike modern Shetlands (but like some related breeds) this ramrnhad four horns. He was kept with about 40 other sheep on President's Square inrnfront of the White House. In the spring of 1808, it attacked several people whornhad taken shortcuts across the square, injuring some and actually killing arnsmall boy. Having been moved to Jefferson's private estate at Monticello, thernram was eventually killed after having killed several other rams: it wasrndescribed by Jefferson as "this abominable animal". Such aggressivernShetland rams, however, are unusual. In North America, the original Jeffersonrnflock of Shetlands did not persist.

rnrnOther importations were made at the beginning of therntwentieth century most notably to Mrs. W.W. Burch of Coopersville, MI (wife ofrnthe Editor of the American Sheep Breeder at the time), and Mr. L.V. Harkness ofrnthe Walnut Hall (the same of Standardbred Horse fame). There is record of thesernflocks surviving until 1916, and also record of another flock in Illinois inrn1917. By 1921, it was recorded that Shetlands could not be bought in the U.S.rn(The Sheep Breeder, 1921). It was not until the mid-twentieth century thatrnShetlands were imported into Canada, and then from Canada into the United Statesrnin the 1980s. Since then, a North American Shetland Sheep Registry has beenrnestablished, and there are now thousands of them in the US and Canada.

rnrnIn November 2011, Shetland wool produced in the Shetlandsrngained protected geographical status with a protected designation of originrn(PDO) classification as "Native Shetland Wool". It was the firstrnnon-food product in the UK to receive this status.rnrn 

Shetlands appear in a wide variety of colors and patterns althoughrnsolid white and solid moorit (reddish-brown) or black are most common. Many ofrnthe colors and patterns have Shetland dialect names – these derive from thernNorn language formerly spoken in Shetland, and similar names are also used inrnat least one other Nordic language: Icelandic. Eleven main colors are recognizedrnby the breed association (most including many different shades): light grey,rngrey, white, emsket (dusky bluish-grey), musket (light greyish-brown), shaelarn(dark steely-grey), black, fawn, moorit (reddish brown), mioget (honey-toned,rnyellowish-brown), and dark brown.rnrn 

rnrnThirty different coat patterns and markings are recognised,rnmany of which can occur in combination. They include katmogetrn("badgerface": dark belly and dark shading around nose and eyes,rnlighter elsewhere), gulmoget ("mouflon", the reverse of katmoget:rnlight belly, dark face with light marks around eyes, dark elsewhere), yugletrn(generally light with dark "panda" patches around the eyes), blesetrn(dark with white blaze down face), smirslet (white marking around the muzzle),rnsokket (with white socks on the legs), bersugget (irregular patches ofrndifferent colours) and bielset (with a collar of a differing color).rnrn rnrn rnrn 

The wool produced by the Shetland has historically been arnvaluable commodity. Shetlands produce numerous shades of wool colors , and thisrnvariety was commercially important to the wool industry of the Shetland Isles,rnwhere natural wools are often used undyed. Tweed is also produced from therncoarser Shetland wool, but the Isles are best known for their multicoloredrnknitwear (made using Fair Isle knitting) and for the traditional knitted lacernshawls which are so fine, they will pass through a wedding ring. Fleecesrnusually weigh between 2 and 4 lb (0.9 and 1.8 kg).rnrn 

rnrnThe rams weigh approximately 90 to 125 lb (41 to 57 kg) andrnewes about 75 to 100 lb (34 to 45 kg).rnrn 

rnrnLike other "primitive" breeds, the ewes are highlyrnseasonal, becoming fertile in October and November (in the Northern Hemisphere)rnand lambing in spring or summer. On the poor grazing of the breed's nativernisles, the lambing percentage is about 130%. However, when the ewes are onrnbetter pasture, twin lambs are more common, especially from mature ewes.rnShetland ewes are hardy, easy lambers, good mothers and produce ample milk.rnHealthy lambs are born with a weight between 4 and 7 lb (2 and 3 kg).rnrn 

rnrnForage conversion to milk with Shetland ewes is excellent.rnBecause of the Shetland ewe's forage conversion efficiency, lamb growth isrnfast. A good Shetland ewe on adequate forage can wean off 150% of her bodyrnweight in purebred twins by fall. Some ewes wean singles nearly as big asrnthemselves. A heavier Shetland ewe at 80 lbs (36 kg) can wean 60 lb (27 kg)rnpurebred twins. What makes the Shetland ewe an optimal maternal base forrngrassfed lamb production is her prowess in producing hybrid market lambs: takernthe same ewe and breed her to, for example, a Leicester, Texel, Charollais orrnBerrichon ram, and keep her on the same pasture management system. In somernflocks, ewes can wean off pairs of 90 lb (40 kg) twins at only 120-150 daysrnold- each crossbred lamb weighing more than their dam.rnrn 

rnrnShetland lamb is high quality, with positive reviews fromrnchefs and home cooks alike. Texture and flavor are good, with high-yieldingrncarcasses. The mutton also has nice flavor, with some customers and manyrnbreeders preferring mutton over lamb.rnrn 

rnrnLines that have been bred with selection pressure focused onrnuniformity and finer fiber diameter often do not perform as optimally as lambrnproducers, and vice versa. Shetland breeders find it imperative that the breedrnmaintains a balance in its ability to produce both a quality fleece andrncarcass, managed relatively holistically.

Shetland Sheep Associations


Natural Colored Wool Growers Association Natural Colored Wool Growers Association
www.ncwga.org
Since 1977 the purpose of NCWGA has been to assist members in the development and promotion of naturally-colored sheep and their wool. NCWGA can accomplish this by offering a number of services to members. These services include programs to support breeders of colored sheep, to support sheep shows which allow colored sheep, and to support the judges of those shows. 

North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association
www.shetland-sheep.org
The mission of the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association is to preserve, promote, and protect the Shetland breed in its full diversity of colors, patterns, and fleece types.

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