The thirteenth LearnAlong, hosted by Adrian and Moira of Ginger Dell farm on June 29, was all about Shetland sheep. Even before actual instruction began we observed the flock of three ewes and six lambs evading the attempt of the not-yet-trained sheepdog to round them up for inspection, so we already knew that Shetlands are among the most goatlike of sheep—nimble and agile as well as being hardy. Shetland sheep come in a variety of natural colours.
This farm began with three ewes. The first spring they produced six lambs, all rams, that then became lamb chops. This year, using a different ram, they again produced six lambs, but this time two of them were ewes, with first sign of an interesting colour variation.
Shetland fleece can be either single or double-coated. If double-coated, the outer guard hairs are usually easy to find and remove. The staple is long, fine, and strong, well-suited for long-draw spinning, which Andrew Jackson demonstrated using a drop spindle. Shetland fibre should be spun woollen and quite softly. The fibre from the neck is the finest and best for next-to-the-skin items; fibre from the back and belly is good for outer garments; and fibre from the leg will make rugs that will last a lifetime.
Moira asked how end users wanted their fleece to be packaged and labelled, and was told that there are two customary formats: small producers can sell each fleece as a separate package, while larger producers with larger flocks will sell bags of fibre from specific areas (neck, back and belly, leg) of several fleeces.
Finally there was a demonstration of using the electric drum carder to quickly and efficiently turn a fleece into a batt ready for spinning.
Much thanks to Moira and Adrian for their generous hospitality.
Text and images by Joan Fletcher.