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Year of the Sheep – Shetland

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This year’s Shetland
Wool Week
is September 26- October 4, 2015. This event is in its 6th
year and it is a celebration of Shetland Sheep, their wool and their economic
importance to the Shetland Islands.
Ashland Bay is also celebrating Shetland Sheep and their wool as the next
Sheep breed in the Year of the Sheep campaign.
We have made a special purchase of a charming book Real Shetland Yarns. This is a collection of short stories written
by individuals about their traditions and experience living and working in the
Shetland Islands. This book is available for purchase while supplies last.

History

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The
Shetland Islands are a chain of islands in the northern most part of Scotland.
They have been described as glacier scourged, windswept barren land. Yet, these
islands have been home to the Shetland Sheep for over a thousand years.  Shetland Sheep are thought to have been
brought to Scotland by the Viking settlers. The remote location of these
islands has played an important role in the preservation of the ancestral
population of Shetland Sheep. Prior to 1746, these sheep were found in the
Highlands and the islands of Scotland. After the battle of Culloden in 1746,
the English army dispersed the Jacobite rebels and the crofters and their sheep
disappeared. Small farming (crofting) was replaced by larger farming practices
using English Blackface sheep. Only on the extreme north islands did the
Shetland sheep continue and survive.

Distinguishing
Characteristics

The
Shetland Sheep belong to the Northern European Short Tail Family. These sheep
are considered to be a primitive breed, a primitive breed being one that has developed with minimal human interference. Shetland sheep have
been described as a hardy breed that survives in the harshest conditions but
thrives in more hospitable environments. Shetland Sheep are the smallest of the
British breeds. They average between 75-125 lbs. the rams usually have spiral
horns and the ewes are polled (no horns).  

Fleece Facts

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Shetland sheep have the
distinction of having the widest range of natural colors of any other
breed.  There are 11 main colors and 30
color pattern markings. The Shetland Sheep Society has a great chart of all the colors and marking.
Crofters have traditionally received higher prices for white wool and they
adjusted their breeding programs accordingly. The demand for white wool had put
the natural colors at risk. One of the goals of the Shetland Week Program is to
promote the variety of natural colors and preserve them in the gene pool,
keeping the tradition alive.

Not only does Shetland wool
come in the largest number of natural colors, it also has the widest variety of
wool qualities. The micron count ranges between 20 – 30. There are  2 or 3 (depending on the source) recognized
fleece types for Shetland Wool; Kindly-which is the finer single coated fleece,
Beaver-a double coat with more hair than down and according to the North
American Shetland Breeders Association a
Long and Wavy –Medium staple length and medium crimp, most often seen
fleece type.

Throughout the history of the
Shetland Islands, the people made their living through fishing, crofting and
knitting. The Sheep, their wool and the products made from the are rich in
tradition having been handed down from generation to generation. Ashland Bay’s
Shetland wool tops are certified wool from the Shetland Islands. The wool comes
from 700 individual farms on the islands. The mill that proceses this
wool,  have purchasing  contracts with the crofters to insure the
tradition continues. 

Ashland Bay’s Shetland Moorit, Grey Shetland, Brown/Black Shetland, Ecru Shetland and Fawn Shetland will be on sale from September 28 – October 12. To download the Shetland Sheep card, click here.

Ashland Bay’s Shetland colors