Under The Son Farm

NASSA Flock #1044


Text Box: History of Shetland sheep
Shetland sheep are an ancient Northern European short-tailed sheep that have been around for a thousand years or more.   Most agree that the Soay sheep and Spelsea were part of the main foundation breeds.  
Shetland wool has been famous for centuries.  Early records show that wool was woven into a coarse, fulled cloth called “wadmal” in Shetland  and other Northern European countries in the Middle Ages.  This cloth was used as a form of currency. Later, from the mid-late 1700’s, native Shetland wool had become known for its exceptional fineness and softness.  King George ordered the royal hosier to have stockings made of Shetland wool because of its warmth and softness.  In the 1800’s, all manner of knitted goods were produced on the Shetland Isles made from wool of the native Shetland sheep, many of them being next to the skin soft, such as ladies spencers (basically fine sweaters worn as undershirts).  The famous ring shawl was popular at this time and highly fashionable due to Queen Victoria’s promotion.   The woolen industry, based on the native Shetland breed, was one of the economic pillars of the Shetland Isles, the other being the fishing industry.
Shetland wool has been mill spun from the mid-late 1800’s onward, making it feasible for the women to knit the yarn quickly into garments, such as shawls, scarves, sweaters, and socks, for money and store bartering.  Prior to that, all the wool was hand carded and then hand spun from the rooed wool of the sheep.  By mill spinning the yarn, the Shetland woolen industry quickly became even more important to the Shetland economy as this freed the women of the island to produce more goods in less time.  
The Shetland breed standard came about in 1927 because the native Shetland sheep, with its fine soft fleece, was becoming endangered due to the crossbreeding done with Scottish Blackface, Cheviot, and other breeds to increase the wool yield and carcass weight of the lambs.  The Shetland Flockbook Society (later Trust) was formed and incentives were given to Shetland sheep breeders to use pure Shetland rams on their ewes.  This was done so that the Shetland woolen industry, on which the fine soft wool was based, would not be forever lost to a coarser wool produced from the crossbreds.    
By the 1970’s, efforts were made to preserve Shetland sheep and the various colors and patterns here in North America.  At that time, Shetland sheep breeders in Shetland were paid better money for white and moorit wool, and much less for other colors, and therefore they concentrated mainly on those two colors.  There were thousands of white Shetlands to be found in the Islands, so the breed itself was in no danger of rarity, but many of the other colors and patterns were.  Col. Dailley, who imported Shetlands to Canada, also wanted to preserve the breed in case something happened to the sheep in Shetland.   The imported sheep were selected to conform to the Shetland Flock book breed standard by several SFBT inspectors.  
NASSA, the North American Shetland Sheep Association, was formed to preserve and protect the Shetland sheep, “as defined in the Shetland Flock book and adopted by the Rare Breeds Society Trust”.  The RBST has listed the Shetland Sheep Society as the breed society of today.  The SSS is located in Scotland and England and that organization works in concert with the Shetland breeders on Shetland.  The SSS has produced the Appendix A to the Shetland breed standard, under the direction of the Shetland sheep breeders of Shetland, for better clarification of the standard.  NASSA members benefit by having the coordination of the SSS with NASSA and have Appendix A as part of NASSA Shetland Judge’s packet.  This aligns all three organizations together for the benefit and preservation of the true Shetland sheep.
That, in a very brief nutshell, is the history of Shetland sheep.  Preservation of this colorful, fine wooled sheep for future generation’s enjoyment is our goal here at Under The Son Farm.

She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. Proverbs 31:13

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