Cunnington Farms never had a plan to include Shetland sheep in my spinners flock, but as a result of one of my sheep "rescues" I acquired a number of Shetland sheep of excellent breeding. The majority of them subsequently were sold to buyers that intended to have Sheltands. But, I kept a few as their fleece was so lovely and they are excellent breeders and mothers.
Shetland sheep come from the Shetland Islands in Scotland having been introduced to the Islands by early Viking settlers in the 8th and 9th centuries. A North European Short Tailed type, the Shetland is related to the Icelandic, Finnsheep and Romanov breeds. The Shetland survived the harsh conditions and meager forage of the isolated islands. Now, one of the world's oldest and purest breeds, the Shetland has changed very little over the centuries.
This calm, docile sheep is one of the smallest of the British breeds with rams weighing 90-125 pounds and ewes about 75-100 pounds. They are an agile breed, adaptable and easy to lamb and interact well with people. Rams have large spiral horns and they ewes are polled. Shetlands are small and fine-boned with a fluke-shaped tail that does not require docking.
The Shetland sheep started the world-renowned Shetland wool industry having one of the softest and finest wools of any British breed. The Shetland has the widest range of colors comes in a wide variety of 30 different markings and 11 colors, including White, Shades of Grays, Black, Shades of Browns and Fawn. Many of these colors and markings are becoming extremely rare as the white wool is preferred by the commercial mills. To add to their variety, there are three fleece types, Single-Coated, Long & Wavy and Double Coated.
Traditionally, the crofters used a single Shetland fleece for many different purposes; the finest, crimped neck wool for fine lace shawls and hosiery; the fine, crimpy shoulder wool for baby clothes and underclothes; the soft midsection for sweaters and tweeds; and the britch wool for socks. Until recently, the breed has remained true to the original 'unimproved' trait of not having a uniform fleece from head to tail, and in that way, supplied all the wool needs of the crofter. Recently, efforts are being made to make the Shetland a more commercially viable breed with a more uniform overall soft and crimpy, medium length fleece.
The Shetland Flock Book Society of Shetland was started in 1927 and developed breeding standards to conserve the true breed. These standards were later adopted by the Shetland Sheep Breeders Group in Great Britain and the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders' Association. In Scotland the number of registered sheep had declined dramatically and were considered a rare breed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST). Over the last 10 years their numbers have been increasing and they are now classed as a minority breed. They are listed on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Priority List, classified as Recovering.
A small number of Shetlands were imported to Canada in 1948, then in 1980 a small flock of 28 ewes and 4 rams and were required to spend their life in quarantine on the Dailley farm. After a 5 year quarantine, their lambs could be sold and the Shetlands gradually arrived in the United States.