A Brief History of the Shetland Sheep Breed
Shetland Sheep come from the Shetland Isles which lie in the harsh North Atlantic of Scotland. It is speculated that these sheep were spread throughout the region by the Vikings from Denmark.
Shetland Sheep are known for their extremely fine fleece. Their fleece is so fine that a traditional wedding gift in the Shetland Isles is a shawl so delicate that it can be drawn through a wedding ring. Truth tell, we have seen these shawls. Amazing!
They are the smallest of all domesticated sheep, but with their wonderfully excessive fleece, they look like "little walking pillows." When shorn, They resemble furless cats.
Shetland Sheep Characteristics
They are known for their hardy and thrifty constitutions; some are known to live successfully on islands which provide their only food, kelp. It is not characteristic of females to have horns. The tails of these Nordic breeds do not need to have their tails "docked" (cut off) as is customarily done to other breeds of sheep. They are considered a "primitive" sheep, which means they are good natural mothers, rarely needing assistance. They are exceedingly hardy and not infrequently they winter in the snow, despite having run-in (three sided) barns available. In Scotland in the spring, the ewes lamb on the snow on the Shetland sheep farms.
Shetland Sheep Farms in the United States
Shetlands were almost extinct in the 1960’s due to the Industrial Revolution, which produced man made and very dyeable fabric, resulting in no need for colored wools. Despite having the most variety of colors to their wool (11 basic colors) they fell out of favor due to modern technology and fashion trends calling for the dyeing of fabrics and brighter colors. The lack of markets led to their no longer being raised on Scottish crofts (small island farms). Fortunately, some conservationists in the British Isles felt it would be a terrible loss if these little animals no longer existed. In the 1960’s registries of Shetland sheep were set up in the UK. In the early 1980's, flocks were imported to North America by Col. Dailley. In 1986, the first Shetlands were brought into the United States, by Vermonters, Linda and Tut Doane. It should be noted that Col. Dailley thought the animals were very wild. The Doanes surprised him when he made an inspection at their Shetland sheep farm here in Vermont, as the Shetlands were more than willing to come when called by Mrs. Doane.