Purebred Shetland sheep are small, fine-boned and agile. Most ewes weigh between 75 and 100 pounds and rams 90 to 125 pounds. Ewes are usually are hornless, and the rams generally have beautiful spiral horns. Their tails are short and fluke shaped and do not require docking, and thus not as susceptible to fly strike as other breeds. Ewes tend to come into season in October/November, giving birth the following spring. First-time lambers often produce a single lamb, but twins are common thereafter. Triplets are not as common, but can occur.
Their calm, friendly and amenable temperament makes them easy to manage and ours all come to call (and tend to charge up the field if they hear the rattle of nuts in a bucket!). They are very personable and often wag their tails – especially when being stroked or scratched under their chins. Most rams are safe and sometimes friendlier than ewes (although rams should always be treated with respect, especially during breeding season). Their lean meat is tasty, tender and naturally low in saturated fat. However, it is their beautiful fine wool in a myriad of natural colours that made the Shetland woolen industry world-renowned.
Shetland sheep have for generations been noted for their very soft and well crimped fleece and can show almost all possible sheep colours and patterns and many have Shetland dialect names. Eleven main colours are recognised (most including many different shades): light grey, grey, white, emsket (dusky bluish-grey), musket (light greyish-brown), shaela (dark steely-grey), black, fawn, moorit (reddish brown), mioget (honey-toned, yellowish-brown), dark brown.
Over thirty different coat patterns are recognised within the Shetland Sheep Society and many of them occur in combination. They include katmoget (“badgerface”: dark belly and dark shading around nose and eyes, lighter elsewhere), gulmoget (the reverse with a light belly, dark face with light marks around eyes, dark elsewhere), yuglet (generally light with dark “panda” patches around eyes), bleset (dark with white blaze down face), smirslet (white marking around muzzle), sokket (with white socks on legs), bersugget (irregular patches of different colours) and bielset (with a collar of a differing colour).
Shetland wool fibres are of a simple construction with a central cortex covered by a thin scaly cuticle, and have an average diameter of about 23 microns. However there is a range from 10 to 20 microns for neck and shoulder wool to 25 to 35 microns for britch wool. The average staple length is 3.5 inches.
The amount of crimp varies, and is important in providing the ‘bounce’ required for knitwear. There is a positive correlation between fineness and crimp, with wool of the finest quality being crimped at between 8 and 12 to the inch.
Wool from Shetland sheep is used to produce gossamer lace, the famous ‘Fair isle’ knitwear, and fine tweeds.
At Corylus, we have a wide variety of colours and markings, and breed for good confirmation and fleece quality.