When I was researching sheep for my farm over 7 years ago, I knew I wanted a heritage breed. I referenced the American Livestock Conservancy website - https://www.livestockconservancy.org/ - and contacted numerous shepherds with questions. I needed an animal that did well on rough pasture, as our farm has very acidic soil and unimproved pasture with rugged native grasses. It had not been touched in years and the soil test results meant we had lots of work to do if we wanted to keep any high needs livestock. I had no housing infrastructure, so I needed a hardy breed that could be out in the weather comfortably, with minimal sun and wind protection. I wanted a breed known for great mothering skills who could birth without health issues. And I needed a breed known for its docile behavior that was easy for a beginner shepherd. I grew up on a farm and had been around sheep all my life, but hadn’t yet been in charge of caring for my very own.
The Shetland breed was intriguing – hardy, docile, browsers rather than true grazers (they’ll eat brush and shrubs, rather than strictly wanting only grasses), and the high quality wool comes in a myriad of gorgeous colors! I found a breeder who was less than 2 hours away. I went to visit and was happy with the small farm and well-cared-for animals. I sat down in the barn and a sweet little black lamb with white spots came up to me, then promptly fell asleep in my lap while I petted her. Of course I had to have her! And I chose a lovely brown (known in the Shetland color world as moorit) girl to be her buddy, since sheep are herd animals and will get rather depressed when kept alone.
Faerlie, whose Shetland name means “rare occurrence,” is just that. She has stayed remarkably tame and acts more like a dog than a sheep. She is the queen of the pasture and keeps everyone in their place. If I sit still too long, she nibbles my zippers or ends of my coat with relish. Sheep have no upper teeth in the front, so she does no harm. It’s pure play and curiosity. Bonnie Jean is rather shy, but will be very loving if given time to warm up and get comfortable. Her tail wags constantly while she’s being petted – preferably on her chest. These two girls have taught me so much about farming over the last 7 years. I never bred them, so they have stayed very spoiled pets. As for doing well on rough pasture, well, Shetlands are indeed easy keepers. They get fatter ever year.
Once I had the sheep, I suddenly had lots of lovely wool! So I taught myself to spin and the rest, as they say, is history.