A New Shepherdess
Over summer this year, I received a lovely message from Jess, who goes to a local school here in Lancaster. Jess explained that she recently started her own flock of Shetland sheep with her own money, to live along side her grandads Longhorn cattle. Would I be interested in the fleeces? Whenever I'm offered fleeces my immediate reaction is 'yes yes yes I'll have it all!' Then my mind runs through the virtual checklist; minimum quantities needed for spinning, quality of the fleece, mill waiting times, not having any storage space for fleeces OR any room for the actual finished yarn. However, I had a good feeling about this, I knew I had a mill space later this year booked already (sadly fleece I had plans for couldn't be used this year) and although Jess had a small flock I was thinking I could blend to get the quantity up. Jess is just 15, I absolutely loved that she was beginning her journey in shepherding and was already thinking how to make use of the beautiful Shetland fleeces. I really wanted to meet her and the lovely sheep to see if we could make this work.
We met at Jess's grandad's (Steve) house - the garage was covered in rosettes from his prize winning Longhorn cattle, that Jess had shown with him from being a wee nipper! You could tell how proud Steve is of Jess - who clearly has a natural way with animals and is at 15 has so much direction and confidence. As Jess showed me the fresh crop harvest of dark fleece, she told me she recognised the value and didn't want it to go to waste. The fleeces were gorgeous - soft and such a fine crimp, I was happy to take them all and pay double the wool board price, which Jess was happy with.
And then we met the flock! It was a beautiful summer evening but I had made a rooky error of wearing sandals - knowing I was visiting a farm. Which probably would have been fine except Stripe the tup was really interested in my toes!
The sheep were so friendly, and with an obvious affection for each other Andy and Stripe bonded immediately! It was actually very moving and every time I looked around he was taking selfies of them together! Here are just a few....
Don't they look happy?
Steve then took us to meet his Longhorn cattle - wow they're big and those horns!
**I'm a bit scaredy with cows, I had a situation last year in Wales, trying to negotiate my way across a field with cows and their calves, being ridiculous and skirting around the edges then walking at speed back to the gate. After half an hour of doing this I managed to tag onto some men (they were drinking special brew, it was 11am and I admired their - possibly alcohol laden - confidence and no nonsense approach) and hung on to their coat tails to make the crossing! The cows did bloody run at us (they could sense fear I'm sure and understandably were protecting their young) but we made it to the other side - and I swore never to walk through a field of cows ever again! I have to note here that it was a public path with arrows pointing through the field and no signs saying don't go in! Farmers what is the right thing to do here?**
Anyway I digress, my husband, AKA Dr. Doolittle, went in and made friends with Steve's long horns, totally at one with the animals while I stayed behind the fence with Boo, Belle, Bambi and Buzz! Karen, Emma and Hannah were keeping their distance and enjoying the late summer sun - I love sheep names!
Fleeces in the boot, Andy made his tearful goodbyes (slightly exaggerating here) and I set about thinking how I was going to make up a batch big enough for a spin, this lot weighed 15 kilos so I had a way to go even for a small run. I love blends - but this felt special and was telling me it wanted to be pure Shetland. Right. I'll just wait and see what the world will give me......and then I met Dianne! Dianne had come to the shop for some wool and we got talking, she was after some Shetland yarn for a new baby to make a blanket - she kept Shetland sheep and did a bit of spinning but didn't have enough ready to knit with. Ooh hello! Before long I had put my name down for all the fleeces from Dianne's small flock of Shetland too - different colours this time which would lift the shade to a rich chocolate brown.
We haven't managed to arrange a date for me to visit the farm yet (Dianne keeps cattle, sheep, chickens on an large scale and is incredibly busy in the way that non farmers like me just can't understand, work is 24-7). But as I needed the fleeces to take the the mill - we arranged a car park liaison! While I was dropping one of the kids at gymnastics we pulled up next to each other at a wholesale hardware shop car park and made the exchange! I felt like I was doing an undercover deal! Very funny really - I bet people wondered what we were doing. Dianne's fleeces are also beautiful, being a hand spinner she had skirted and picked the best ones for me and it was nice to see the colours I stock in the shop of Jamiesons of Shetland; mogit, moorit, mooskit - in the flesh/fleece!
So I have my fleeces and a run ready to go to Halifax Spinning Mill next month. It will be woolen spun and I'm pretty sure - a 4 ply. I haven't had a limited batch of yarn for a while, I'm really excited to see it and show you! A two-farm yarn from two amazing women who love Shetland sheep! You can read more about the history of the breed here on the Shetland Sheep Society's website - that's all from me for now!