Shetland sheep are a small, heritage breed that originated in the Shetland Isles above Scotland. A heritage breed is a breed that has been largely unimproved and retains some primitive characteristics: such as type of hair called scatter. Vikings would leave sheep behind, on their conquests around Europe, as food sources. So, the populations of viking sheep were left to their own devices and adapted to their new environment. Eventually, the Scottish people began to farm these individuals. But they managed the breed loosely, only pulling them in for shearing and culling. As such, the shetland breed remains primitive and a beautiful example of the Northern European Short Tailed Sheep group.
The breed is host to seven color variants: whites, creams, fawns, browns, grays, and blacks. Similarly, they are host to a huge variety of patterns. The ewe featured to the right, like many other individuals on the farm, is gulmoget (commonly called badger face in non-shetland breeds). This pattern is found in many primitive breeds and species. For example, soay sheep, mouflon sheep, and vicunas (wild relative to alpacas). Other patterns can include spots, gradiants of color, the inverse of gulmoget (katmoget: dark bellies with lighter faces), etc.
The breed was first introduced to the United States in 1987 from the Dailey flock in Ontario, Canada. Maple Ridge Farm in Vermont became the first of many in the U.S to raise this unique breed and ultimately fueled their spread across the country. We were honored to breed with a Maple Ridge ram for several years. We strive to maintain the shetland breed, the variation within the breed, and the genetics behind its heritage status.
You might chose them for their allure to handspinners, their flavorful meat, or their charming personality. We love them for all three reasons.
Shetland sheep are easy to care for, if you know the basics. Like any livestock, the require trips out on cold winter days, shoveling paths for them to walk, cracking buckets of ice with your raw hands, and keeping them watered on hot summer days. It should also be mentioned, that on these days when mother nature seems to have forgotten us, we can be reminded of her love by the chomping of hay and the pitter pattering of little hooves.
Shetlands, if there is enough space, can be fed mostly on grass through the summer and hay during the winter. We do chose to grain our sheep to supplement our pastures and keep them in shape for showing and breeding. They eat much less grain that larger breeds and it is also an excellent tool for pulling them in for the evening. We keep between 15-20 sheep on a one acre pasture. Until recently, they shared this space with a horse, and without the extra grazer there was plenty of grass to go around this past year.
Sheep need a three sided structure to protect them from the elements. We chose to close ours in because of coyotes and other predators, and would recommend it, but it is not necessary. We use horse fencing with electrical wire strung along, in two or three rows, along the bottom. The electric keeps the sheep in and the neighborhood dogs out. Some people use electrical netting, but after having one two many sheep get tangled in it, and knowing others who have lost sheep in the netting, we choose not to use it.
For even more information, you can check out the blog written on our farm by a good friend of ours! https://ouroneacrefarm.com/raising-shetland-sheep-guide-to-starting-a-flock/
We have lambs for sale every year. Occasionally, we sell older ewes and yearlings. Keep checking out our 'For Sale' page for updates on what's available!