SHETLAND SHEEP and GUARDIAN DOGS
The roots of the Shetland Sheep go back over a thousand years, probably to sheep brought to the Shetland Islands by Viking settlers. Although Shetlands are small and relatively slow growing, they maintain natural hardiness, thriftiness, easy lambing, adaptability and longevity. Shetlands survived for centuries under harsh conditions and on a meager diet. Having retained many of their primitive survival instincts, they are easy to care for and perfect for our needs.
Our sheep have three main jobs on the homestead. First and foremost they are here to perform fire mitigation by keeping the grasses and brush under control. The West is known for its cycles of drought, fire and flood and we are definitely moving into another drought cycle. In the 25+ years we have lived in this high elevation valley the mountain range that defines the valley’s western border has had four forest fires. Three of those fires, in 1993, 2011 and 2016, came knocking on our door.
For now our sheep will be grazing in the areas where we don’t want cattle – around the house, in close up pasture areas, along roadways, and in riparian zones. By rotating through these areas their impacts are limited to light grazing, minimal soil disturbance, and natural fertilizing helping us to build healthy soils. Grazing, light soil disturbance and manure pellets are the keys to recycling nutrients back into the soil to feed the microorganisms that nourish the soil and feed the plants.
And their third job – well that’s the beautiful wool they produce which when spun into yarn will feed my desire to be creative. For years I’ve wanted to learn to weave. Now I have the wool makers.
We wouldn't have sheep if we didn't have our two amazing livestock guardian dogs, Yeti (a Maremma) and Rose (a Karakachan). Both breeds have been developed over a thousand years or more to protect sheep from large predators like wolves, mountain lions, and bears. I'm still in awe of these two dogs who live with the sheep 24/7. Though they out-weigh the sheep they are completely submissive to them yet fearless to any threats.
Shetland Sheep have some of the finest and softest wool in the sheep world. The classic "Wedding Shawl" from the Shetland Islands is made from the neck wool and can be drawn through a wedding ring!