Thursday, October 9, 2014

Count Your Blessings, and Your Sheep!

Icelandic wether
We have a small flock of sheep that are more pets than anything else. Their crazy antics bring comic relief to stressful days and their fleeces provide me with a hobby. I have been thinking about adding a few more sheep to the flock and for me that is more involved than simply purchasing a few, driving them home, and opening the gate.  Health, breed, disposition, and fiber qualities all play a factor in my selection.

There is more to the definition of animal husbandry than simply "concerned with the production and care of domestic animals." We cannot show interest for a fleeting moment when we purchase an animal and then never again.  Anything in our care must require constant and diligent attention, concern, and maintenance.
Icelandic twin sister of Yerba (Hence YerbaMate)

Unfortunately, that means getting up early and feeding everyone even on a "day off"!   Like the lyrics from the hit song by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson, "Whiskey for my Men, Beer for my Horses! (Well, maybe not the best example!)

A few of my flock are Icelandic, and although I may seek another breed, I wanted to showcase Icelandic sheep today for those who may be interested in their background information.  Much of the information that I am sharing is from an excellent resource book, The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius.
February - weeks away from all that wool coming off!

"Vikings settled Iceland between 870 and 930 CE.  They brought sheep with them and added a few more a short while later.  Since then, it's been illegal to bring in more sheep (to Iceland).  Developed in almost total isolation, the Icelandic breed is one of the world's purest livestock populations..... Although sheep are grown primarily for meat in Iceland, the breed is best known elsewhere for its fleece."

A scarf out of spun Icelandic yarn
is just one of the many things you can do with their wool.

All the Icelandic sheep in North America are descendants of Yeoman Farm in Ontario, Canada.  In 1985, they brought the first Icelandic sheep to our continent followed by another flock in 1990.

Icelandic sheep are double coated, meaning they have an outer and under coat.  The outer coat is called tog and is anywhere from 4-18 inches, 27-31 microns.  The tog's long fibers may be worsted when spinning and may not be so comfortable to wear next to your skin.  Believe it or not, the fiber will feel and handle differently if shorn at different times of the year.  What may not feel nice next to your skin one year, may feel entirely differently with next year's fleece.

Batting for a quilt is an awesome
application of the wool! Ahh, sweet dreams!

The thel, the under coat, is usually 2-4 inches in length, 19-22 microns.  The thel should feel wonderfully soft next to your skin and should be woolen spun.  You don't have to separate the two coats to spin.  I have spun them combined and also separated.  It just depends what you will be using the yarn for that determines how you spin the wool.  The terms tog and thel are applied to all double coated animals, such as llamas, sheep, or others, but originated with Icelandics.

Icelandic sheep come in a wide range of color - White, tan, brown, grey, black, and mixes.  One of the most interesting conversations I have had about sheep, happened last year at the Kentucky Wool Festival while talking with the farm owner of Flat Creek Wool and Pottery .  Her booth was right across from mine and in between customer visits, we talked about sheep color genetics.  I was so fascinated!

Wool can make beautiful decorations for the home.

Leader sheep -
"Within Icelandic flocks, especially intelligent individual sheep play important social and protective roles in the flock, alerting the others to hazards like predators and storms.  Called Icelandic Leadersheep, they are specially identified and bred. In 2000, the Leadersheep Society of Iceland was founded to conserve them."

Whether you choose a sheep, dog, horse, or any other animal, please remember that your selection is a long-term commitment. Don't make a whimsical decision at the expense of a creature that is dependent upon you for food, shelter, nurturing, and safety. That being said, animals bring a special element to our lives and I wish you well in your quest.
If you aren't ready for the commitment,
perhaps a yard ornament would work better (smile).

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