HISTORY & CHARACTERISTICS
Shetlands are a minor, British breed belonging to the northern European short-tailed group. It is believed they are of Scandinavian origin and that Vikings may have brought them to the Shetland Islands of Scotland over 1000 years ago. There they may have bred with the primitive Soay sheep that existed on Shetland at that time. For years the sheep evolved in relative isolation in the harsh habitat of these Islands. Shetland sheep have a rich history of natural and/or human selection (more information can be found by reading 'The Sheep of Shetland A Historical Perspective found at http://www.shetland-sheep.org. Present day Shetlands still retain many of their primitive or "unimproved" characteristics—small, hardy, agile, long-lived, easy lambing with strong maternal instincts.
Purebred sheep are small, fine-boned and agile. Most ewes weigh between 75 and 100 pounds and rams 90 to 125 pounds. Ewes usually are hornless, and the rams generally have beautiful spiral horns. Their tails are short and fluke shaped and do not require docking. Shetlands tend to be late fall breeders. First-time lambers usually produce a single lamb, but twins are common among older ewes. Their calm, friendly temperament makes them easy to manage. They are very personable and often wag their tails. Most rams are safe and sometimes friendlier than ewes (although rams should always be treated with respect, especially during breeding season). Their lean meat is tasty and low fat. However, it is their beautiful fine wool in a rainbow of natural colors that made the Shetland woolen industry world-renowned.
In 1927 the Shetland Flock Book Society of Shetland was formed to protect the purebred Shetland sheep from the influence of crossbreeding, and the Society developed a breed standard for registration. This same standard was later adopted by the Shetland Sheep Breeders Group in Great Britain and again by the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders' Association.
Three moorit-colored ewes and one ram were imported into Canada in 1948 (the Flett importation). The main import of Shetlands into North America occurred in 1980 when a small flock of 28 ewes and 4 rams was imported from the Shetland Islands to Canada (the Dailley importation). These sheep were required to spend their life quarantined on the Dailley farm. In 1986, offspring could be sold after a five-year quarantine period; and Shetlands began to make their way into the United States.
For more information on Shetlands, contact these organizations.
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