Shetland sheep, while traditional to the Shetland Islands, and bred all over Great Britain, have made their way across the pond to Canada and the United States. They are a favourite breed among sheep farmers, especially smallholders. These sheep are fine-boned, smaller than most breeds, and are known to be easy to manage.
Shetland wool is renowned for its variations in colour, from whites to browns, blacks and grays. Whilst it is easily dyed, the natural colours are beloved by hand-knitters and spinners. Hand-spinners love the texture and ease in the way the fibres are drawn. The fleece is layered with tight coils beneath longer fleece, so the variety in the fleece is unique in wool. This wool has a low itch factor, with only 20 to 30 microns and can be worn next to the skin. The fleece is generally clean when shorn as it has a low lanolin percentage.
Shetland meat is more tender than most lamb because it is not bred for a fast return and grows slower than the lamb you find at the market. The taste is known to be unique, almost sweet, and it has a marbled look, much like beef. If lamb is a favourite, buy this lamb direct from a farmer to be sure you are getting the best quality.
Perfect Sheep for Smallholders
Smallholders might consider keeping Shetland sheep as they have a good nature and are not known to be difficult to work with. Consider 4 to 5 sheep per acre if there is good grassland and pasture for them. These sheep are good conservators as well. Their small feet do not disrupt the natural habitats of native plants and other wildlife, and the sheep do not destroy grass by taste unless they intend to eat it.
Shetland sheep have a lot going for them, whether you keep them for their wool, strictly as conservators, or for their meat. They are an easy choice.