Subjective Analysis of a Primitive Staple

Here is a sample of wool that I pulled from Rita Hayworth’s ram lamb this morning. He’s pure Dailley, sired by Shady Oaks Wylie.

The crimp character, as shown here, is not the deeply set “z” crimps, but rather more minute helical style like the inner coats of other large herbivores; like camelids, cervids, antelope, cashmere goats, musk oxen and yaks to name a few.

These “wild” fibers are valued for their loft and insulative properties, but also their creamy, next-to-skin handle. This is a characteristic possessed by the older bloodlines of Shetland sheep in the United States and Canada- directly corresponding to their grannies of by-gone on the Islands. The last forty or so years have produced fringe types, that through selective breeding in mainland Britain and North America, we are seeing the results as extremes in phenotypic diversity. I will right now emphasize the subjectivity of our observation here, because that is the sum toolchest that the crofters of the past had at their disposal. Histograms from objective fiber diameter analysis (or “micron reports” in a slang term that makes my blood curdle) is a great tool we have at our disposal now, but this objectivity has produced something of a mad cult, where breeders are selecting solely or almost exclusively on fiber diameter, and not for performance on the hill, or milk production, lamb growth, hardiness, etc. Some may take offense to this, but the fact is that most Shetland sheep, outside of Shetland, are removed from the hill. We see them produced for show or well-meant preservation, bred for patterns or colors, grazed on developed pastures, fed grains, kept in barns… Important characteristics are lost, regardless. Any of us who keep these sheep outside of the Islands- whether we admit it or not- are changing the breed. We can limit those changes though, and that largely depends on how radically we interpret the breed standard.

These extreme fringe types (and I do fully exply the plurality of “types”) while not representative of their hill ancestors on Shetland, have intrinsic value to the producers who utilize these types of ewes in their management programs. And while I’m calling this spade a spade, I am not devaluing any sub-types of the breed that have emerged.

And all that is certainly not the point of this post. We are subjectively analyzing a lock of wool from a moorit ram lamb in Colorado.

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Here is the intact lock, showing the distinction between the two fiber types. You can see that this is not the type of wool that one fringe would have you believe is of Blackface type carpet wool, or even the tweed fancying fiber types that the descendants of the old Dunface produce. It is distinctly and uniquely Shetland, as represented by the Dailley stock in North America.

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This photo allows an examination of crimp style and character, but also diameter of the secondary fibers. (This guy also has a banded fleece- which is fairly common in my moorits and blacks.) The crimp is consistent from tip to blunt, which is a very desirable quality in this type of fibers. We’re looking at an estimated average fiber diameter of around 19 microns. Loft, because of the helical nature of the crimp, is very full and highly insulative. The handle is very creamy. Because the crimp isn’t so deeply cut, this type of wool is elastic, but not stretchy. In short, this is a fiber type highly suitable for fine laces and hosiery that drape gently, hold shape and wear comfortably.

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The outer coat consists of all true wool fibers, no medullation, and looks of average around 26 or 27 microns. All in all, not a bad by-product.

-Jared

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