If you have chosen to read this epistle, keep in mind that our history with Shetland sheep is based on our convictions and experiences. Much of it has nothing to do with sheep and is more personal than ovine. Linda was born and grew up in New York City and Tut was born and grew up in suburban New York City, on Long Island. Those were the days when there was still a little open land in New York City and agriculture was king on Long Island, specializing in potatoes. After World War II, everything changed. Open space in New York City was quickly converted to apartment houses and the potato farms that extended as far as the eye could see (which was a long way on FLAT Long Island) were consumed by housing developments. One development alone had 10,000 houses (yes, ten thousand) with many smaller developments and ancillary services such as wider roads, schools, shopping centers, etc., all of which forever changed the area.
By 1963, when we married, agriculture on the western half of Long Island was history. We bought a handyman special cottage and completely remodeled it for our young family. We tried to practice a little agriculture on our 60' x 100' lot with a vegetable garden, but cows, sheep, chickens, bees, etc. were not permitted. We went camping with our two sons because it was fun and cheap. By regularly camping throughout the northeastern corner of the US, we were able to experience the different lifestyle of rural America, up close and personal. Driving home on Sunday evenings after a weekend of camping became an increasingly unpleasant ordeal.
By the mid 70's, we were reaching our limit of tolerance for the suburban rat race and bought our 90 acre escape in Vermont, "just for vacations". It didn't take long before we decided we wanted to make the move permanent. We moved the Independence Day weekend '79 and spent the summer and fall getting "situated". In January 1980, Linda went to a meeting of a local ladies group - the guest speaker was a sheep breeder from town who talked about her sheep and demonstrated spinning wool. With her interest peaked, Linda spent the next two months researching sheep. In April '80, we bought our first sheep, 5 Romneys and a Finn. When she heard we had sheep, Tut's sister, who lived in New Zealand, sent us an Ashford spinning wheel. Well, of course, now that she had sheep and a spinning wheel, Linda had to learn to spin. The addiction developed quickly and by the fall of 1980, Linda was dedicated to the quest for the perfect fleece. She bought roving from many suppliers, especially Silver Crown Farm in New Jersey. She bought Orkney, Black Welsh & Shetland fleece. She bought camel, llama and musk ox fiber. Far and away, the Shetland sheep fleece was the winner - super fine fiber, beautiful hand and wonderful colors.
Where could we buy some Shetland sheep - - - no one knew. The Vermont Sheep breeders Association didn't know of any. The Extension Service had no idea. The American Minor Breed Conservancy (AMBC) didn't know of any either. A call to Barbara Wheeler at the Silver Crown Farm yielded the suggestion of contacting The Rare Breed Survival Trust Limited (RBST) in the U.K. Linda wrote to the RBST and on 1-APR-81, they replied suggesting that we contact G. D. Dailley in Ontario, Canada. Linda wrote to him and he replied by phone. He was surprised that we knew about his Shetlands because they had just arrived at his farm on 1-DEC-80, 4 rams and 27 ewes. There were several letters and phone conversations between us, followed by a visit by us to the Colonel's farm on 22-JUL-81.
The Colonel was like no one we had ever met. His name was Gordon Don D. Dailley but everyone called him the Colonel. When we visited, he was nearing his seventieth birthday and the family was preparing for a huge event to celebrate the occasion. He was a workaholic, totally dedicated to his mission, and he had several missions. We listened in silence as he related some of his experiences to us. As a man who had spent several years in the foreign service, he knew people in high places all over the world and was familiar with the life styles and customs of most countries. He had the theory that "wild" animals, raised in captivity from birth, would have far better success as circus and zoo animals, movie and commercial stars, etc. than animals captured in the wild. In the '50's, he set up a facility in Ontario to which he shipped the wild animals he obtained during his world travels. As the facility grew in success and size, a friend suggested that he open it to the public - that people would pay to see the animals with which he was working. And so was born the African Lion Safari in Cambridge Ontario Canada, open to the public in 1969. Although, on the surface it appeared to be an exciting, clean and well-run theme park, underneath it had a far greater scope. Many of the "wild" animals we see in the movies or on television call African Lion Safari home. The Colonel, his wife Ginny, and their adult children (two sons and a daughter) ran the park; each being responsible for the portion of the operation in which they had a particular interest.
The Colonel became interested in Shetland sheep during the '70's while talking with the then chairman of the RBST, Michael M. Rosenberg. Michael was lamenting that this beautiful breed of sheep was destined for extinction unless something was done soon to preserve them. Shetland sheep had provided a meager income for Shetland Islanders for centuries but the interest in shepherding was dying fast as the North Sea oil fields were being developed. Further, Shetland sheep were frequently being crossed with other breeds to increase the size of the wool clip and the carcass weight. Rosenberg felt that the true Shetland would soon be gone. The RBST was busy establishing sanctuaries in England at parks and private farms. The Colonel was the first one to admit that he didn't know anything about sheep or fleece, however; he could definitely relate to the RBST concerns about losing the breed forever. He suggested that exporting some to Canada (a member of the British Commonwealth) would increase the chances for the long term survival of the breed, especially if some natural disaster struck the UK. There was a reluctance on the part of the RBST to permit this exportation because there were a very limited number of true Shetlands available, letting some leave the country was a concern. The Colonel persevered and was permitted to export a small flock in the late '70's.
With permission granted, the process began. For the selection, the Colonel relied on his own keen eye for quality animals and the expert advice of Michael Rosenberg and Jim Johnson. The Colonel wanted candidates that represented the most "primitive" characteristics of the breed with as little indication of cross breeding as possible. When the selection process was complete, four unrelated rams were chosen (1 white, 2 gray and 1 Moorit later named Pierre, Duncan, Hartland and the Colonel respectively, when they reached Canada) and 28 ewes exemplifying the widest range of colors possible. Michael Rosenberg allowed the Colonel's flock to spend their one-year UK quarantine at his estate. The ewes were bred and Michael kept the lambs in return for maintaining the flock during the quarantine. During this quarantine period, one of the ewes died. Near the end of 1980, the quarantine period was finished and in November 1980, the Colonel flew the entire flock to Canada and trucked them to his farm in Cambridge.
The Colonel and Ginny had been living in the city of Cambridge, Ontario but now they needed a farm for the sheep. He was able to buy a farm adjacent to the African Lion Safari. The farm had a beautiful old stone barn and a solid stone house that needed a lot of work. The sheep were moved into the barn for the winter and restoration work was begun on the house. By the time we visited, the house renovation was well underway.
Our visit with the Colonel and his Shetlands in July 1981 was quite an experience. We were so excited at being close to seeing some real Shetland sheep that we couldn't talk straight. We first went into his office at the park, an average size room with the Colonel behind a large desk. The walls were crowded with certificates of appreciation from a myriad of countries and organizations, pictures of the Colonel in all kinds of wildlife situations, mounted horns and heads of animals unfamiliar to us; we felt insignificant being here to talk about just sheep. The Colonel was very cordial, we talked a while and he took us to his farm.
We went into the pen with the Shetland sheep. The Colonel had other things to do so he suggested that we stay in the pen with the sheep as long as we wanted and that he would be back in an hour or two to see how we were doing. All the sheep were together in one pen made of 4' high woven wire fence, rams, ewes and the spring lambs. They were very spooky always staying as far away as they could. We sat quietly, talking to them the whole time. Gradually they calmed down but never wanted to be really close. When the Colonel returned, he was surprised at how close we were to the flock. He had been treating them like wild animals (as he did all animals) so they reacted accordingly. At lunch, he and Ginny told us much of their history with the Shetlands along with stories of having to leave a small country in a big hurry before they finished their business because of a government coup and other tales of adventure; the kind of thing we had only seen in movies. They both made it clear that they weren't sheep people but they thought this breed should be saved from extinction. They had been told that the Shetlands were very different than other breeds of sheep, and that the wool could not be processed commercially but had to be carded and spun by hand.
With our excitement in overdrive, we knew we had to somehow buy into this program. The Colonel could tell that we were sincere, but more than that, he wanted to deal only with someone who he could trust and who shared the same feeling of concern for the Shetlands' well being. He was very concerned about having people buying a couple of Shetland sheep as a status symbol. Further, he only wanted to sell large groups of sheep, not one or a pair. We understood his concerns and agreed in principle; however we felt small flocks were not a problem as long as the sheep were treated well.
The government rule that sheep had to be in quarantine until the oldest lamb was one or two years old was a bummer. We wanted the sheep NOW. But, that was not to be. The Colonel knew more about all the rules than we will ever know. After some discussion, we worked out a tentative contract. We would buy 10 sheep now at $700 each. Further, we would buy at least four more per year during the quarantine period at the same price. He would provide shelter, feed, vet care (all the sheep had to be checked monthly for Agricultural Canada by the Colonels veterinarian, Cambridge Veterinary Services, while in quarantine) and other ordinary care in exchange for half of the lambs born to our ewes. Anything extraordinary would be handled on a case-by-case basis. We also agreed that all sales requests for Shetland sheep from Canada would be handled by The Colonel and all sales requests from the United States would be handled by us. When we got home, we got the family together, told of our exciting trip and the deal that we struck with the Colonel. Our two teenage sons and Tut's mom were thrilled. We showed them a few poor Polaroid photos and several fleece samples. Then, a reality check. We had moved to the country two years earlier and had spent all the money we received for selling our suburban home to buy the country place, put in a septic system, a driveway, etc. How were we going to finance this initial purchase of ten sheep? Finally, after exploring many ideas with no viable results, Tut's mom told us that she had been putting some money into savings accounts for each of her grandchildren every year since their births. Maybe this would be a good time to reevaluate. The bottom line was that each of our two sons would buy four ewes and Linda and Tut would buy two rams. The four or more sheep to be purchased each year would be bought by Linda and Tut. We worked out a family agreement very similar to our agreement with the Colonel, for how we would deal with ownership, expenses, sales, etc. To this day, our sons are still part owners and reap the rewards for their investment by receiving annual payments based on sales of fleeces and animals that belong to them.
From 1981 until 1986, things went well, specific details were worked out regarding the color and sex choices for the annual purchases. The Colonel and Linda signed a formal agreement in 1982, documenting the verbal agreement we had established the previous July. Also, the one or two year quarantine period stretched to five years as we investigated government regulations further. The Colonel agreed to send us the wool from our sheep each year after shearing and all (if any) of his fleeces that he was not able to sell himself at $3.00 per pound.
We lived up to our part of the bargain and some years bought more than four sheep. The Colonel was more than generous in living up to his end of our agreement, always giving us the benefit of every situation. He sent some hand written letters, and called regularly to be sure we were kept up-to-date. We knew we had better get real smart, real fast when it comes to raising sheep. We had more money tied up in these sheep than we could afford to lose. We had a mixed flock on our farm that was up to two dozen sheep. Based on some of the stories we heard, we figured that we had better find out as much as we could about as many different breeds of sheep as we could by 1986. So we purchased two Lincoln rams, a Corridale, several Montadales, six Rambouillets, a small flock of a couple dozen Churro/Red Karakul/Barbabos Blackbelly crosses, etc. By 1986, we had a large "mixed bag" of sheep numbering 273.
By the spring of 1986, our anticipation had reached the ultimate crescendo; the first lambs were 60 months old and the quarantine was over! We had started making the final plans for importation. Bill Kreusi (author of "Sheep Raisers Manual") visited our farm and made suggestions for a long range breeding scheme to find out what secrets these sheep had locked in their genetics. Having the first Shetland sheep in the United States was an awesome responsibility, more than we realized in 1981, now that the time to bring them home was here. Further, what were the color genetics in sheep all about? There weren't any other breeds of sheep in the US with a range of color even close to that of the Shetlands. What if we crossed colors and messed up the whole color genetic structure? The Colonel built breeding pens out of concrete block, how were we going to handle such fierce animals? Bill suggested we line breed grandfather to granddaughter for four or five generations to see if we had any skeletons hidden in the genetics. We set up additional space in our computer record system to allow for the collection of more data. Further, he suggested that we line breed keeping the colors separated. We had enough sheep to do that, so we chose White, Moorit, Black, Gray and Mioget. We also decided to cross Shetland rams on as many different breeds of our other sheep as we could during the first few breeding seasons, just to find out what the lambs would be like. We still weren't sure what to do about the rams that seemed to like to smash everything.
As the spring of 1986 went on, there seemed to be a red tape explosion. The USDA wanted an additional two months in quarantine, blood tests, etc. By the time we were finished satisfying both governments requirements and the sheep were free to go, it was summer and we were afraid to move the sheep because of the heat. We read about how sensitive sheep are to stress and we heard horror stories about being held up at the border for hours and animals dying in the truck out in the sun. So we slipped the importation date until October.
We were going to bring home 21 rams and 42 ewes plus the 1986 lambs.
We asked our friends in the Vermont Sheep Breeders Association who they would suggest as a trucker for this extraordinary operation. Several suggested Duane Howes, a dairy farmer in Moretown Vermont, not far from our farm. We called Duane and roughly outlined our plan. Duane suggested that he visit and work out the details. He did and we did; had to have a clean driving record, had to have insurance for driving a commercial vehicle into Canada, had to scrub his trailer with a disinfectant, had to have a very flexible schedule. In return, Duane needed us to provide all the maps, travel directions, paperwork, lodging, meals, and $2 per loaded mile. This all sounded good; we found our driver.
What about the border crossing gauntlet? What did we need for paperwork; what surprises could we prepare for ahead; what if there were surprises we weren't prepared for and had to go back? Above all, how would each of these impact the sheep? We became so consumed with not screwing up this operation that it was constantly on our minds. We had fallen so much in love with these Shetland sheep even though we had just seen them briefly. We called the Vermont State Veterinarian - no importation permit was required to enter Vermont, just let them know what we actually brought in after they were here. Someone suggested that we needed an Importation Permit to bring the sheep into the US. We went through another chain of phone calls again to determine that, no, we did not need an Importation Permit. How do we make an appointment with the Federal Veterinarian at the border entry point? The Vermont Federal Veterinarian suggested we contact the New York Federal Veterinarian because the port of entry would be in New York at Niagara. The New York Federal Veterinarian said we didn't need an appointment, just show up. That was too easy, he must not understand! We called the USDA in Washington DC, they didn't think we needed an appointment either. Well, let's be sure! We called the Federal Veterinarian at the Niagara crossing and he didn't think we needed an appointment. Based on all that expert advice, we decided we didn't need an appointment.
How do we keep these "killer rams" apart? They didn't seem very aggressive when we saw them in Canada in 1981, but then why would the Colonel go to all the trouble of building concrete block breeding pens? We decided that they probably were not that aggressively destructive but it would be a good idea to keep the rams separated for a while, just in case, especially because it would be getting close to breeding time when they came to our farm. We constructed a huge pen of light wood construction, half for ewes and half for rams. The half for rams was divided into 24 individual pens with a labyrinth of aisle ways for access to each pen for water and feed.
We also decided, to be on the safe side and engage a customs broker. We called C. J. Tower at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge crossing (that is the crossing the Colonel suggested would work best for what we were doing). They said they didn't anticipate any problems and for $51.50, they would take care of all the paperwork. So that base was covered.
As the day came closer, we made sure our veterinarian would be available the day after we arrived at our farm. We wanted him to check the sheep over to see if there were any effects of the trip and to become familiar with Shetland sheep and their characteristics relative to other sheep he had seen. He is a pretty cooperative guy anyway and he was almost as excited as we were because we had been telling him about this adventure for five years.
Finally, the day was here; we had decided that 16-OCT-86 was going to be the day we brought our Shetland sheep "home". So many last minute things to wrap up: make motel reservations in Canada, double check the route, be sure Duane scrubbed out the trailer, check with the Colonel to be sure we could bring the sheep back to his farm (about 1 1/2 hours from the border crossing) if we ran into any kind of trouble at the border, etc. The plan was to meet Duane at an intersection in Warren, Vermont, drive to Canada stopping at the border to verify that the broker was all set, find the Colonel and be sure that all the paperwork with Agricultural Canada was in order and get a good night's sleep. In the morning, we planned to load early and be on the road by 6:00 AM so that we would be the first in line at the border crossing when it was cool, in case of delays. Then drive on to the Federal Veterinarian and to our farm.
The anticipation reached the crescendo stage on 15-OCT-86 @ 4:00 AM when Duane's truck pulled up to the intersection. Tut kissed Linda good bye, jumped into the cab of the truck and the adventure began. The trip to Canada was uneventful. All the maps and route planning worked out well and we never made a wrong turn. We stopped at the broker's office at the border and they were all set. We found the Colonel and looked at the sheep. The government paperwork was complete and government veterinarian check had been done. The Colonel kept all of the RBST registration papers together in a shoe box. He used a round ear tag that he called "hog tags" for identification at birth and he put them in both ears. Some of the sheep had gotten their ear tags caught in the woven wire fence and ripped them out. Many had done this several times and their ears were shredded with very little space left for ear tags. Once both tags had been ripped out, their identity was lost for registration purposes. For replacement tags, the Colonel started using a much larger tag he called "cow tags" (CT) in hopes that, because of their different design, they wouldn't get hooked on the woven wire fence as much. The CT sheep were listed in his records but, of course, even though they were certainly 100% Shetland sheep, their paper trail for registration was gone. This was a rather disconcerting surprise but we were too far along in this project to do much about it.
He hadn't separated our sheep from his sheep yet and the rams were in with the ewes. Tut gulped, wondering what this would do to the 1986 breeding program back on our farm. The Colonel explained that this was no problem because it was too early for the rams to go into rutt. That wouldn't happen for another six weeks or so. He explained that we would separate them as we put them into the trailer in the morning. His veterinarian would be there to give them all a Penicillin shot to reduce the chances of shipping fever. We chatted a bit with the Colonel and Ginny, found a pizza place for supper and got to bed early. It was hard to sleep and morning came early. Duane and Tut got up and rolling so we were at the Colonel's farm by 5:00 AM. The veterinarian showed up and we started loading. It is not easy to read ear tag numbers on a bunch of nervous sheep in the dark. But we got the job done and left the Colonel's farm just after 6:00 AM. After loading the 63 adult Shetlands, we couldnt fit the lambs into the trailer; we would have to come back next year for them.
When we arrived at the border, there was very little traffic. The broker had the paperwork all ready. The Customs office was empty but somehow it took half an hour to say, "you're all set". They had to check to see if importing sheep in full fleece meant you were importing sheep and wool because the rules were different. Somehow the confusion was solved and we were on our way to find the Federal Veterinarian.
It was easy; you couldn't miss the sign. The place was empty when we drove in. That was good, we wouldn't have to wait very long. We went into the office and gave our paperwork to the Federal Veterinarian, Dr. Farouk Hashme. He reviewed the paperwork with a very businesslike attitude and then went to look at the sheep. He did a rather close inspection, as close as he could without going into the trailer. He matched ear tags with the paperwork, counted and recounted. He asked about the huge ear tags on some of the sheep. Finally, after satisfying himself that we weren't trying to do anything illegal, he signed the form and we were on our way.
We were shocked, it wasn't even 9:00 AM yet! The trip home was uneventful and we made no wrong turns. We arrived late afternoon, unloaded the sheep into our elaborate holding pen network, paid Duane and the odyssey was complete. Linda and Tut stood and admired these beautiful sheep until it was too dark to see. Our veterinarian visited in the morning and pronounced them to be in great shape. He was quite surprised to see how thin they all were. They certainly had received great care while under the Colonel's control so this must be the way Shetland sheep are supposed to be. He did suggest keeping an eye on their condition however.
Everything went great - - - for a little while. We worked feverishly to get our breeding pens set up and decisions made as to who gets bred to whom. Soon, ear tags started coming out, getting caught on all kinds of things. We could see this problem escalating so, after consulting with our veterinarian, we bought 100 microchips, a scanner and the installation tool. Our veterinarian installed a microchip in the neck of every Shetland and we continued to maintain the ear tags, replacing them with Temple tags as needed, the microchip was our backup. We selected the neck for a location because it is a fleshy location that could easily be read by the scanner and explained to the slaughterhouse. The sheep's ear is the usual location, but Shetlands have very small ears and some of these Shetlands didn't have much left of their ears.
Then gates between rams started getting smashed. We had made many extra gates because we felt this might happen. Well, in short order we ran out of gates so we reinforced with 2x6 lumber. It became apparent that the rams were smashing gates, not to destroy other rams, but to be in the same pen with their friends. Soon we realized that these rams weren't killers, but very social animals that wanted to be together with other rams and enjoyed lots of human contact. Our breeding pens were finished and we started our 1986 breeding program using sixteen rams in sixteen separate pens. We only bred Shetland ewes to Shetland rams but we did breed several Shetland rams to various domestic ewes, just to prove or disprove some of the stories we had been told. Further, assuming that breeding would take place, we were very interested in what the Shetland cross lambs would look like and how they would mature so that we could answer customer questions based on experience. After breeding, we put all the rams, domestic and Shetland together in one pen for the winter. There was some initial pushing, shoving and grumbling, but soon they became great friends and enjoyed being together.
Sheep aren't dumb and Shetland sheep are particularly clever. For the most part, Shetland rams are lovers, not fighters. But, as with people, they are all individuals with different likes and fears, good days and bad days along with major personality differences. A great illustration of this is the following story. Every morning, we did chores together. Our sons had to leave the house at 6:30 AM to walk the 1 1/4 miles to catch the school bus; we started chores right away. The sheep were closed into buildings at night so spreading hay for ground feeding and pouring water in the morning was easy and quick. Then, when we let the sheep out, they dove right into their breakfast. During this first winter, we would be finished with chores at just about sunrise so we would stand, with one foot up on the fence and watch the sun hit the fresh snow on the mountains across the valley. It reassured us that moving here from suburban New York City had been the right thing to do. On one particular day, we stood together in front of the rams' pen. As we looked, and enjoyed and talked, we noticed a little drama unfolding before us. Andrew, a fawn Shetland ram and the love of the flock because he adored attention, was panting. Another Shetland ram, Adolph, who got his name because he had a bit of an attitude problem, was chasing Andrew all around the pen, weaving in and out around the other rams who were busy eating. Andrew was getting quite winded but Adolph wouldn't stop. Soon the other rams noticed what was going on and tried to push Adolph away or step in his way. The Romney and Lincoln rams weighed 200-300 pounds each but they had learned early on that a 100-pound Shetland was going to win in a head-to-head competition because he had horns and they didn't. Finally, quicker than we can tell the story, Andrew ran into the shed with Adolph in hot pursuit. One of the Lincoln rams ran in right after Andrew, shut the gate and stood on it. Two Romney rams, one white, one black and the best of friends, ran over to the entrance to the shed with one of them standing on each side of the doorway, facing each other. Adolph backed up and charged the gate, planning to smash it to get to Andrew. When Adolph was a few feet from the shed, both Romneys broad sided him at the same time, from opposite sides. Needless to say, Adolph was quite surprised. He backed up and tried it again; the Romneys did it again! Adolph decided maybe he had played this game too long and left to eat some hay in the corner. The Lincoln opened the gate, Andrew meekly came out and the day continued without incident.
We bred in November so the lambs started dropping in April. Wow, what a surprise! First, all the lambs arrived five months from when the rams were put with the ewes here on our farm, not five months from when they were all together in Canada, so the Colonel certainly knew what he was talking about. Second, the Romney cross and Karakul cross ewes bred by the Shetland rams settled and delivered beautiful lambs. Third, the Shetland lambs were very different than we had been used to. When a Romney lamb is born, it is round and fuzzy, all legs and wants to sleep a lot. When a Shetland lamb is born, it is sleek, vivacious and ready to explore the world. Frequently the Romneys needed help delivering but the Shetlands did it all on their own.
Our first shearing was a disaster. We sheared in May, as we usually had. The fleeces were badly matted and they had what we later found out to be shedding breaks. It was heartbreaking to throw out most of our first Shetland clip! Research indicated that the weak spot in the fleece was perfectly normal and occurred in February, for the most part, in our latitude. Our daughter-in-law researched shearing in February which would be before lambing. She found information about some tests done in the UK that indicated shearing 6-8 weeks before lambing of any breed produced stronger lambs, faster growing lambs and fewer lambing problems. All of that fit beautifully into our program so we have been shearing in February ever since. It is frequently a little cool in Vermont during February. We have found that by packing the sheep a little tighter into the sheds at night and increasing their feed substantially for a few weeks, their metabolism rate increases, their wool grows quite fast and they adjust to the weather within a week or two. Lambing does seem to go smoother and the lambs certainly grow well.
The weather stabilized by May and it wasn't too warm so we made all the plans to return to Canada and get the 1986 lambs that we couldn't fit into the trailer during the first trip. There were 21 hoggets, some rams and some ewes, one of which had lambed a couple days before we arrived. The 21-MAY-87 trip back was relatively uneventful. Dr. Farouk Hashme remembered us from last trip so things went quite smoothly at the Federal Veterinarian stop. We unloaded the new sheep and the next morning, there was a second lamb in the shed; we never noticed that one of the ewes was pregnant.
All went well until on 9-MAY-89, we got a call from Ginny that the Colonel had died the week before. He was busy doing what he loved to do and just died on the spot. We all agreed that we wanted to go the same way. Our hearts sunk! We had lost a friend. Ginny made us a VERY generous offer: she wanted to cut down the size of the flock so we could buy all the Shetlands we wanted at half price, pick of the flock. Wow, what a nice thing for her to do, especially at a very difficult time. Our problem was that we were up to our keisters in sheep and very short of cash. We scraped the bottom of our bank account and borrowed some money so we were able to buy 27 more Shetlands. Linda went back to Canada with Duane and on 20-JUL-89, brought the third group of Shetlands to our flock.
Ginny explained that they hadn't been able to sell most of the fleeces they had sheared from 1981 through 1989. The garage was full and if we were willing to take it all she would be very happy that the wool was finally going to be used for something and also she would be able to put her car in the garage. We agreed to take all the fleeces and send the her half of the questimate of $2/pound market price for any of the fleece we could use. They estimated 1300 pounds of Shetland fleece. The customs people had a little trouble finding the place in their rules that said we could bring grease wool into the country without a tariff but finally worked it out. We went through the Colonel's wool and were very disappointed; it was almost all quite matted, over half was full of moths and fly maggots so it had to be thrown away. The remainder was quite dry with only one or two fleeces acceptable as hand spinner fleeces. We took what we could from this lot of wool along with whatever we had not been able to sell of our own wool, because it was too dirty, to the Green Mountain Spinnery where it was made into some nice two ply sport weight yarn; so much for the myth that Shetland yarn couldn't be commercially spun. We took most of that yarn to Peggy Hart in Massachusetts who has several 1920's vintage power looms, and she wove it into 33 coverlets. We occasionally sell a coverlet but they make super wedding presents. Not only are they nice small blankets but they have such a personal story behind them and they are a limited edition.
Unfortunately, with the Colonel, our agreement also died. The Dailley family sold several trailer loads of Shetlands to folks in the States.
As the years went on, we learned more and more about Shetland sheep. We sold some, we culled the ones that weren't top grade, and we finally made the tough decision that we really could only support a flock of Shetlands - - - the crosses and other breeds had to go. Slowly we found homes for all and by February 1994, we were down to just Shetlands. Although we missed the Romneys, the Karakuls, the Lincolns, etc., we have never looked back because the Shetland sheep have been so warm and wonderful to us.
Ten days after the Shetlands set foot on our farm, we received our first phone call from someone who wanted to buy Shetland sheep, referred to us by the Colonel. This guy didn't care what color, how old, what condition as long as they were Shetland sheep. We explained that they had just arrived and we weren't planning to sell any until we understood more about them. He was impatient, however, he had no choice but to wait. He called regularly until we were ready to sell and he bought the cheapest ones on the sale list. There were several folks early on, who did the same thing; they are represented by empty spaces in the lower flock numbers in the NASSA Flock Book. Many of these people were very interested in being the first ones with Shetlands and were quite willing to sell any lambs they raised for as much money as they could get, regardless of the quality of the animal. Fortunately, most of them are no longer involved with the breed; here today - - - gone tomorrow.
There were many wonderful people who went to extraordinary lengths to get some Shetlands to take home and enjoy. We think often about Walt, Esther, Wayne and Lee James from California who followed up on every lead they had to find Shetlands in North America and finally ended up on our farm. They, as we had done, fell in love. Their first ram, Foxie, followed them all around our pasture and Esther just couldn't resist. Wayne and Walt drove east from California to Vermont in their truck after their initial reconnaissance trip. Then they spelled each other driving all the way back home. Sherry Tepper bought five ewes and two rams for her dude ranch in New Mexico. Sherry is a writer of mysteries and science fiction and actively involved in the ALBC. She needed something for a complete break and thought a small flock of Shetlands would be just right. She enjoys them so much and they have become an important part of her life. There are many, many more stories of wonderful people who have become Shetland sheep owners and lovers. As we write this, the flock numbers currently being given out by NASSA are around #700. How many people are receiving the same kind of enjoyment from their sheep as we are? We feel privileged to be part of that experience.
In October 1998, Linda and Peter Glanville and Kath and Stuart Hubbard from Shetland visited our farm. We had a wonderful afternoon together comparing agriculture in Shetland and agriculture in Vermont. Of course we talked about Shetland sheep and they compared our Shetlands with what they had at home. They were quite surprised at how long and soft the Vermont fleeces are and how large and dramatic the rams' horns are. We speculated about the reasons but surely the answer is only known for certain by some higher power. All four of them are lively and fun people; we regret that they live so far away. They have Shetland sheep and are good friends with Benji Hunter, the owner of the flock from which the Colonel's Shetland sheep were chosen. They have given us the names and addresses of both the man that advised the Colonel during the selection process, Jim Johnson and the veterinarian who attended the flock during their UK quarantine and lambing, Marshall Watson. We will add more to this story as we confirm details and flesh out that part of the history.