The Shetland sheep breed is one which hails from the Shetland Isles in Scotland.
A small-sized breed, they are thought to share similar genetics to the now extinct Dunface sheep breed, also native to Scotland. The Shetland is regarded as a distinct type of Dunface sheep since the 19th century. A short-tailed breed, Shetland sheep are primarily raised for their fine wools, though they are also used for meat production purposes due to the high quality of the meat produced.
Classified as an unimproved breed, the Shetland has survived for centuries in its native lands and is now found in many countries throughout the world. They are mainly, however, found in their native habitat and surrounding areas. They have survived for so long on the Shetland Isles due to the breed’s ability to survive on a poor diet and infertile lands.
The breed was once considered endangered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the UK, though a recent resurgence in popularity has meant this is no longer the case. The breed is now even found in the US, with the North American Shetland Sheep Breeders Association first formed in 1994.
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A smaller than normal sized breed, the Shetland sheep breed are strikingly beautiful to look at.
They are actually one of the UK’s smallest sheep breeds and can be found in an array of different colours. These colours and patterns have traditional Shetland names, derived from the language formerly spoken in the area, Norn. Shetland sheep can be found in almost every colour and pattern, with black, red/brown and solid white the most common colours.
There are currently 11 main colours recognized by the breed association, including light grey, white, grey, blue-grey, light grey/brown, fark grey, black, red/brown, honey/yellow-brown, dark brown and fawn. There are also over thirty different coast patterns and markings associated with the breed, including katmoget (badger face markings), gulmoget (mouflon markings), yuglet (panda markings), sokket (white socks on legs), Smirslet (white markings around muzzle), bleset ( dark with white blaze through face), bielset (collar with different colour) and bersugget (irregular patches of different colours) to name a few.
Rams are horned while Shetland ewes are generally polled, though some horned ewes have been found on occasion. Small bodied, Shetland sheep have some wool on their noses, legs and faces, though not an abundance. They have medium length legs, which are finely boned, while their ears are small and erect. They are a short-tailed breed, with a fluke shaped tail which is broad at the base.
They are primarily raised for wool production purposes, with Shetland sheep producing wool which is very fine and soft to the touch. Shetland sheep also have their uses in the meat production industry, though due to their small size not as much as with wool production. They are known to produce meat of a high quality, though generally rams only weigh up to 57kgs at full maturity. Ewes meanwhile top in at between 34 to 45kgs. Lambs at birth average from 2 to 3 kgs.
An easy lambing breed, Shetland sheep are also an extremely hardy breed and are capable of adapting to most climates. Docile in nature, the Shetland breed have an average lambing percentage of 130%, while twins are common in ewes kept on better quality pastures. Ewes make excellent mothers and have an abundance of milk for their young.
Docile, hardy, easy lambing, long-lasting and capable of thriving on infertile lands, what more could you ask for from a sheep breed than the Shetland already provides?
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