We like to work with skilled people, and our hunt has unearthed a real treasure in the form of a shepherd on Shetland raising sheep for wool.
A shepherd on Shetland, one of the ancestral homes of British sheep full stop and forerunner of the UK Flock. Also, very far north. So far north in fact that in 2018 it became law that the Shetland Isles must be shown in their correct (extremely northerly) location.
Wool is made from grass.
The type and quality of the grass is paramount in wool production. A slight drop in nutrition or a change of diet can leave weak spots in the wool. It's an ongoing and permanently recording thread of a sheeps nutrition.
The environment is obviously hugely important to sheep, being outdoors most of the time. Their greasy wool helps shed water, but sheep’s wool has other tricks up its sleeve. Each fibre itself is hydrophobic, meaning that water tends not to condense on the sheep. The more wool, the longer the wool, the further between the sheep and the cold, and it’s dry in there to boot.
Wool is produced in modern meat breeds regardless of quality or quantity, and shearing has to be done although it is often uneconomic to do so. Wool is tasty to a bunch of creatures and shaving it off is a kindness to the sheep. Finding a shepherd who raises sheep with wool in mind is important for a company searching for the best sheepskin. Finding a shepherd who raises wool on Shetland, where the average winter temperature is just 3 degrees and wind and rain are permanently intermittent, is a very good thing.
The intense cold of the Shetland Isles raises a certain kind of wool. Wool is a protein, the same as human hair, it’s called keratin and the sheep’s follicles produce this as a response to cold. Curiously, lambs raised under infra red heat lamps grow hair quicker because the air at the skin surface isn’t affected by the heat, only the lambs body absorbs the infra red energy.
Add to the mix a normal seasonal variation and you can see a sheep’s fleece marks the hottest days and the coldest in the same way an oak lays down thicker rings in cold years and the larch seals bubbles of resin that pop and bang on a hot fire.
Which brings us back to the reason for the delay in our latest additions to the flock, namely, snow and freezing conditions..