Oliver and Catherine recently returned from a few days away visiting the Shetland Sheep Society, they invited Oliver down to give a talk on Sheep, wool and its uses and his work at Jamieson & Smith. The event took place in Nuneaton at one of the groups conferences.
In 1985 the Shetland Sheep Breeders group was formed to help breeders outside the Shetland Isles to maintain flocks conforming to the 1927 Shetland Breed Standard. The group then became responsible for registering Shetland sheep on the U.K. mainland, overseeing and maintaining the strict breed requirements by inspecting the animals. The group admits they are not totally dependent on breeding the sheep classing themselves as part time unlike in some cases in Shetland where sheep is the bread and butter of the sheep producer.
Oliver was greatly surprised and delighted to see the high standard of Shetland sheep in person at the Ashby by owners Lynne and David White. It was obvious that a great deal of care and attention into the flock breeding and husbandry of the animals. There was a big focus on quality, fibre fineness, uniformity of staple length and handle ( softness). After his presentation and question and answers Oliver was asked to judge a small amount of fleece some members had there and as with the sheep very impressive the fibre fineness and handle was quite exceptional.
There is no doubt that this group containing approximately 500 members from the North of Scotland to Devon and Cornwall in the south of England play an important part in the Shetland breed of sheep. Not only does the group members travel to Shetland frequently and purchase high quality fine wool breeding stock, it is not unusual for some Shetland sheep breeders to do likewise.
There are many reasons for this. One being the numbers of natural pure bred coloured sheep flocks are diminishing, also blood lines in Shetland are in some cases becoming to close thus the need for new stock. There is also an exchange of Shetland sheep judges wherein mainland judges travel to Shetland and judge at local agricultural shows, in turn Shetland sheep breeders travel and judge on sheep at U.K. mainland shows. It is very clear there is a combined dedicated effort to preserve the Real Shetland sheep, and this connection has resulted in many close friendships over the years.
The visit was not just confined to sheep and wool but also a visit to Ashby St Ledgers a very important part of English history the home of the Gunpowder plot of 1605 where Guy Fawkes and the co-conspirators would have hatched up their plans to blow up King James and his Parliament. The church dates back to the 1100 s and is still in use today.
Very grateful thanks from Oliver and his wife Catherine for the excellent and kind hospitality shown to them by the group, and a special thank you to David & Lyn of the Ashby Flock for letting me see and handle their outstanding Shetland Sheep. A never to be forgotten journey.