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Published: 15 June 2019

By Andy Ross

A little more about sheep

Recently I bought a book in Lerwick which looked like it could be of interest for the tweed research project. It most definitely is!

This book was published in 1939 and is called The Historical Geography of the Shetland Islands, written by Andrew C. O'Dell. Andrew was a lecturer in Geography at London's Birkbeck College but this book was actually published in Lerwick at the Shetland News office. 

I bought the book because a paragraph about sheep caught my eye when I was browsing it. The paragraph is about the origins of the sheep, stating that they were small animals, coloured from white through grays and a light brown to a dark brown, almost black. So far so good. That is still what Shetland sheep are known for. The author goes on to say that the original Shetland sheep resembles the Wild Mouflon of Corsica, from which it is believed all modern domestic sheep breeds are descended. This has helped to clear up some confusion for me and that is always A Good Thing, isn't it?

Another interesting aspect to this research is the invariable mention of a document, written in 1791, which speaks of the importance of maintaining the Shetland breed. Most, if not all, of the books I have read which purport to be academic, no matter what their age, mention this document, but this particular publication actually goes back almost two hundred years to speak about "rooing", the practice of pulling the wool from the animal rather than shearing, in 1619! 

I can see that this research is going to grow arms and legs, so to speak, and I will be pursuing many avenues and byways in an attempt to understand what makes Shetland tweed truly unique. In one book there are numerous small nuggets of information which are all going into a bigger picture. O! What fun!