Meet the Sheep: Shetland Sheep in New York

Such a colorful variety from one breed of sheep.

Jennifer Johnson Jul 27, 2022 - 4 min read

 Meet the Sheep: Shetland Sheep in New York Primary Image

Jennifer Johnson’s stunning gradient of flicked locks from a katmoget Shetland sheep in her flock, Whispering Pines Farm. Read Jennifer’s full article about creating a katmoget gradient and see the finished yarn and shawl in Spin Off Spring 2021. Photo by Matt Graves

Welcome to our series Meet the Sheep. We hope you enjoy meeting some of our favorite shepherds and their woolly friends. —Editors

I am a shepherd and handspinner, raising Shetland sheep in New York. The Shetland breed originated on the Shetland Islands, but they are now found in many parts of the world. These small sheep come in a variety of colors and marking patterns, which is often what draws shepherds and handspinners alike to this iconic breed.

A bright-eyed Shetland sheep in Jennifer’s flock. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson

Many Shetland shepherds, including me, use the Shetland dialect terms for the various colors and patterns we see in our flock: emsket, flecket, and yuglet to name a few. Fleeces from spotted sheep patterns make for really fun variegated yarns, and you can also sort colors from some marking patterns, such as katmoget, to get an ombré effect. There is variation from one sheep to another—even in the same color—so spinning a fawn fleece from different ewes could achieve a subtle, soft effect in a colorwork knitting project.

Three different fawn fleeces used in a colorwork knitting project. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson

One of the coolest things about Shetlands is that some of them still retain their natural propensity to shed their fleeces. In the spring their fleece stops growing. Then, the new fleece begins to grow shortly after that. In between these two fleeces is a very weak spot, which is what allows you to harvest the wool by plucking it from the sheep. In the Shetland Isles, this method of removing the fleece is called rooing.

(Left) Jennifer rooing a fleece. (Right) You can see the break in the fleece where the old has stopped and the new has begun. Photos courtesy of Jennifer Johnson

Spinning a fleece that was removed with a rooing technique is a nice way to connect with the heritage of the breed. In addition to that, you get a perfect staple. There is no weak spot in the lock, and the base is absent of any shearing marks, second cuts, or little pills that originate from the shearing process. I roo about half of my flock of 55 ewes, and the fleeces have a following of handspinners who appreciate the minimal waste that results.

The underside of a fleece that was removed with a rooing technique. The base of each lock is fluffed up more than it would be in a sheared fleece. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson


  • Johnson, Jennifer. “Katmoget Shetland: Spinning a Natural Gradient.” Spin Off Spring 2021, p 34.

Jennifer Johnson has been breeding Shetland sheep with her husband for over 20 years. She is a wool merchant, selling the wool from her sheep directly to handspinners. She herself is a handspinner and vends at fiber festivals throughout the year. She frequently fields questions related to spinning Shetland wool and enjoys talking with spinners about their fiber journeys. She is the owner of Whispering Pines Shetland Sheep in Middleport, New York. See what’s happening on the farm at their You Tube channel.