When I was a child, my grandmother tried to teach me to knit. While she managed to create cardigans and booties well after losing most of her eyesight, I unfortunately, never picked up the stitches. The beautiful yarns at Berry Bush Farm’s booth at the farmer’s market, however, tempt me to attempt it again!
The idea of Berry Bush Farm began 11 years ago when Janet and Thomas Ottenwaelder were visiting an elderly cousin in Vermont. The cousin’s nurse invited them to her Shetland sheep farm and Janet, “immediately fell in love, ” with the sheep, both for their personalities and the colors of their fleeces. Thomas liked the size, about the same as a Golden Retriever, and after some research, the Ottenwaelders began visiting farms as far as New England to learn the art of shepherding.
The first sheep the Ottenwaelders bought were two ewes (girls) from a farm in New Jersey and a ram (boy) from Vermont. Now they have 37 sheep with names and unique personalities, as well as two donkeys and chickens (for insect control), though they only keep one ram at a time. When they had two, the rams fought constantly, got their horns locked-and it was hard to untangle them. Now they switch rams every three to four years and buy them from different farms to avoid inbreeding.
Ottenwaelder says Shetland sheep have the widest variety of color of any breed, and their current ram, Cedric, is a beautiful example of this. His fleece is gray, brown and black, and he passes on this trait to his offspring. As you may suspect from the picture, the children’s song about Mary’s little lamb with the fleece as white as snow is highly inaccurate! In fact, sheep get lighter as they age, about a shade per year.
When you visit the Berry Bush Farm stall at the Farmer’s Market, you’ll see many shades of yarn. Each color is unique, and named for the sheep and the year. Ottenwaelder says sometimes people order yarn and then come to the farm to have their pictures taken with the sheep while wearing their hand knitted sweaters.
Even non-knitters may want to watch the fibers fly on shearing day, planned for Saturday April 13, 2013 – Ottenwaelder says plan to be put to work! Emily Chamelin, the 2012 USA sheep shearing champion, shears and happily answers questions from observers. After the sheep are sheared, the fleeces (each with the sheep’s name and date) are sent to mills in Michigan or Maine, where the fleeces are washed, carded, and spun into wool.
If you’re planning to knit some gifts this holiday season, or interested in learning more about Shetlands, visit Berry Bush Farm’s booth at the Chestertown Farmer’s Market or pick up their yarn at Island Yarn Boutique in Chester. Want to see more adorable pictures of sheep? Visit their website at https://www.berrybushfarm.com/