Wool on the Hoof

In the mid-90s I was asked by the Shetland Flock Book Society if I could judge the ‘wool on the hoof’; the fleece quality on the live moving animal! This event took place at the annual show and sale of the society held at the local auction marts at Sound in Lerwick, land which is now occupied now by Tesco Supermarket.

The Shetland Flock Book Society was set up in 1927. Its aim to preserve the true Shetland sheep that were under threat from the vast amount of larger breeds brought in by the “lairds”, land owners who cleared the people off the crofts and replaced them with sheep.The group is made up of like-minded individuals who firmly believe in carrying on the work of their predecessors retaining all the characteristic of this special breed of Sheep.

Fine Wool Shetland Flock Book Rams

I was most apprehensive at this task and even more so when I saw the amount of Rams and crofters in attendance. I was standing with my back to the ring talking to an elderly crofter who was one of Shetland’s most revered stock men when my name was shouted out. Turning around I was met with a packed sale ring full of rams and a circle of faces their eyes fixed on the ring. “Help” I whispered to the old gentleman who said, “Look at that ram, you will not get better. His wool is perfect, the wool staple has got the ‘bird’s beak’ effect and it is open and soft”. He continued quietly, “Gradually reduce the number of sheep in the ring and end up with six and make a big fuss, take your time and make sure that one is the winner!”

I followed his instructions and looking up, the sea of faces appeared to have lost their smiles all except my helper; the owner of the winner announced “You certainly know your stuff!”

Me Judging Shetland Flock Book, Old Marts 1995

At the time I was not aware of the relevance of this invitation and how it would have such a positive impact on all things connected to Shetland wool in years to come. I will deal with this in more detail in a future blog post.

Me Judging Shetland Flock Book, 2015

The popularity of Shetland Wool Week since 2010 and its global appeal has highlighted the Shetland breed of sheep as one of the finest wool sheep in the world. In 2011 the Shetland Flock book society received another marketing boost in the form of Vispring, one of the world’s leading bed makers, who use Shetland wool in their range of beds. Vi spring is the main sponsors of the Shetland Flock book show and sale. Not only on the hoof but also sponsor the Flock- book fleece competition.

Vi Spring Wool on the Hoof Award to the Doull Family

Following is the 1927 standard for pure bred Native Shetland sheep:

Shetland Sheep Scoring

Description and Scale of Points Score – 100 Points

Horned or Hornless 9
HEAD – Good width between ears, tapering rapidly to base
of nose, which should be broad and with little tapper to muzzle, hallow between cheeks and nose well marked
FACE – Medium length of face from eyes to muzzle, nose prominent butnot Roman, small mouth 9
EYES – Full, bright and active look3
EARS – Fine, medium size, well set back, carried slightly above
NECK – Full, tapers into a fairly broad chest 4
SHOULDERS – Well set, top level with back 6
CHEST – Medium width and deep 5
BACK – Level, with as much width as possible 9
RIBS – Well sprung and well ribbed up 4
TAIL – Fluke tail. Wool at root forming the broad rounded part, and
tapering suddenly to a barely covered fine point. This is a strong
character and any crossing is easily made out by it. Length varies
according to size of sheep, rarely exceeds six inches, or thereby
LEGS OF MUTTON – Light, but very fine in quality 4
SKIN – Varies according to colour of wool. In white no blue or black
WOOL – Extra fine and soft texture, longish, wavy and well closed. Wool on forehead and poll poll tapering into neck, likewise wool on checks.
Colours: White, Black or Brown, Moorit (from reddish to fawn), Greys
(including Sheila). Other known colours: Mirkface (brownish spots on
face), Catmogit (black underparts from muzzle to tail and legs), Burrit
(light underparts); also Blaegit, Fleckit and Sholmit
CARRIAGE – Alert and nimble, with a smart active gait2
TOTAL = 100


a) Long heavy tail, broad to point.
b) Bad wool, coarse and open.
c) Very coarse wool on breeches.
d) Deformities of jaws.
e) Undersized animals
f) Defective coloured or badly shaped animals as sires.
g) White hairs in Moorit and Black, and dark hairs in White wool.
Please note the importance of wool by it having the highest points awarded to the characteristics of the sheep.

2 thoughts on “Wool on the Hoof

  1. This is an amazing and detailed collection of information about Shetland sheep Oliver, I am really enjoying the detail you are giving. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s