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A yarn about Williston’s Shetland sheep farm

Brenda Perkins holds a newborn Shetland lamb while Steve Perkins looks on.

 BY JASON STARR

Observer staff

A flock of Shetland Sheep grew by eight lambs this month, further establishing itself on Brenda and Stephen Perkins’ Petersholm Farm on Peterson Lane. 

The breed, native to the Shetland Islands of northern Scotland and once almost extinct, is prized for its hardiness, unique colors and markings and exquisite wool.

The Perkins family, which has lived on the farm going back five generations, started with a flock of three rams and six ewes in 2014. Seven years later, they have seen four generations born, and the flock has grown to 33.

Brenda and Stephen learned about the need for Shetland Sheep breeders after they retired from the public school system. With a 50-acre farm and few other animals, they knew they were in a good position to take on and grow a flock. The first flock of Shetland sheep in the United States was located in East Braintree, Vt., beginning in the 1980s, Perkins said.

“It sounded very interesting. Here’s an animal that was endangered and the people who first brought them into the United States were Vermonters. And we just kind of picked up the baton and went from there. We’ve enjoyed them,” Stephen said.

The new generation includes lambs with colors and markings that are new to the Perkins’ flock.

“Most Shetland sheep are a single color, however some have exciting marking patterns,” said Brenda, who is currently the president of the Williston Historical Society. “Some are snow white while others are various shades of silvery gray to coal black. Still others are shades of brown, ranging from a light champagne color through medium brown to a dark Hershey bar color.”

“The Shetland Breeders Association encouraged us to keep the markings and colors alive in the gene pool,” Stephen added. “This is the first year we’ve got some different genetics out of the pool than we normally do.”

“It’s amazing each time we have lambs that are born,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how the mothers take care of these young ones. They get them to nurse and stand up in a matter of 30 minutes. It’s quite a miracle to watch.” 

The grazing sheep help keep the farm fields open. Yarn from the flock is sold to Must Love Yarn in Shelburne and the Mad River Spinnery in Waitsfield.

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