Chassagne’s Shetland Sheep Thrive Naturally

A blue-grey ram lamb at Chassagne

On Saturday we discovered an environmentally responsible sheep farm practically on our back doorstep. At Chassagne, the original North American flock of Shetland sheep thrives without chemical pesticides, herbicides or medicines. Our Guelph Guild of Handweavers and Spinners had arranged a tour of the farm. Danny and I brought home a whole fleece and some roving to play with.

Some patterned ewes at ChassagneThe farm’s pristine state comes partly from an advantage of circumstances. When Carole Precious and her husband acquired the 92-acre property it had not been farmed in 30 years. They built the barns themselves from scratch in a year.

The herd was imported from Scotland in 1980 by Carole’s father-in-law, Colonel G.D. Daillie. A conservationist concerned with preserving rare and endangered species, Daillie also designed and founded the nearby African Lion Safari, a drive-through park still owned and operated by the Daillie family. The flock essentially had to be quarantined on the Daillie’s Springfield farm for five years, but since then hundreds of sheep have been sold to other farms. Carole said most Shetland sheep in North America are descended from this flock. Daillie died in 1989. The flock resided at Springfield farm until 2007 when it moved to newly-completed facilities at Chassagne.

Moorit fleeceThe popularity of Shetland sheep has risen with increased interest in primitive breeds. They are a small sheep known for very fine wool. The breed’s diversity of colour and patterning is reflected at Chassagne. As lambing had recently occurred when we visited, the ewes and lambs were still separated by colour. To prevent chaos, Carole said sections of the flock will be introduced one at a time to the pasture before reintegration. For biosecurity, Carole never imports any sheep. Isolation keeps the flock healthy without medicinal intervention.

Chassagne is situated 25 minutes south of Guelph on Puslinch Concession 1. The farm features numerous other pursuits such as horse breeding, falconry and wildlife rehabilitation. Carole guided our guild into a new, under-construction meeting space above the horse barn. This area will be available by reservation for group functions.

Spun from Chassagne rovingGuild members were treated to first dibs on fleeces from the recent shearing. Danny had in mind purchasing a black one but I was immediately drawn to a medium red-brown, called moorit or mogit (see photo above). That was the one we chose. I don’t think anyone from the guild went home empty-handed. I also picked up a bag of roving including several colours: white, medium brown and dark brown. As I am just learning the art of spinning, this will give me some practice and fun before we figure out what to do with the fleece.

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