© Kathy Baker Oct 10 2005


Colour Census Illustrated
, Sue Russo, 1995 (This binder is a compilation of representative photographs sent in by 109 members of the Shetland Sheep Society, formerly called SSBG, to Sue Russo).
Colour Inheritance in Icelandic Sheep, Dr. Stephan Adalsteinsson, Journal of Agricultural Research, Iceland, 1970
Foula Sheep, Sheila Gear, Editor Sue Russo, 1991
Markings in Shetland Sheep, Poster, Sue Russo, SSBG, 1997
Shetland’s Native and Domestic Animals, Dr. Stanley Bowie, 2005
1000 Years of Sheep in Shetland, Dr. Stephan Adalsteinsson, International Shetland Sheep 2000 Conference Proceedings, 2000

The North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association and the Shetland Sheep Society of the UK use a common list of 30 Patterns and Markings  In Shetland Sheep.  This list can present a challenge to new and experienced breeders alike, who are trying to register their sheep as accurately as possible.  Below, the 30 recognised Patterns and Markings are divided into groups rather than listed alphabetically to make the list easier to understand and search. I hope this will provide a quick online reference for breeders. 

Input is welcome and encouraged.  Please e-mail me (Kathy Baker) at the address below if you have any suggestions, information or clear pictures you would like to contribute.  I am also interested in pictures of any sheep which are not easily described by the Patterns or Markings on the list.

In looking at the statistics for the frequency of usage of the 30 terms in the NASSA Flock Books, it is apparent that some terms are not used very frequently.  The Colour Census taken in the UK in 1995 provides a similar pattern of frequency of use for the 30 terms.  There are a number of possible reasons for this:

1.   The Pattern or Marking may be rare.

2.   The Pattern or Marking term is redundant i.e. there are other terms on the list which better describe or appear to describe the same feature.

3.   The definition is not clear and so it is simply not used.

On a trip to the Shetland Islands in 2003, I learned that some of the terms were used more as descriptive words or adjectives and were not necessarily meant to label a persistent marking and also that terms varied somewhat among different areas of the Shetland Islands.

Sheila Gear in her book, "Some Notes on Foula Sheep", makes this last point quite clear:
     “Shetland consists of a lot of different Islands and the dialect varies a lot between them.  May of the words used for colours and patterns are not longer in use; which makes things even more confusing! Now you will only hear “sneedled” in Foula. On the Shetland Westside, it is called “sholmit”, a word that Foula folk only use for cows with white faces.”

However, don't despair!  While some terms may vary and may cause a bit of confusion when reading the definitions or doing further research, most are used very consistently and have been for many years. In many cases, the terms can be correlated to similar Icelandic or Norse words that have been in use for as long as 1000 years, according to Adalsteinsson. Today, we can also take into account our current knowledge of genetic theory to help understand and use the terms.

Also, as with the colour chart, some sheep don’t fit neatly into any one category.  There are a number of points to consider:

1.  The marking or pattern may be incomplete or weak. For example, the sheep may have only a thin necklace of white around the neck which may hardly be visible in full fleece.

2.  The marking or pattern may be completely or partly masked by dominant genes at Agouti.  For example,  a Grey Flecket  lamb may show the characteristic Flecket marking of patchy black/grey with white in the first year, but after that first fleece is shorn, the fleece appears to be almost all “white” or  very light grey. There may only be some small patches of black showing in the hair on the legs or face as a tell tale sign of the Flecket marking.

3.  The marking or pattern may be blurred by the simultaneous expression of co-dominant genes.  For example, Adalsteinsson, in "Colour Inheritance In Icelandic Sheep", shows a picture of lamb that is AbAt or Katmoget/Gulmoget together, resulting in neither pattern showing clearly.

4.  An Ag sheep may have some measure of inconsistent pigment in the skin/fleece which may be mistakenly identified as spotting.  This is