Friday, March 26, 2021

Distinguishing Emsket at Birth

Emsket is a modified black in Shetlands.   It carries two copies of the modified color gene.  It is a pewter color that can range from dark to almost silver.  The tips of the fleece will sun bleach an orangy brown color, giving the fleece a mixture of brown and blackish/pewter/silver tones.  It is sometimes thought of as a non-descript color when it is on the darker side, but the cool thing about emsket fleeces is that they pair well with both the black and the brown color spectrum.  Emsket is a bridging color that brings harmony to both sides, making the palette of Shetland fleeces merge as a whole yet allowing all the colors to shine individually.

Here is a washed adult emsket fleece.  The sunbleached tips are seen with the silvery pewter color of the fibers below.

On lambs at birth, the easiest way to distinguish whether a lamb will be black or emsket (or a modified black, maybe leaning towards shaela) is to look at the nose leather first.  As seen below, the black lamb on the left is 'black' but the one on the right is almost brownish in color.  The hair on the face is lighter as well with a sort of brownish cast to it.  The fleece, if parted at the armpit area, usually is starting to turn color on an emsket fleece as well.  It is fairly easy to tell on ram lambs on their scrotum.  

As these two lambs are both ewes, this is the armpit area.  One more photo that could be taken would be one of an Ag grey lamb compared to the emsket lamb.  On Ag lambs, the color change is a white base, not the brownish/pewter/silver base of the emsket.  Nose leathers on Ag greys stay black too, unless there is modified genes present as well.  Tongue colors on emsket are much more pale, like a light blueberry color, compared to a dark blackish colored tongue of a black.  

One more thing with the emsket color.  They tend to have a wavier, silkier fleece, not a tight crimp like the more popular black, moorit, white, and katmoget fleeces.  They are a rare color, hence slightly more primitive in genetics with the fleece as most have been bred out on Shetland.   


  1. Thanks for the tutorial, Theresa! I don't have modified colors in my very small flock, so it is nice to have photos to which to refer.

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