History of Gotland Sheep
Origins Of The Breed
The breed was first established on the Swedish island of Gotland by the Vikings with Karakul and Romanov sheep brought back from expeditions deep into Russia and crossed with the native landrace sheep. The Vikings were great seafarers as well as sheep farmers and took these animals on their extensive voyages to provide meat and skins along the route. Hence the spread of these Northern short-tailed sheep and the development into related breeds such as Gute sheep, Icelandic, Finnsheep, Shetland, North Ronaldsay and Manx. Primitive horned Gotland sheep (still called Gute) still exist on the island of Gotland today. The Gotland Peltsheep (pälsfår) or modern Gotland has been developed in Sweden since the 1920's through controlled breeding and intensive selection, producing a true multipurpose long wool sheep, yielding good flavored close-grained meat, furskins and soft, silky, lustrous fleece.
Gotlands Find A Niche
As well as producing furskins and beautiful fleeces for spinning or felting, Gotlands are easy to lamb, prolific, milky and very motherly. Their lambs are active and fast growing form birth. These qualities, together with their hardy and adaptive nature, also make the Gotland half-bred ewe suitable for extensive/rough grazing commercial systems
Fine-boned and of medium size. Horn less black head sometimes with white markings and free from wool. Bold eyes, alert medium sized ears. Small neat muzzle with even jaw and teeth set squarely on the pad. Slender neck and shoulders set smoothly into a level back with generous length, good depth and reasonable breadth of body. Slender black legs well spaced and upright. Short hair tipped tail. Dense, long, lustrous grey fleece, occasionally black or white. Clearly defined even curl and staple, soft to the touch. Calm, friendly disposition.
A bright, active and friendly sheep full of curiosity. Ewes generally weigh from 120 to 155 lbs. Rams are heavier weighing in at 165 to 190 lbs. Lambs are born with a lush black birth coat and are very active and quick to suckle. They make rapid summer growth and may reach 66 to 110lbs at 6 to 7 months old dependent on litter size.
In many flocks the main shearing is in early spring with a second cut in autumn. Gotlands may be shorn bare or with a short close curled fleece for any early season show. Where there is no dedicated Gotland class, the AGSS recommends that it is preferable to enter Gotlands in "Long Wool" or "Colored" classes rather than "Primitive" classes.
Introduction To Britain
The pelt characteristics particularly attracted W. Macdonald so that in 1972 he imported 110 Gotland's into Scotland to produce furskins for his Antartex Sheepskin Co. Lars and Anna Rooth made another importation, when they moved from Sweden to Sussex in 1984, also for producing furskins.
The eventual dispersal of the MacDonald flock, has led to the establishment of about 30 pure bred Gotland flocks throughout Britain.
Introduction to the United States
In 2003 the process of Laparoscopic Artificial Insemination was carried out for the first time for the Gotland sheep in the USA. Interest has been quick as breeders discover the beautiful, lustrous fleece and the ease of care of a medium sized sheep.
The AGSS recommends members record/register breeding sheep before sale and advises potential buyers not to buy un-recorded/registered sheep.
Animals meeting the following criteria may be recorded/registered:
- Recorded - Any animal of at least 50% Gotland Blood
- Registered - Ewes of 75% Gotland Blood and Rams of 87% Gotland Blood