Gotland Sheep Facts and Figures
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 Goth sheep, Icelandic, Finnsheep, Shetland, North Ronaldsay and Manx. Primitive horned Gotland sheep 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 flavoured close-grained meat, furskins and soft silky lustrous fleece. In Britain we refer to these Gotland Peltsheep simply as Gotlands.
Introduction To Britain
The pelt characteristics particularly attracted W. Macdonald so that in 1972 he imported 110 Gotland 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.
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 from birth. These qualities, together with their hardy and adaptive nature, also make the Gotland half-bred ewe suitable for extensive/rough grazing commercial systems, as practised, for example, on the Scottish Islands. In Britain, the original importation and eventual dispersal of the MacDonald flock, plus the importation by Lars and Anna Rooth has led to the establishment of about 40 pure bred Gotland flocks throughout Britain, with a concentration in the South West.
Fine-boned and of medium size. Hornless 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, in shades of dark to light silver grey as shown in the picture on the home page. 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 55 to 70kg. Rams are heavier weighing in at 75 to 85kg. Lambs are born with a lush black birth coat and are very active and quick to suckle. They make rapid summer growth: 30 to 50kg at 6 to 7 months old dependent on litter size. Gotlands are not normally an early lambing breed but have been known to lamb on New Years Eve! Most British flocks lamb in March or April.
The BGSS has no special showing rules. In many flocks the main shearing is in winter – November to February – with possibly a second trim in spring/early summer. Therefore Gotlands may be shown bare or with a short close curled fleece for any early season show. Where there is no dedicated Gotland class, the BGSS recommends that it is preferable to enter Gotlands in “Long Wool” or “Coloured” classes rather than “Primitive” classes. In such mixed class situations the BGSS provides “Best Gotland in Show” rosettes to be awarded and recommends information on our breed standards be given to judges beforehand wherever possible.
The BGSS Council recommends members to register breeding sheep before sale and advises potential buyers not to buy unregistered sheep.