WHY GOTLANDS? Besides the fact that they are just so darned cute? Well, they are the perfect hobby farm or homesteading breed, offering unique, lustrous, curly fleeces and a mild flavored meat. They are fine-boned, medium in size and fairly docile, so easier to handle than some of the larger breeds. They also are a naturally polled, short tail breed requiring no disbudding or tail docking, and their clean heads and legs making shearing a bit of an easier task. Along with having highly sought after fleece come shearing time, market sheep well cared for have the added benefit of providing you with desirable pelts to sell. They are a hardy breed, inquisitive, intelligent and are wonderful mothers.
HISTORY: But there is much more to this breed than their unique characteristics. Their history is quite fascinating. Originating on the Island of Gotland off the coast of Sweden, they are believed to have been developed by Vikings who crossed Karakul sheep on the native Gute sheep. Many of the Northern short-tailed sheep descend from the Gute sheep, including the modern Gotland. One of the unique characteristics of the Gute sheep are their white noses and white rings around their eyes, which still is seen in some of the Gotland sheep. The “modern Gotland” was created when a farmer saw an impressive ram on his way to slaughter. He bought the ram and began crossing him on his Gute sheep, breeding for polled sheep with the trademark gray curly fleeces now associated with the Gotland Peltsheep or modern Gotland.
Today’s modern Gotland is known for its long, lustrous, dense fleece ranging from silver to all shades of gray, including almost black. White and brown shades are also recognized by the Gotland Sheep Breeders Association of North America. It is typically 29 to 34 microns with lamb’s wool being in the low to mid-20’s. Their fleece is a handspinner’s dream while in Europe they are prized for their pelts.
GOTLANDS IN NORTH AMERICA: In America, this rare breed of sheep is part of an up-breeding program using imported purebred AI semen. Semen is imported mainly from Swedish or New Zealand rams using foundation breeds and percentage ewes. Utilizing genetics from imported semen and imported embryos, 97.5% American lambs were born in 2015. Each country brings unique characteristics. While Swedish and British Gotlands are known more for their curl definition and luster, New Zealand Gotlands have a more fine wool. Add into the equation the foundation breeds used in the up-breeding program, American Gotland breeders are able to select for the valuable Gotland characteristics so valuable in improving the American Gotland sheep.
The Gotland Sheep Breeders Association of North America allow for 10 foundation breeds from the Northern European short-tailed breeds, which provide similar body type, and luster longwool breeds, which have fleece type similar to Gotlands. These include the following:
Approved Northern European short-tailed breeds: Shetland, Icelandic and Finn sheep.
Approved Longwool breeds: Wensleydale, Teeswater, Lincoln, Bluefaced Leicester, Longwool Leicester, English Leicester and Border Leicester.
WOOL: Gotland fleece is long, lustrous and dense with a defined curl (purl). It is surprisingly soft and is prized by handspinners. It also felts well. In Sweden their pelts are often turned into amazing works of art in wearables.
GOTLANDS AT GREENMYST FARM: Our small foundation flock of Gotlands came from Brad Isbell’s Open Reach Farm in Missoula, Montana. I had met Brad and these amazing sheep a few years ago while living in Montana and had been smitten from the beginning. Brad has worked diligently over the years to create an amazing flock of Gotlands through meticulous breeding, including imported AI semen, and natural management practices that keep the Gotland a hardy, easy keeping breed of sheep. I am very proud of my foundation flock and will continue under Brad’s tutelage to improve my own flock of Gotlands, while also working in some Wensleydale, Teeswater and Bluefaced Leicester for their unique fleece characteristics. As a beginning handspinner myself, I love working with Gotland and am experimenting with blending Gotland fleece with alpaca and other fibers.