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.
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.
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, 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 30 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, occasionally black, white or brown. Clearly defined even curl and staple, soft to the touch. Calm, friendly disposition.
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.
Pam has had Gotlands (descendants of the Antartex flock) for many years and has crossed them with Cheviots and Shetlands.
Pictures: top-Gotland at the Rhanich with Cheviot twins; middle-elderly Gotland at the Rhanich
More Articles about Gotlands:
British Gotland Sheep Society Homepage