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Hardy, Handy Gotland Sheep

Handspinners Rave About The Wool!

By Martin Dally

The Gotland breed of sheep (and its magnificent wool!) has become world renowned since the movie “Lord of the Rings” featured the Magic Elvin Cloak made of Gotland wool.


The breed originated on the Island of Gotland in the Baltic sea, off the East Coast of Sweden.

Gotland sheep are direct descendants of the Gute breed. Gutes are a horned breed and are members of the North European Short Tail breeds. Other noted members of this group are the Finnsheep, Romanov, Shetland and Icelandic sheep.

The Gotland breed of sheep.
The Gotland breed of sheep.

Besides the Gutes, Karakuls and Romanovs are thought to have been brought to the Gotland Island by the Vikings and may have played a role in the development of the modern Gotland sheep. Others feel that Leicester and Rya breeding were introduced and helped create today’s Gotland.


No matter what the true genetic background of the Gotland is, they are a very unique breed with some very desirable qualities:

  • Gotlands are quiet, friendly and very inquisitive sheep. They are ideal for a small flock management system.
  • Gotlands are small sheep in relationship to most American breeds. The mature weight of Gotland rams is between 165 to 187 pounds (75-85 kg) and they are approximately 26 inches (65 cm) tall at the withers. Ewes weigh between 110 to 154 pounds (55-70 kg).
  • Gotlands are known for being very hardy and therefore are referred to as the “Gotlandic Outside Sheep.”
  • They are a prolific breed and on average they produce a 180% lamb crop and are excellent mothers.
  • At birth the lambs are normally very vigorous and are up nursing within minutes of birth.
  • The lambs are born black but normally turn various shades of gray/silver as they mature.
  • Lambs reach slaughter weight at about 4-5 months of age.

Gotland Wool & Pelts

It is the luxurious fleece and pelt of the Gotland that sets them apart from other breeds. Gotland pelts are world-renowned for their superior quality. The pelts sell for a premium, due to their smooth silky locks and soft handle.

The Gotland’s fleece is considered to be among the best in the world for spinning and weaving. It is the very high luster and well-defined crimp, along with the array of silver and gray shades that make the fleeces highly desirable to hand spinners, knitters and weavers.

Gotland wool ranges from 29 to 33 microns and [with respect to scoured weight] they are very high yielding.

The lamb fleeces can be as fine as 20 micron. Gotland fleeces are similar to Wensleydale in luster but are not quite as soft.

The average Gotland fleece weighs between 5.5 and 7.5 pounds.

Gotland Genetics Arrive in North America

A limited number of straws of Gotland semen have been imported from the Whitehall farm in the U.K. Super Sire Limited (SSL) is helping make available this top Gotland semen for the first time in the U.S.

David Barlow, owner of the ram from which the semen was collected, purchased “Zorro” at the 2000 National Dutch Gotland Show. Zorro was the Champion ram and many Dutch breeders consider him to be the best Gotland ram ever exported from Holland. He has an excellent fleece and is very correct on his feet.

U.K. breeders suggest that the Gotland semen be used on either Shetlands or Icelandic ewes. Their reasoning for this is that both breeds are members of the Northern Short Tail group (as are the Gotland) and are of similar size. Other breeds that could be considered as candidates for crossing with the Gotland are Border Leicester, Cotswold and Lincoln, because these breeds have a wool type similar to the Gotland.

U.S. breeders interested in Gotland genetics may contact SSL (707) 678-4942 or e-mail mdally@toprams.com

SSL can also arrange semen delivery and AI services for your flock. SSL is presently making arrangement to import additional Gotland semen from several other top Gotland rams.

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