Part of the reason I went to Gotland, Sweden was to learn about the mystery behind the beautiful Gotland gray curls of wool. Gotland sheep in Sweden are known as, Pälsfår, or pelt sheep. Shepherds raise their sheep primarily for their pelts, which command a high price. Every shepherd we visited sold their lamb pelts in their own farm stores to Europeans who vacation on the island. Depending upon its purpose, the wool on the pelt is either left at full length or cut to two different lengths. If used for making clothing, the wool is trimmed to 18 mm where as, pelts used for pillows, throws, or chair covers are trimmed to 35 mm in length. These pelts were unlike any other sheep skin I had ever seen or laid hands on. The wool, with distinct curls of gray, was amazingly soft and lustrous with a feel of pure luxury to the touch. I found myself running my fingers through the lustrous softness as we talked with the shepherds. Their stacks of pelts in their shops were a testimony to the seriousness to which they raise their sheep.
Through talking with shepherds and a representative of a mineral company in Sweden, I learned that much of the wool growth and luster depends upon a proper nutritional balance, specifically cobalt. According to the spokesman for the mineral company, cobalt is converted to vitamin B12 in the rumen and is essential for wool growth and luster in fleeces. One shepherd told me that she is concerned that in the United States, we are breeding Gotlands as “wool sheep rather than pelt sheep”. She said that it takes a higher micron count fiber to hold the curly locks of wool so characteristic of the breed. In general, the lower the micron count or diameter of the fiber, the softer the wool, and the softer the wool, the less curl definition. Therefore, if American breeders are selectively breeding for softer fleeces, she fears they will lose the curl formation in the process.
So on shearing day this week, I could not help but think about all I had learned while on Gotland island about fleece. I realized that though my fleeces look lovely, I have much to learn from the Swedish breeders and the serious work of being involved in introducing this unique breed to the United States. I was reminded, that even with high percentage Gotlands, we must pay attention to our breeding and selectively breed for those characteristics that make this breed so notable.
Our shearer, Gwen Hinman, clips the wool from Iris.