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Ask the Shepherd-Do Gotland Sheep Shed Their Wool?

A few weeks ago, someone asked me the following question:

Many of the short-tailed breeds are able to be “rooed” yearly due to a natural rise in their wool. Do you know if Gotlands could do this if they were not sheared in the spring?

This is an interesting question, which I myself, had also wondered. While visiting Gotland island this fall, we saw many Gotland sheep grazing along the beaches, wild and unkempt, hemmed in by the ocean on one side and “cattle grates” on the other. Not a single farmhouse in site, these sheep seemed to simply survive on juniper, pine, and seaweed. Some of the sheep seemed to have long tags of wool hanging from them, as though they were shedding their lovely coats of curls.

I did a little research, as I was unsure if the Gotland sheep I saw grazing indeed were shedding their wool. I decided to contact Sue Blacker. She owns a mill in England that specializes in pure breed wools, and she has also written a book about many different breeds of sheep and the wool they produce. Sue also happens to own a large flock of Gotland sheep. I knew that she would have my answer.

Gotland Sheep Grazing on Faro
Gotland Sheep Grazing on Faro

Here is Sue’s response with my notes in italics:

Generally I would agree that modern Gotlands do not shed naturally.  However, all sheep used to do this and it’s only by selective breeding that we have created the option of shearing. There are four possible situations when Gotland sheep  might shed naturally:

  1.          If they are not shorn for a whole year, the fleece felts and starts to peel backwards from the neck, at which point they start to rub it off – they really do benefit from shearing twice a year.
  2.         If a ewe has been challenged health-wise, then she will shed – for example with quads, triplets or even twins – this happens with pretty much all breeds and would certainly happen with Gotlands.
  3.         If the Gotland has more “primitive” genetics, as with all northern short-tailed sheep, they will shed – like the Boreray, Soay, North Ronaldsay and Shetland.
  4.         If they have lice, mites, scab or something similar, they will rub off or pull off strands of fleece, due to the irritation – although this is probably more like tearing ones’ hair out rather than shedding!!

There is a definite option of staple break, and if the Gotland is sufficiently primitive to have close to a double coat of mixed hair and wool, then the wool will shed and the hair will remain, as with Boreray sheep.

“Rooing” is the process of removing the fleece from a sheep by hand rather than with shears.  Through the years, shepherds selectively bred the rooing gene out of sheep, and began shearing their flocks instead of plucking them. Many of the primitive northern short tailed breeds of sheep, such as those mentioned by Sue, still carry the rooing gene and will shed their wool. Though sheep breeders in the United States have been upbreeding the Gotland sheep using some of these northern short tailed breeds as their foundation, I have not found any Gotland breeders in the U. S. that have experienced their sheep shedding their wool. Though as Sue mentions, I suppose it could be a possibility.

Learn more about rooing sheep:

Rooing a Sheep (Levi)

Some Sheep are So Rooed

Thank you Amanda from nudging me on this blog post, and thank you Sue for responding to my question!

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2 Responses

  1. Terriea
    |

    I got some knowledge from you about Gotland sheep now. Nice sharing. Thanks.

    • Kim Goodling
      |

      Yay! It is great to have fiber artists so interested in learning about sheep! It is so valuable to know and understand where your art medium comes from!