Having nearly completed my third winter with Gotland sheep, I find I am still learning about this wonderful breed of sheep. Gotland sheep originate on Gotland island where the weather is a little more temperate than on our farm in Vermont. Our winters are longer, more snowy, and colder. Gotlands are now scattered across North America, living in all kinds of climates. Their ability to adapt to their environment amazes me.
Gotland sheep adjust easily to their environment, producing the perfect fleece to keep them cool in warm temperatures and warm in cold temperatures. From the time they are born, their fleece is constantly changing and adapting. Their fleeces are unlike any other fleeces I have ever been exposed to. I have identified three distinct phases of a Gotland fleece here on our farm.
Gotland lambs have a distinct black and shiny wool when they are born. Sometimes, this lamb fleece has lovely curls and other times it appears to be straight, almost hairlike. As the lambs grow, they begin to shed their lamb wool as their adult fleeces begin to grow in underneath. The new fleece that grows in under the distinctive black lamb fleece has tiny soft curls.
Adult Warm Weather Fleece
Once the lamb sheds their black lamb fleece, their adult fleece is revealed. The adult fleeces may vary in color. The typical Swedish Gotland fleece may range from very pale silver to dark charcoal gray. The first summer, the lamb grows long curls. As with other breeds of sheep, their first fleece tends to be their softest with tiny ringlets growing 5-7 inches in their first summer. In subsequent years, the curls will be larger.
Gotland Winter Fleece
Once the cold weather sets in and our New England winter is underway, the Gotland’s wool growth nearly comes to a halt. Beneath the curls, they produce a winter fleece of fuzzy wool to keep themselves warm. The winter fleece tends to be lighter in color than the curls which grow all summer long. This past winter, I emailed photos of the changes I was seeing in our Gotland wool to a friend who owns sheep on Gotland island. He said that his sheep will do the same and that this is how they stay warm in the winter months. He also reassured me that what I was seeing was normal for Gotlands and that their wool would not grow much through the winter months.
Photos of our fall and winter shearings allow you to see the difference in the wool from one season to another. Though the winter fleeces are much shorter, I find that they are perfect for felting. The long staple length of the summer fleeces are perfect for processing into yarn and roving.