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More Viking Sheep!

Gotland Ram Lamb Jens Bonderup Kjeldsen

The Gotland sheep were established on the Swedish island of Gotland by the Vikings along with Karakul and Romanov sheep that crossed with the native landrace sheep. It created a beautiful and unique sheep known today mostly from the Lord of the Rings films.

Let’s talk about the “Lord of the Rings sheep” technically the sheep that provide the wool for all of the movies are the Stansbourough Grey which are a strand or subtype of Gotland sheep. In the last 20 years the Stansbourough farm used selective breeding and time to create their ideal fiber in their flock of 1200 sheep, they are the only owners and breeders for the Stansbourough Grey Gotland sub type. Stansbourough‘s website never states that the “grey sheep” they bought were Gotland sheep it implies and New Zealand’s importing records states what they are. ‘Stansborough Greys’ were recognized as unique sheep breed in their own right in 2005 four years after the first movie premiered. All of the genetics that founded the ‘Stansborough Greys’ are in the Gotland and the fiber profiles are quite similar.



Breed standards

Gotland Sheep Spring Growth Photo: Malene Thyssen

Gotland sheep are fine-boned and of medium size. Their disposition is docile and friendly. Gotlands are polled and have no wool on their black heads and legs. Sometimes there may be white markings on the top of the head or around the nose and mouth. They have alert medium-sized ears that stand outwards with a small neat muzzle. The tail is short with a hair-covered tip.


The best fleece grows through summer and autumn, while winter and early spring growth is often soft, fluffy, unpigmented fibers. Winter shearing therefore will produce the best fleece. A second clip in spring of the fluffy fiber leaves the skin clear for the new long wool growth. The fiber is 35 microns as the black fibers are slightly thicker than white. A winter fleece has a staple length of 6 ½ inches.


Gotland Sheep and lamb Photo: Per Ola Wiberg

While Gotland is one of the Northern European Short-Tailed Breeds their fiber resembles an English luster Longwool and brings to mind mohair with its natural luster. The fleece is fine, long, lustrous and dense and can be all shades of grey from silver to charcoal grey and dark enough to be almost black. They have a clearly defined locks with an even curl (aka purl) and staple that is soft to the touch. What many consider the most outstanding element about the fiber is colors.

  • Grey: is a blend of black and white fibers.
  • Black and pure white fibers give blue-grey.
  • Black and off-white gives a smoky brownish grey.
  • Gotland Gray wool does not discolor in sun exposure.


Ashland Bay Grey Gotland

The fine fleece, silver grey, lustrous and curly, is versatile and very warm. Spun yarn can be used to make soft, delicate garments or weatherproof outdoor wear. Drafts with a smooth long draw for a tight but not over spun fiber. When woven the color variations create a visually diverse look showcasing the white, grey and black elements of the blended fibers. If dyed, very subtle modified shades are obtained. The fleece is also excellent for felt making.


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