Origins Of The Gotland Breed:
The breed was first established on the Swedish island of Gotland by the Vikings with Karakul and Romanov sheep brought back from expeditions deep into Russia and crossed with the native landrace sheep. The Vikings were great seafarers as well as sheep farmers and took these animals on their extensive voyages to provide meat and skins along the route. Hence the spread of these Northern short-tailed sheep and the development into related breeds such as Gute sheep, Icelandic, Finnsheep, Shetland, North Ronaldsay and Manx. Primitive horned Gotland sheep (still called Gute) still exist on the island of Gotland today. The Gotland Peltsheep (pälsfår) or modern Gotland has been developed in Sweden since the 1920's through controlled breeding and intensive selection, producing a true multipurpose long wool sheep, yielding good flavored close-grained meat, furskins and soft, silky, lustrous fleece.
Fleece is fine, long, lustrous and dense with clearly defined curl and staple, soft to the touch. It is typically 29 to 34 microns in diameter at 18 months of age, as measured midside at the last rib. Lambs wool is typically in the low to mid 20's micron range.
Origins of The Leicester Longwool Breed:
The Leicester Longwool breed is also known as the English Leicester (pronounced lester). The breed was developed in England in the mid 1700s by innovative breeder Robert Bakewell, the first to use modern selection techniques to improve livestock breeds. Bakewell transformed a coarse, large boned, slow growing animal into one that grew rapidly for market and produced a higher quality fleece.
News of Bakewell’s ideas reached the colonies before the American Revolution and so intrigued George Washington that he made reference to them in several letters. Washington was particularly interested in Bakewell’s sheep, writing that he made the “choice of good rams from the English Leicester breed” for his own flock. In 1837, the agriculturist Youatt wrote that, “within little more than half a century the New Leicester had spread themselves to every part of the United Kingdom and to Europe and America.”
The Leicester Longwool was highly prized in America, especially for its use in crossbreeding to improve “native” stock. During the 1800s, however, the breed lost favor to the Merino and other fine wool breeds. After 1900, the Leicester Longwool fell into decline and was likely extinct in the United States during the 1930s or 1940s. A very small population remained in Canada. In 1990, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a historic site in Virginia, reestablished the breed in North America by importing sheep from Australia. Several conservation flocks have now been established, and the population of Leicester Longwool sheep in North America is increasing. This is important, given that the breed remains rare globally.
Leicester Longwool Fleece:
The fleece is dense and grade and style are uniform over the entire animal. The wool is ideally silky and lustrous with a soft handle. Locks should hang individually, have medium crimp or wave and have no tendency for crossfibering. The wool should have a well defined crimp or wave over the entire lock, and should be a uniform texture from the skin to the tip. High luster is typical of the breed. Wool is clean and white with little tendency for yellowing. Colored spots in white fleeces are objectionable. The wool growth for one year varies from 5 to 14 inches, fleece weights for ewes vary from 6 to 14 pounds, for rams 9 to 20 pounds. The fiber diameter is usually 32 to 38 microns, with a Bradford count of 40s to 46s.