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Gotland Sheep

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Other common names: Gotland Pelt; Gotland Peltsheep; Pälsfår; Gotlandsfår

The basics:
The Gotland Sheep was first established on the Swedish island of Gotland. They are one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep breeds. The hornless (polled) Gotland is a direct descendant of another breed native to Gotland Island, the horned Gute Sheep.

According to the Gotland Sheep Breeders Association of North America, "It is believed that the breed was first established on the Swedish island of Gotland by the Vikings. They crossed the native Swedish Gute sheep with Karakul and Romanov sheep brought back from expeditions deep into Russia. The Vikings took these sheep on their travels providing their crew with meat and skins along the route. Those early travels contributed to the spread of these Northern short-tailed sheep and the development of related sheep breeds such as Icelandic, Finn and Shetland. Primitive horned Gute and Gotland sheep still exist on the island of Gotland today."

Appearance / health:
Gotland sheep are fine-boned and of medium size. 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, an even jaw and even teeth. Their slender neck and shoulders set smoothly into a level back with good depth and reasonable breadth of body. The slender legs are well spaced and upright. The tail is short with a hair covered tip. 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 even curl (purl) and staple that is soft to the touch.

One of the most common ailments among sheep is a viral skin disease called soremouth or “orf.” Ringworm or “club lamb fungus” is a rash also common among sheep. And much like “mad cow disease,” sheep can have a similar neurological ailment called “scrapie.” Sheep health issues should be addressed by a qualified veterinarian. Good health is promoted by sanitary habitat conditions and proper nutrition.

Behavior / temperament:
Gotland Sheep are docile and friendly.

Housing / diet:
Sheep are grazing animals and do well living their entire lives outdoors. They get sufficient exercise and fresh air out in the field. They do need shelter from bad storms and unusually hot days. Many sheep keepers install field structures to provide shade, for example, hutches, domes, carports, and makeshift sheds. A common shade structure is a hoop house, like an open hangar or a greenhouse, which has a metal arched frame covered with tarp or other heavy-duty fabric.

Some sheep owners keep their flock in a barn or similar enclosure to protect them from predators. These enclosures must have very good ventilation because moisture and poor air conditions lead to the sheep’s poor health.

For warmth and comfort, bedding material should be provided. The best bedding is absorbent, clean, and dry. Some options are straw, wood shaving, sawdust, corncobs, dried corn stalks, peat, hemp, paper, and alfalfa hay. Preference is determined by cost, availability, convenience, and type of sheep. Wool sheep will not appreciate sawdust because it gets in their fleece. Paper is highly absorbent but difficult to manage in the field.

Lambs start with their mother’s milk and a light diet of pasture grass at two weeks old. After weaning the lambs from ewe’s milk at six weeks old, they can start eating dry feed of grains (wheat, oats, barley, cottonseed, corn), soybean and peanut hulls, and hay. The main diet of sheep is fresh grass and other forage and pasture vegetation. The pasture must be fertile and large enough to support the grazing of sheep for about seven hours a day (morning and afternoon). Fresh water must be constantly available, especially during the warm months and if the diet is mostly dry hay. Supplements are recommended, and must be given in the middle of the day to balance the sheep’s food intake.