Gotland fleece holds lustre in sun
Rare sheep breed has a number of unusual characteristics, Kem Ormond discovers.
While visiting friends, I noticed a sheep pelt laying on their couch. It had beautiful defined crimping, a high lustre fleece and was silvery grey in colour.
When I asked where it came from, they said “a Gotland sheep”.
Gotland sheep? I had never heard of them. In New Zealand they are considered a rare breed. They are New Zealand’s only true coloured sheep. That is to say that other breeds of sheep are either white or coloured, but the Gotland is always coloured.
One thing to note is that their wool does not discolour in sunlight.
The breed originated on the Island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, off the east coast of Sweden. In the 1920s, through intensive and selective breeding, Sweden produced the modern Gotland sheep that we see today.
This multipurpose breed produces wool, pelt, and meat.
Their colour ranges from silver to the softest shade of grey and these are highly desired by spinners, knitters, and weavers. The wool ranges from 29 to 33 microns with the wool from a lamb being as fine as 20 microns.
The cutest black lambs are born and as they age their fleece turns a beautiful silver grey.
With many unique characteristics, Gotland sheep are often chosen for their high lambing rate, strong mothering instincts, abundant milk production, hardy nature, being short tailed and hornless and their small stature and calming nature. It goes without saying their wool and pelts are like pure silk to the touch and their meat mild, but flavoursome.
Vanessa Dickie from Three Sticks in the heart of Waverley, Taranaki, and her husband raise Gotland sheep.
She said she chose the breed as they were beautiful, interesting and a little bit different. Ten years ago, she purchased eight Gotland ewes from Otago, to use for meat and to graze the driveway.
Deciding the pelts were too beautiful to be discarded, she had some professionally tanned and was thrilled with the finished article.
Now with 100 breeding ewes in the flock, she has diversified into selling the pelts online and the demand is strong. Not only do they now grace furniture in homes, but they are also shipped overseas or given as gifts for new-born babies.
Many of the flock started life as family pets and did the circuit of the local school pet day. So, rounding them up is what Vanessa’s children love to do . . . no dog needed, they know the call from the children and come running.
“Having a retired father to help with advice and encouragement has been a big advantage with this new venture” says Vanessa. “They do need a regular pedicure every six weeks or so as they have feet very much like a goat and are susceptible to a bit of foot rot.”
Vanessa’s long-term vision is to have some of the wool spun and made into beautiful products. She also feels there is an opportunity to promote the meat as a specialty meat due to its fine texture and the fact it has less fat than an average sheep.
But the diversity does not stop there, with 60,000 manuka trees planted, they harvest the manuka to be made into beautiful oil and oil products such as lip balm and first aid gel.
At present they have a project on the design board using manuka oil and all its healing properties, along with Gotland wool to produce a healing dressing.
With dairy farming their main income, the Gotland sheep and manuka oil are a pleasant distraction while adding to the diversity of their farming operation.