I think I’ve got my woolly mojo back. The garden is – um – vaguely tamed; the hands are a bit better; a cardigan is still not sewn up but it’s not cold enough to worry about that… yes, I think I have. It is strange, the way you hit a slack patch sometimes. It can last for ages, but at least I knew what was causing mine. Too much research. It’s the coloured sheep thing. It’s fascinating. No, it is.
Time to get away from books and academic papers and people talking about the whys and wherefores and history and rationale of coloured sheep – and actually meet some.
Through various contacts (friend > cousin > cousin’s husband) I spent part of last Monday surrounded by some extremely beautiful sheep and lambs. They were Gotlands or Gotland crosses, with the occasional ewe of another breed for the cross. Like this rather nattily dreadlocked Cotswold lady,
whom I could not resist photographing (you should see her run; her dreadlocks fly around madly but laughing meant I couldn’t hold the camera steady). Anyway, I think she’s chic and I want my hair like that.
The fleeces are absolutely beautiful. I’d encountered Gotland fleece before so I knew what to expect, plus I’d read, for instance, that it was fine Gotland wool which was used to make the Elvish cloaks in the Lord of the Rings movies, fleece from the Stanborough flock in New Zealand. But fondling some at Wonderwool and dealing with a sheared fleece are one thing. Running your fingers through the most perfect, silky, curly, lustrous fleece on a friendly ram lamb’s back is another.
The ram lambs are less nervous than the ewes, and one spent some time leaning against my fellow spinner like a medium-sized dog while she stroked and patted him. But we were there not just there to admire the flock, but to choose some fleeces – literally on the hoof.
Oh, the choice, the choice:
Gotland sheep naturally come in a range of colours – pale silvery grey/fawn to almost black – plus this flock also include some interesting crosses. I have already had a couple of Gotland x Black Welsh Mountain fleeces from them, and I wanted another, but when I was faced by this embarrassment of riches, I went a bit bonkers. Essentially, I wanted the lot.
No. No way.
The farmer has a lovely new Gotland ram (even the rams are friendly – well, friendly and, er, enthusiastic, ahem, to varying degrees), and that should have an interesting impact on the range of fleeces next year. The variability can be quite surprising, even so, and these two lambs eyeing each other up prior to a little light head butting are actually twins…
which must make lambing time even more interesting. What are you going to get? Who knows… and of course the presence of the crosses gives even more variety. Some crosses are being bred out, though; the Shetland strain is being reduced, for instance (horns are an issue – get them under something and you can do exciting things like lift gates off their hinges and get at the ewes when you shouldn’t, waaa hey).
Gotlands are a Swedish sheep originally, and owe their delicious colours to the fact that the modern breed was developed there from a primitive sheep, the Goth (aka Gutefår). Primitive sheep, early sheep, whatever you want to call them, are dark in colour; the cream or white fleece which many people think is the ‘normal sheep colour’ is actually a result of selective breeding. Goth sheep are generally dark, but they are also very variable – light and dark grey, even piebald (see above image, perhaps, for traces of this coming through), some with white bellies, some even with tan fibres in the fleeces.
Apparently there’s a legend in Sweden that the original Goth sheep actually came from the Black Sea area after Viking raids, but that’s as maybe. These Gotlands come from North Wales and I was not there to buy fleeces from the entire flock. I mean, there are seventy-five, and that’s a bit much even for me. Fortunately the ewes had been shorn and their fleeces sold at Woolfest.
I was only looking for one, a really black one, a Gotland x Black Welsh Mountain. That’s him, above, dressed, as it were. But somehow I seem to have ordered a couple more. At least it’s only two. And they are all going to be off the animals as well, which I think is very restrained. The neighbours already think I’m mad, but having a small flock of Gotlands in the garden would probably not go down well. And it would just add another level of distraction…