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Spinning in Scandinavia with Silja Devine: Norways endangered sheep breeds

by SiljaD on November 17, 2014

Autumn days are shearing days many places in Norway. And that makes this a perfect time to tell you about some of the Norwegian sheepbreeds. Norway has several breeds of sheep:   Blesetsau, Dala sheep, Finnish landrase, Fuglestadbrogete sheep, Old Norwegian spelsau, Old Norwegian sheep, Grey Troendersheep, Merino, Norwegian White sheep, Norwegian Peltsheep, Oxford down, Rygja sheep, Cheviot, Modern Spelsau, Steigar Sheep, Suffolk, Blackface, Texel and Eastfriisian milk sheep. Six of these breeds of these are on the endagered list and kept a close eye on: Rygja, Dala, Steigar, Bleset, Fuglestadbrogete and grey troendersheep. Two other breeds that are not on the endangered list, but are kept a close watch on is Old Norwegian Spelsau and Norwegian Peltsheep. I have also included information in this post about the oldest Norwegian breed called Old Norwegian sheep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADala sheep is a great growing and is a rough-in sheep. Adult ewes usually weigh between 80 and 100 kg. They are generally white, with sandy white guard hairs on the head and legs. But there is also black Dala sheep. Typical race marks are a wide neck, large ears and a gently sloping, broad muzzle with a black nose. The back is long, broad and well fleshed. Dala sheep gives much wool and it is long, but not a particularly fine-grained wool. It is the standard requirement that the wool should be free of guard hair. In breeding they are focusing on improving the wool qualities. By having this focus they have also reduced the incidence of birth difficulties, which previously was not unusual. Adult ewes  usually have twins and the lambs grow quickly. Dala sheep have a reputation of being a high maintenance sheep. In 2008,  Dala sheep was designated as a national conservation worthy race of the Norwegian Genetic Resource and Genetic Resource Committee for livestock. Today there is only about 1000-1200 Dala sheep left in Norway. In the 1860 Leicester sheep was introduced in several places in the country. From a place called Vik they spread to Voss where the sheep were breed with the “old kind of sheep” there. In 1923 Dala sheep was recognized as a breed of their own. More information here

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARygja sheep are slightly smaller than the Dala sheep but not as heavily built. The sheep has a black nose and hooves, a glossy and shiny coat on the head and legs (a heritage that probably comes from Spælsau). It may have black spots in the hair coat on the face and legs. It has good meat yield, and the wool is known to be shiny and almost free of guard hairs. Before the summer of 2008 there was no record of how many Rygja sheep that was left in Norway. There is about 1100 winterfed Rygja sheep spread over approximately 30 herds. In the 1700-1800 the local sheep in Rogaland was a crossbreed between several of the British breeds: Leicester, Sutherland, Southdown and merino and the traditional regional sheep in the area. In 1924 Rygja was recognized as its own breed. More information here

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFuglestadbrogete sheep is a high bodied and elongated and somewhat narrow grown sheep of a lightweight type. It is thin-legged, with good bone position. It has crossbreed wool, which may be somewhat coarser on the thighs. The ewes has well-formed udders with small teats. It is a good milksheep with good maternal characteristics, and are considered a good mother for crossbreeding. Fuglestadbrogete sheep has a white body color on the head and feet, with black markings that vary from mottled to completely self-colored head and legs, therefore “motley” or as it is locally called “brogete”. Some animals may have neckwool that is gray or have gray/black spots all over the body. Fuglestadbrogete sheep were approved breed of Norwegian Sheep and Goat (NSG) in 2004 and in 2008 was designated as a national conservation worthy race of the Norwegian Genetic Resource and Genetic Resource Committee for livestock. In 1909 three lambs were bought at a show in Leeds, UK and was imported to Norway. These were crossbreed with the local sheep and were the base of Fuglestadbrogete Sheep. Today there is about 1000 winterfed ewes in the country. More information here

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlaeser sheep are easily recognizable by the white bliss that has given the breed its Norwegian name. Sheep colors are black in lambs and young sheep and gets browner or grayer with age. The tail is long and black with a white tail tip. The legs can have white socks. The ewes weighs about 75-95 kg and rams 95-125 kg. Otherwise, the breed is relatively similar to rygjasauen in building and body shape. Blaeser sheep are known for good maternal characteristics, and it is claimed to have a good resistance to photo sensitivity and have good fertility. Blaeser sheep has been known in Rogaland since the 1920s. The breed belongs to the group of crossbred sheep. The origin is somewhat unclear as to whether it is a cross between black rygjasau and spelsau in the 1920s, or they might originate from zwartbles from the Netherlands. Today there are nearly 1,000 breeding ewes of Blaeser sheep in Norway today. More information here

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASteigar sheep is considered to be a quiet and productive sheep with good maternal characteristics. It is a medium sized sheep, high bodied with neat legs and adult ewes weight about 70-80 kilos. In addition to being a productive breed has also been known for its excellent wool quality. The back of steigarsauen should be long and well fleshed, and it has a head that is often distinguished by the slightly arched nasal bridge. Hair on the head is often not chalk white, but somewhat yellowish. Dark spots can occur also on the ears. But the fleece should not have any black hair. Nostrils and hooves should be black. Steigarsauen was in 2008 designated as a national conservation worthy race of the Norwegian Genetic Resource and Genetic Resource Committee for livestock.  Steigar sheep came to be known as a breed between the Sutherland sheep and the local northern Spelsau. At a later time Leicester was also breed in. In 1954 it was recognized as a breed. Today there is only about 650 sheep divided in 14 flocks left. More information here

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrey Troendersau should be black on the belly, legs and head with steel-gray wool on the back and sides. They should also have a white spot, “drop” underneath each eye. The breed has half long tail and wool of a crossbreed type. Grey Troender were originally bred gray, and what they called, fade resistant wool that was very fine-grained. Fine wool is also one of the goals for the breed today. Systematic wool sampling on conservation herds have shown that some animals still have very fine-grained wool. Today there are just under 400 winterfed ewes divided into approximately 25 herds. This breed was considered extinct until a small herd was discovered in Telemark in the 1990s. The breed has an uncertain past, but has been considered a breed since the 1930s. The breed is probably a cross between the extinct Tautersau and the Old Norwegian breed. More information here

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Old Norwegian Spelsau is a shorttail landrace type that can be with or without horns and have many different colors. The basic color can be black, gray, blue, brown, light brown, white, and with white markings on the head and body. The fleece is a dualcoat with a long coarse topcoat and a very fine undercoat. Old Norwegian spelsau represents an older type spelsau with greater diversity in color and horns than what is found in modern spelsau today. Wool qualities are well suited for handicraft purposes. It is estimated that today there are up to 3000 winterfed ewes in the country. These sheep has a long tradition in Norway and was in the early 1900 considered to be almost extinct, but a conservationproject saved the rase. Until the 1950s Old Norwegian Spelsau and Modern Spelsau had almost the same history. From that time the breeding got more focus and was more organized and effective than what it had been. In 2002 is was recongnized as a breed of its own after many years being seen side by side with Modern Spelsau and Old Norwegian sheep. More information here

pelssau2Norwegian pelt sheep is a Norwegian breed of the landrace type that was formally approved as late as 1968. The breed originated by the Swedish Gotland that were crossed with the “gray blue” variant of spelsau. It has also been repeatedly imported semen from Sweden, most recently in 2001. Exterior wise, pelt sheep have longer legs than the Spælsau, and it is considered to have better meat yield. The fleece must be solid gray with good luster. The main purpose is pelt production. More information here

GammelnorskSauPaaBeite_NHSOld Norwegian sheep is the most similar to the original and very first sheep that existed in Norway almost 5,000 years ago. The old Norwegian sheep should be small and light-footed, with wide variation in both color and markings. The fleece should be a dual coat and consist of dense undercoat of fine wool and coarse topcoat. It is not desirable long wool such as Spælsau have. Long wool is very unfortunate in snowy winters, because the sheep get so much snow and ice stuck in the wool that they have problems to move. Old Norwegian sheep shed their wool unlike other breeds that need to be cut. The tail should be short, the head should be noble, and legs should be slender and straight. Rams will have horns (wide, smooth and well-formed), the ewes can also have horns. For a time it was bred for polled ewes, since it was assumed that they  not so easily got stuck in fences. This has meant that there are fewer horned ewes today than before. This is not a breed that are considered to be eandangered or have to be watched closely, but it is considered to be a national breed in Norway. More information here

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it has made you think about if there are any breeds “close” to you that you should check out? I myself have tried spinning fleece from all of the above except Fuglestadbrogete, but I think I might have some coming soon.   In the meantime I will enjoy the white Dalasheep lambsfleece and the Brown Spelsau lambsfleece that are on their way to me!

All the images used in this post belongs to “Skog og landskap” and is used with permission from the photographer Anna Caroline Rehnberg who works at the Norwegian Genetic resource. The picture for the pelt sheep was kindly donated by Grethe Anita Andersen in the facebookgroup Norske saueraser

Spin Artiste:  Thank you so much, Silja!  This is fascinating information.  And, you have made me think about learning more about endangered breeds in my own area as well as in general.  Great post!!

Before we leave you for a few days, I just wanted to announce last week’s Camaj Soffsilk giveaway is Laura B.  Congrats to Laura — I will be in touch to coordinate you getting your lovely prize.

Until next time, all my fibery best, Arlene

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