Out of 14 genuine Swedish breeds, 13 are being held in a conservation program. Most of those are considered to be threatened - or even at risk of going extinct. Hardly anyone knows about this.

We want to change that...(read more)

With the start of industrialism in early 1900’s, demands on sheep and it’s wool changed. The multipurpose animals that cleaned the lands, gave meat and wool for both clothes and rugs was set aside to favor the larger modern breeds. Mills sought for soft, uniform wool and meat industry wanted larger meat bodies. Even if some Swedish breeds today have gotten closer to meet those demands, none did it then.

Most of the Swedish sheep breeds are small creatures guarded with a thick dual coated fleece that varies heavily as to wool types and structure. Looking at the demands of the early 1900’s – not to speak of today’s industry, you could say that those sheep is everything the industry doesn’t want. At the same time, they’re everything a small-scale farmer and a hand spinner would ever ask and wish for.

Those hardy, often very healthy breeds, are the perfect land cleaners. They’re particular found of leaf and bark and sometimes you can see an ewe standing on her back legs eating leafs from a high tree branch. They also produce that kind of wool that gives you endless opportunities to experiment. Every single fleece is unique. Though it’s true that many of those breeds are dual coated and have wool with great attitude, you will also find fleeces with the softest and finest of wools – quite often in the one and the same fleece.

Each and every breed has it’s own history. There’s success stories like for the Gotland sheep, a modern breed developed in 1920’s known for it’s shiny long locks, that produces both good meat bodies and tremendous pelts, a breed that has been spread to UK, US, Australia and New Zeeland. But there’s also the Fjällnäs sheep, a breed origin from the very north of Sweden that has decreased in numbers lately and today struggle for survival with less than 50 individuals left.

My passion for wool made me a sheep owner. At my farm 43 miles (70 km) north of Gothenburg, you’ll find my flock of rare breed sheep and me. Because I find them so interesting, I would like to share a piece of them and their fellow sheep mates of the Swedish breeds with you. Those breeds need your attention.

To be able to supply you with the best fleeces, I work closely with my suppliers. That also means I, in most cases, will be able to provide you the name or ID number of the sheep, together with the information of the farm that delivered the wool. Most of my suppliers runs small scale farms, a few are professional breeders, most have their sheep as a hobby. What ties them all together is the fact that all of them love their sheep and think they have the best breed there is.

This is no mainstream wool; this is wool with a purpose.

Elin Dahllöv, Founder of Swedish Fibre

OUR BREEDS

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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 412 (2012)
Endangered
Swedish crofters’ sheep

It was the fleece that made Dala-Päls known back in the days especially the lambs’ curl with the corkscrew ending. These fells attracted the attention of the women who used them to trim their traditional winter coats in a number of villages in the province of Dalarna in Western Central Sweden.

Dala-Päls sheep are double-coated. The wool varies within the breed and reaches from fine wools to long fibres, where the latter predominates. Wool types often vary in one and the same individual. Medullated fibers are common and rams may have hair resembling horsehair on the neck and shoulders. The typical Dala-Päls sheep is white. Black lambs occur and these individuals lighten to grey with age.

Dala-Päls sheep have been registered in the gene bank since 1997.

Photo: Helen Antonsson
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Swedish Finewool
Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 3472 (2013)
Swedish native breed

Finull sheep (internationally called Swedish Finewool) is a friendly breed whose individuals are easily tamed. It is relatively commonly used in production as the breed has a high fertility, produces good meat carcases, wool and sheepskins.

Finull sheep occur in white, brown, black and, more rarely, speckled. They have a fine crimpy or wavy wool that falls into the category of fine and medium wool. The staple varies between 15-25 microns.

Photo: Linda Färnevik
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Breeding ewes: 17663 (2013)
Swedish Native Breed

The Gotland sheep (internationally sometimes also named Swedish Fur) originate from the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea and are descendents of the Gute sheep. They are primarily known for their shiny, curly fleece and are bred mainly for sheepskins and meat. Due to breeding focus on the skins, the double coat has been replaced by a fleece constituted solely of guard hairs. A typical Gotland sheep is grey but the shade may vary. Lambs are often born black and lighten with age, a process that continues throughout their lifetime.

The sheep produce a long wool and according to the Swedish breed standards the curl should be grey, curly or wavy and shiny. Gotland sheep are the only Swedish breed high in number and are not part of a conservation program.

Photo: Moa Blidberg
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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 902 (2012)
Endangered
Swedish crofters’ sheep

Industrialization and modern wool- and meat-production lie behind the disappearance of many of the crofters’ breeds of sheep. This is certainly the case with the Rosla sheep. This breed, having once been the most common sheep on farms in the Roslagen area, just north of Stockholm, was reduced to a single flock as the modern meat-breeds made their entry in the early 1900’s. Similarly to many of the other crofters’ breeds, Roslag sheep are small in size. Their fleece is double-coated with curly or wavy wool. The sheep are white, black with small white spots or black and white speckled. Every now and then, a reddish-brown lamb is being born, paling to a creamy white as it ages. The wool is best suited to spinning as it is hard to felt.

Roslag sheep have been in the gene bank since 1997.

Photo: Anna Hedendahl
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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 6472* (2013)
Swedish native breed

This breed in which the rams often get magnificent horns, is an ancient breed originating on Gotland, Sweden’s largest island. The breed used to be known as “Gotland Outdoor”, but as the Gotland sheep breed entered the scene, the Gute sheep was renamed. (“Gute” means “a native of Gotland” in the local dialect.) The breed, in which even females have horns, is considered to be of primitive origin.

The fleeces are double-coated and the wool type varies from sheep to sheep. Kemp, medullated fibres and mane-hairs are common. The colour often varies through different shades of grey. Even though the guard-hairs are sometimes very thick and strong, the undercoat can be very soft and silky with high lustre. Some Gute sheep still shed naturally in late spring or early summer.

* Two organisations with different approaches towards defining what constitutes a pure-bred Gute sheep exist. The numbers above do not take these differences into account; They represent all sheep registrated as “Gute” in the Swedish breeding statistics.

Photo: Therese Modd
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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 676
Endangered
Swedish crofters’ sheep

The Helsinge sheep used to be the common breed in the province of Hälsingland (Helsingland) in north-east central Sweden. They’re quite sturdy and the females often get coarser heads with age. Colour varies widely and sheep with more than one colour are common. The fleece is double-coated. The wool often consists of a mixture of medium to long wool types, but finer wools do occur. Mane hairs are common on rams and can sometimes be found on ewes too. Ewes are hornless while rams often, but not always, have horns. The Helsinge sheep prefer pastures with trees rather than pure grass pastures. They readily accept familiar faces but act with scepticism towards strangers. What's really special about the Helsinge sheep is that it's quite common that the sheep have a have teat-like outgrowths on their throats? The Swedish word for these is “skillingar”. Nobody really knows the function of these appendages but it's considered to be a sign of an older sheep breed. but act with skepticism to strangers.

Helsinge sheep have been in the gene bank since 1999.

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Conservation breed:
Breeding ewes: 288 (2012)
Endangered
Swedish crofters’ sheep

As do many crofters’ sheep, these originate from the province of Dalarna. This particular breed comes from the small village of Svärdsjö. It is related that this kind of sheep has “always” been on the farm on which they were re-discovered in the 90’s, the farm having been recorded since the 1600’s. Historically, the sheepskin was used for clothes and the wool was spun into knitting yarns.

The sheep are often white, sometimes with black spots. Black sheep with white spots also occur. Both sexes are polled. The wool is a fine wool type with a crimpy base and a curly tip, perfect for garments worn next to the skin. It’s one of the few crofters breeds that does not have a distinct double-coated fleece.

Svärdsjö sheep have been in the gene bank since 1997.

Photo: Nina Lundberg
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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 1406 (2012)
Swedish crofters’ breed

The stories behind the older Swedish breeds often relate a family tradition, striving to hold on to the kind of sheep that has “always been on the farm”. This applies to Åsen sheep that were re-discovered in the village of Åsarna in the province of Dalarna in west central Sweden.

Colours vary from white through grey to black. The fleeces are double-coated and the staple of the wool varies from fine to long wool type. The type of wool can also vary widely in one and the same individual.

Åsen sheep have been in the gene bank since 1997.

Photo: Elisabeth Gustavsson
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Crossbreed

The Jämtland sheep is a cross between Svea sheep and merino, the Svea sheep itself being a cross between Finull and a meat bread, often Texel. The sheep are good meat-producers and have fine merino-like wool, making them a dual production breed. Most flocks are located in the province of Jämtland and the Northern parts of Sweden.

Photo: Anna Hedendahl
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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 2445 (2013)
Swedish native breed

As with many of the Swedish breeds, this too was teetering on the edge of extinction in the early 1900’s. What may have saved it originally was the lustrous wool that was a favourite with the women in the province of Dalarna, who used it to trim clothes. Then, in 1915, the breed was “re-discovered” as handicraft enthusiasts were searching for the sheep that produced the shiny wool once used in old Rya (shaggy wool) rugs. They came across a few smaller groups of these sheep and took a number of them to the west coast of Sweden, where a dedicated breeding programme begun. Today, a hundred years later, the Rya sheep are still low in numbers, but the breed is no longer in the risk zone.

A lock of Rya wool shall have as much undercoat as outer wool and the fibres should be shiny. The lock of a lamb should be at least 6 inches (15 cm) at the age of 100 days, but a length of 7-10 inches (18-25 cm) is preferable.

Photo: B. Alexandersson
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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 475 (2012)
Endangered
Swedish crofters’ sheep

This double-coated breed originates from the village of Klövsjö in the province of Jämtland in north western Sweden. The sheep are friendly and the ewes are good mothers. Rams are often placid and can be kept with the ewes and the lambs all year, but are wary towards predators and strangers. The fleece has long and often lustrous guard hair. The most common colours are white and black, but brown, grey and spotted sheep also occur.

Klövsjö sheep have been in the gene bank since 2003.

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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 3078
Swedish crofters’ sheep

In comparison with a modern meat breed, Värmland sheep would be considered small, but they are one of the largest-bodied breeds of Swedish crofters’ sheep. The breed is also one of the most common amongst the crofters’ breeds. It originates from the province of Värmland in central west Sweden and was once known under the name “skogsfår” (woodland sheep). This term is no longer in use, but it is true that this breed can, and formerly did, survive in woodland pastures, being fond of eating tree branches, both leaves and bark.

The wool varies within the breed. Even though fine and medium wools are most common, long wool also appears. The breed is double-coated but the length and quantity of outer hairs vary. There is a wide range of colours within the breed: white, beige, brown, grey and black. Spotted sheep are common.

Värmlands sheep have been in the gene bank since 1997. w

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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 459 (2012)
Endangered
Swedish crofters’ breed

This breed of sheep originates from the village Mörtebo in Gästrikland (Gestrike) province in east central Sweden. They are known for being unusually tame and affectionate. Both ewes and ram may have horns, but it is more common that both sexes are polled. The sheep vary in colour; white, brown, black, grey and colours in between, and spotted and parti-coloured animals are common. The fleeces are double-coated and vary from a very fine wool to a long wool type. The undercoat is often compact.

Gestrike sheep have been in the gene bank since 2000.

Photo: Lisa Landberg
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Conservation breed
Breeding ewes: 40 (2012)
Critical
Swedish crofters’ breed

This breed was re-discovered as late as the early 2000´s and is the only known remainder of a kind of sheep that once was common in the northern regions of Sweden. It was re-discovered in the village of Fjällnäs in the very north of Sweden, above the Arctic Circle in the province of Lappland. This small, hardy breed has a compact body that is adapted to the cold weather of the North. Both sexes are normally polled, but small horns can appear on rams.

The fleece is often white with a yellow tone. Pale copper-coloured sheep occur. The fleeces are double-coated. The length and waviness of the guard hairs vary, but compared to other breeds with the same kind of fleece, Fjällnäs sheep have a larger amount of undercoat as a result of the cold weather conditions.

Fjällnä sheep have been in the gene bank since 2010.

Photo: Eva Elke, Sveriges Radio

THEIR ORIGIN