The Cotswold Sheep : An ancient breed as friendly as a dog
This breed of sheep originated in the Cotswolds, a hilly region of south central England. It is one of the oldest English long wool breeds and is thought to have descended from the flocks kept by the Romans during the time that England was a Roman territory.
The Cotswold sheep was at the heart of the English wool trade during the Middle –Ages, and, at that time, wool was responsible for around fifty percent of the country’s economy. Many fine medieval churches were built from the wealth generated by these animals. The breed remained one of the most important breeds for both wool and meat production right up to the early twentieth century.
The Cotswold is a large sheep with a friendly personality, and they are famous for being ‘easy keepers’. They have a long, thick, curly white fleece. The face and legs are without wool and the animal is usually white. The Cotswold has a forelock of ringlets, which distinguishes it from the other long wool breeds. Neither the ewes nor the rams have horns.
Being a large breed, the Cotswold also has a good carcass weight for meat production. Although they grow slowly, they do well on pasture and are adapted to fairly harsh weather conditions. Ewes weigh around 85-90kg and rams, 130kg.
The Cotswold first arrived in Canada in the 1860’s and it was soon established as a favourite breed among farmers. Consider this testimonial which appeared in Quebec’s Journal d’agriculture in 1889:
For me, I prefer the cotswold and why? Because its wool is white and I can make a quantity of valuable household items such as covers, flannels etc., everything that one cannot do with a shorter, too gray wool. … Because the weight of the dry and clean wool from each cotswold is 8 to 13 lbs per fleece … Because the meat is at least equal if not greater in weight and quality to any other breed … .The cotswold copes well in our climate and our pastures …. (J.O.Coulombe)
By the 1870’s in Canada, the Cotswold ram was the preferred sire for most sheep farmers. Between 1878 and 1914, almost 75 000 Cotswold sheep were registered in the American flock book. After the First World War, the number of Cotswold sheep declined precipitously to the point of almost vanishing. Merino sheep came to be preferred for wool production, and farmers moved to the Suffolk and Dorset- whose lambs are faster growing – for meat.
“By 1978, however, the numbers had dwindled to 78. The situation had become drastic in the 1980s when there were an estimated Cotswold ewe population of just 35 in Canada.” (Ross Farm Museum, NS)
The number of Cotswolds has rebounded somewhat since the 1990’s. However they remain on the endangered list.
Sources: Canadian Cooperative Woolgrowers Ltd, Rare Breeds Survival Trust UK, The Ross Farm Museum, Nova Scotia, Le journal d’agriculture du Québec juillet 1889.