The Gotland Upbreeding Project-Artificial Insemination
A group of American sheep breeders were attracted to the personality, smaller size, and lustrous curly gray fleeces of the Gotland breed. They were excited to establish this unique and rare breed of sheep in the United States. As purebred Gotlands were not available in North America, semen would be collected from existing farms overseas, and artificial insemination used to build the breed here in the United States.
In 2003, Gotland semen was imported into the United States from the United Kingdom, and the Gotland upbreeding project began. This was followed by New Zealand semen in 2009, and Swedish semen in 2011 and New Zealand embryos in 2013. Breeders selected foundation ewes from ten different breeds of other northern short-tailed and long wool sheep for the upbreeding program. Through artificial insemination, and after many years of selective breeding, in 2015, 97.5% Gotland lambs were born in North America, as well as a small number of 100% Gotlands, derived from the imported New Zealand embryos. With high percentage rams existing within the United States, breeders may now use natural breeding as well as artificial insemination to build their flocks.
Utilizing genetics from several different countries, provides much genetic diversity within the small pool of Gotland sheep in the United States. It also allows American breeders to select for valuable Gotland qualities needed within their individual flocks. Each country brings a unique set of characteristics to the breed: Swedish and British genetics for the curl definition and luster in the fleeces, and New Zealand genetics for the fineness in fleece.
GSBANA approves ten different foundation sheep breeds for upbreeding Gotland sheep.These breeds have either the body type (Nothern European Short-Tails) or fleece type (Luster Longwools) similar to Gotland sheep.
Challenges & Opportunities
The Foundation Breeds used in the Gotland Upbreeding Project have characteristics that are different from those of Gotlands. While it will be a challenge developing uniformity within the breed while meeting the Gotland breed standards, this also presents an opportunity to create a Gotland sheep that is unique to North America.
Some breeders in Sweden are working towards a brown Gotland, as luster longwools in brown are uncommon. Other Swedish breeders are generating white Gotlands, to create white sheep with the unique silkiness and curl of the Gotland fleece.
GSBANA members are fortunate that the foundation breeds introduce brown to the genetic pool, and that GSBANA guidelines allow the registration of this color in addition to shades of grey, black and white. This is just one of the wonderful opportunities with Gotland Sheep in North America.