It is believed that the breed was first established on the Swedish island of Gotland by the Vikings. They crossed the native Swedish Gute sheep with Karakul and Romanov sheep brought back from expeditions deep into Russia. The Vikings took these sheep on their travels providing their crew with meat and skins along the route. Those early travels contributed to the spread of these Northern short-tailed sheep and the development of related sheep breeds such as Icelandic, Finn and Shetland. Primitive horned Gute and Gotland sheep still exist on the island of Gotland today.
Gotland sheep are bright, active and friendly. They lamb easily, have a high lambing rate, produce abundant milk and have strong mothering instincts. Gotland sheep are very inquisitive, making them an entertaining sheep breed to own. They are hardy and adaptable to a variety of management systems.
Gotland sheep are fine-boned and of medium size. Gotlands are polled and have no wool on their black heads and legs. Sometimes there may be white markings on the top of the head or around the nose and mouth. They have alert medium sized ears that stand outwards with a small neat muzzle, an even jaw and even teeth. Their slender neck and shoulders set smoothly into a level back with good depth and reasonable breadth of body. The slender legs are well spaced and upright. The tail is short with a hair covered tip. The fleece is fine, long, lustrous and dense and can be all shades of grey from silver to charcoal grey and dark enough to be almost black. They have a clearly defined even curl (purl) and staple that is soft to the touch. Their disposition is docile and friendly. The fleece is prized in the US by handspinners and in Europe they are most desired for their pelts.