This breed looks very much like its ancestor, Gammelnorsk sau, but is larger and has a slightly different coat. It is the next-oldest breed in Norway, and while very very old, was nearly extinct a decade ago. Also related to the northern short tail ancestors, this dual coated breed remains threatened with only around 1000 breeding ewes. Until the 18th century, Gammelnorsk Spelsau were probably the most common sheep in Norway. In the late 1700’s importation of larger sheep from the UK led to a significant drop in the landrace population. Until about the 1950’s the modern Spelsau was nearly identical to the Gammelnorsk Spelsau – but the two breeds split off in the 50’s. Some shepherds opted to keep the larger UK influences sheep and others returned to the older hardier breed and bred out the imported traits.
Rams and ewes may be either horned or polled and they have a good herding instinct. Ewes are excellent mothers and good lambers and milkers. It’s a sturdy, hardy breed, preferring to be outside year round. They are not heavy sheep, and are compact and agile. They are efficient foragers and are excellent for landscape control and other ecosystem controls.
Because of the efforts to maintain the older breed distinction, there is a concerted effort to eliminate any traits and bloodlines that are linked to cross breeding – wither with Icelandic or UK imported sheep.
Well suited for hand crafts such as knitting and weaving, the average skirted adult fleece weight in Norway is about 3 lbs and all colors are allowed and encouraged. Indeed, one might say that there are as many color variations for Gammelnorsk Spelsau as there are for Shetland! Fleeces are shorn annually in spring if the flock is kept outside and in fall if they utilize a barn but there should be a clear difference between the under and outer coats. Very long outer coats are encouraged by the breed standard so an outer coat of 9” or more is quite common’ a minimum of 6” should extended beyond the under coat and the undercoat should be a third as long as the outer coat.