Sheep Breeds of Great Britain
The Cotswold sheep is one of Britain's native breeds. It is now regarded as rare by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The word 'Cotswold' comes from two sources. 'Cots' or 'cotes' were shelters built to house sheep during harsh weather while 'wolds' was the name given to areas where the sheep were pastured.
The Cotswold Hills are wild, rugged and virtually devoid of vegetation. The area is around 280,000 acres in size and located in the south midland county of Gloucester, England. The temperate climate and good limestone soil makes the area quite suited to sheep-breeding.
This breed is similar in appearance to the Lincoln. The fleece falls somewhere in the middle of the Leicester and Lincoln for fineness and quality. The Cotswold is a little smaller and has more hair on the top of the head than does the Lincoln. The wool is slightly softer and finer and an excellent choice for spinning and weaving.
It is probable that there were sheep in the Cotswolds when Caesar invaded. They had long, heavy wool and were vital to the success of the wool industry of the medieval era.
Thirty thousand sacks of Cotswold wool was granted from Gloucestershire for the household of King Edward III. In 1425, King Henry VI prohibited the export of sheep without his permission. By the 16th century, the sheep were so valuable they were known as the 'Cotswold lions'.
In an effort to improve the quality of the carcass, Leicester rams were brought in around 1780. Although meat quality improved, the size of the animal decreased and from 1825 breeding stock were again being selected for larger size and heavier fleeces.
There is documentation to support the fact that Cotswold sheep were exported to the United States in 1832 although there were already similar sheep there. The Cotswold was used over other breeds to improve the size and quality of lambs and to produce a longer length staple in fleeces without losing weight from the fleece.
Cotswolds are large sheep. Rams weigh around 300 pounds and ewes 200 pounds. The fleece is coarse and naturally wavy with curls 8 to 10 inches in length. The fleece hangs in locks. It is rather open and can be prone to matting. Being so open, it parts along the back and thus does not protect the sheep particularly well. It can look rather untidy if not kept clean and in good condition.
Ewes produce about 12 pounds of white wool yearly. The ewes are excellent mothers which lamb easily and have a good milk supply. The lambs are strong and vigorous. Lambing percentages of over 150% are not uncommon. The sheep have white or greyish-white faces and legs. Some will have small black spots. The nose, hooves and inside the ears is dark. There is a tuft of wool on the forehead. The sheep are tough with excellent longevity. They are easy keepers and require little in the way of supplementary feeding.
Crossbreeds generally inherit the hardiness, thriftiness, heavier fleeces, ease of lambing and maternal instincts of their Cotswold parent.