In the year 1912, the feral sheep (gammelnorsk sau), had nearly disappeared, driven out by imported, mostly British breeds.
In order to save this old breed, two breeding-centres were set up by the Norwegian State, one on Hidle ( H ) on the West Coast, the other at Løyland ( L ) , Setesdalen.
The flock on Hidle came from Austevoll ( A ), where they have lived on their own for centuries. The other flock was collected from a few isolated farms in the upper parts of Setesdalen.
Breeding and changes of rams quickly increased the weight of the sheep. In 1918 came two rams from the Faeroe Islands, and in 1928 three rams from Iceland, ( Jon Sæland ). In addition came some rams from Shetlands.( Sigurd Bell, 1947 )
From the two centres animals were spread all over Norway, and especially on the West Coast, and gradually the spel-sheep we know to day was developed.
Semen were imported from Iceland around 1971, but without significant improvement of meat quality. The wool even got a set back, but was later improved again by breeding.
In 1981 the spel-sheep was imported to Jutland, Denmark from Vikeså (near Hidle), and from Furesdalen (near Løyland). About 60 animals were imported, and all spel-sheep in Denmark are a mix of those two flocks.
The flock on Hjelm came to the isle in 1995. At the moment there are 17 ewes and one ram, and it is possible by means of genealogical tables to follow the flock back to Austevoll, Løyland or even Faeroe Islands and Iceland.
Here the modern history of the spel-sheep come to an end, but it’s ancestor the feral sheep, goes directly back to the viking age. They were onboard the ships when the vikings explored the North Atlantic. ( see map ).
At the moment there is a project going on in the Nordic Gene Bank to study the relations between the nordic landrace breeds. (Northern short tailed sheep). Sheep-Isle will closely follow this project.
So the flock on Sheep-Isle has it’s roots in the North Atlantic area. This article has been based on historical documentation, but to complete the story, West Coast grapevine claims persistently that a ram was smuggled into Norway from the Shetlands by a fishing boat during World War Two. . . .
From Sheep-Isles archives.
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