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Wide Product Variety
Even On A Small Farm

By Tim King

Laurie Andreacci, and her husband Scott, have a small New Jersey farm. On those 10 acres they have big plans. They are working with a small group of shepherds across the country to introduce Gotland sheep to North America. Laurie, who is a dedicated hand spinner, enjoys raising unusual breeds. She has a flock of Tunis. She has a flock of Shetlands. And she has been working on her Gotland flock for the last five years.

“Got To Have Gotland Fleece”

Laurie and triplets (Pearl, Legolas, Mica)
Laurie and triplets (Pearl, Legolas, Mica)

Gotland sheep have spinning counts mostly from 48s to 54s.
Gotland sheep have spinning counts mostly from 48s to 54s.

“I saw a Gotland fleece at a show and I had to have the animal,” Laurie, who is now the President of the American Gotland Sheep Society, said. “I’ve been working on upbreeding Gotlands for five years. We are artificially inseminating Shetlands with Gotland semen. First you get 50%. You hope you have a ewe and then you breed her and get 75%. You are constantly trying to breed up. They will never be pure-blood animals but eventually they will be called full blood.”

Gotland fleeces range from a silver gray to a dark charcoal that is almost black and is fabulous for over-dyeing, according to Laurie.

“Think mohair, only softer,” she said. “It’s in the upper 20s to low 30s in microns. By crossing them with the Shetland or the Border Leicester we make it even softer.”

Andreacci knows fleeces.

“I sell most of my fleeces before they are sheared,” she said. “Some of them are sold for as long as I have the animal. I’m very fussy about my fleeces. If anybody goes over 26 microns, I’m sorry, but they have to leave. I measure them every year so I know exactly how soft everybody is.”

Laurie said being part of an effort to bring a new, and rare, breed to the U.S. is both exciting and highly satisfying.

“The Gotlands are rare in this country and they are rare everywhere except in Sweden,” she said. “It’s exciting to be promoting new wool because hand spinners are always looking for something new. This is a medium-sized docile animal that can be handled by almost everyone in the family.”

Transplanting Ancient Roots On American Soil

Gotlands were first established on the Swedish island of Gotland by the Vikings who crossed Karakul and the forerunners of the Romanov sheep (brought back from expeditions deep into Russia) with the native landrace sheep.

Rare Gotlands yield high-priced fleeces twice yearly.
Rare Gotlands yield high-priced fleeces twice yearly.

Andreacci reports Tunis sheep have very lean and mild flavored meat. Tunis Ram (recently shorn)
Andreacci reports Tunis sheep have very lean and mild flavored meat. Tunis Ram (recently shorn)

The modern Gotland has been developed in Sweden since the 1920s through controlled breeding and intensive selection. The result is a truly multipurpose long wool sheep, yielding good flavored close-grained meat, fur skins, and soft, silky, lustrous fleece.

“You can shear them twice a year as a plus, and get fleeces four to six inches long,” Laurie said. “They are born black and after four months they change color to these lighter shades of gray. They are brilliant, lovely, and very productive.”

Andreacci is working with Martin Dally, of Super Sire Limited and other shepherds, to import Gotland semen from the United Kingdom. Currently, the only semen being offered in the U.S. is from David Barlow of Whitehall Farm, U.K.

Martin Dally, who locates high quality genetics from around the world, has a reputation for encouraging shepherds who enjoy raising more than one unusual breed. Andreacci is not an exception. She began by raising Tunis.

Tunis, Too!

“I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and I saw the Tunis and liked it,” she said. “The lady who had them was absolutely lovely. We went to her farm and I bought ten animals right then and there.”

Tunis, although not well known, have been in the U.S. since the beginning of the 19th century. That makes it one of the oldest American breeds. Sometimes it is also called the American Tunis.

It is a medium-sized meat-type sheep characterized by creamy wool, copper-red colored faces and legs, pendulous ears, and minor fat deposits over the dock area.

Tunis have wool that is a lustrous, 24 to 30 microns, and is long-stapled at four to six inches. It has found favor in many fiber and textile enterprises. Ewes typically shear a fleece that weighs six to nine pounds.

“Tunis is great if you just want a small carcass,” Laurie said. “It is very lean and mild flavored meat.”

Shetland Advantages

Andreacci’s third breed also has a small carcass.

“Shetlands are considered a miniature breed but they are not miniature bred,” she said. “They are just really small and cute. They come in thirty-three recognized patterns and eleven main colors. They are soft. They are friendly. They are curious. I’m hooked on them.”

In addition to white, Shetlands produce wool in colors including moorit (reddy/brown), shaela (silvery grey), fawn, grey, dark brown and black. Many of the colors still bear their Shetland dialect names. Patterns include krunet (white crown), katmoget (dark belly) and gulmoget (light underneath).

A Tunis ram (recently shorn)
A Tunis ram (recently shorn)

Shetlands have many color patterns. (Photo by Nancy Larsen)
Shetlands have many color patterns. (Photo by Nancy Larsen)

A lot of tiny Shetland sheep will fit even on a farm of limited acreage.
A lot of tiny Shetland sheep will fit even on a farm of limited acreage.

Unfortunately, many of these colors and patterns have become quite rare as white wool has historically commanded better prices. Fleeces usually weigh between two and four pounds but five pounds is not uncommon, according to Laurie. The fleeces have a staple length of two to 4.5 inches.

Like the Gotland, Shetlands are naturally short tailed and do not require docking. Another advantage, from Laurie’s perspective, is that Shetlands are small. The horned rams usually weigh from 90 to 125 pounds and ewes about 75 to 100 pounds. That makes them easy to handle. It is also an advantage on a small farm.

“The Shetlands have such a little impact on the ground,” she said. “You can have three of them to every Tunis.”

Laurie has 15 Tunis ewes and 35 Shetland ewes. With her emphasis on rare and little known breeds it would be expected that she would be only a passionate advocate for those three breeds. She does spend plenty of time telling people about Gotlands, Shetlands, and Tunis. For that reason she has been successful in selling starter flocks, fleeces, and slaughter lambs. But her commitment does not stop with her breeds.

“I’m on the web a lot,” she said. “I will chat with anybody that has the slightest interest in sheep even if it’s not my breed. I’ve “long-distance mentored” a couple of people that don’t even have my breeds. I’ve made life long friends that way.”

“I have a theory that it doesn’t matter if it’s not my breed of sheep,” Laurie continued. “It’s sheep and we’re all in it together. We’re all going to survive together or fail together. We need to promote the breeds and promote sheep in general and not nit-pick with each other. I don’t do that. We’re all in it together. We need to get along.”

More information about Laurie Andreacci can be found at her website: www.laurieslambs.com.

Information about Gotlands can be found at www.americangotlandsheep.com and information about Shetlands can be located at www.shetland-sheep.org.

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