Norwegian sheeps breeds

Collecting information on different breeds found in Norway is mainly based on the article The Sheep as Household Animal by Serinius Trodahl in "The Sheep Book". The book is from 1998 and has not been updated for several years, so the statistics are not current.

Originally it was the wool that was the most important product from the sheep. Therefore it was better wool quality that was the goal for the sheep imported to Norway in the 17th and 18th century. (An article in Aftenposten said that it is believed that the Vikings – and therefore Norwegians – taught other Europeans how to use wool, so this would pre-date the above-mentioned import of sheep.)

In Norway there are two main types of wool from sheep. The original breed had wool with double characteristics, what we call wool from the “spæl” sheep (Old Norwegian Short Tail Land Breed). Two different fiber types appear side-by-side in the felt. The bottom-fibers (telet) consist of fine, short fibers, while the cover-fibers (toget) consist of long, coarse fibers. The other wool-type has a unified characteristic and is called cross-bred type. They are closer to the bottom-fibers, but coarser than the bottom-fibers from spæl-sheep.

There are six breeds of sheep in Norway. Two have short tails and wool that consists of the two fiber-types: The spæl sheep and the Norwegian fur-sheep, while the others have long tails and are cross-bred types. In addition there are foreign breeds and mixed breeds (numbers from 1997 are printed in the book, more updated available?).

  • Dala-sheep 50,6% (=144 118 animals)
  • Spæl-sheep 21%
  • Steigar-sheep 14,3%
  • Blackface 0% (=92 animals)
  • Merino 0% (=122 animals)

Because of rules on moving flocks around, many of the smaller breeds may disappear.

Spæl-sheep
Around 1900 there were very few spælsau left, but from 1912 on they were bred once again. This breed is light on its foot, hardy and frugal. The wool is normally white, but there are black, brown, grey and blue-grey types. The wool is very soft and shiny. Both rams and ewes can have horns. After breeding with the same type of sheep from Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, the meatiness has increased somewhat.

Norwegian Fur-sheep
This breed is kept mainly for its felt, not for its wool. Has better meatiness than the spæl-sheep.

Dala-sheep
This is a cross-breed of spæl-sheep and the British breeds Cheviot, Leicester and Sutherland. It is the most popular breed in Norway. They are big and have an easy demeanour with much and good wool, along with good slaughtering qualities.

Rygja-sheep
This is a cross between Spæl-sheep, Merino, Leicester, Sutherland and Cheviot, the wool is cross-bred type. Some of the earlier animals had a red shade on head and legs. A lot were slaughtered because of sickness in the 90’s. Mostly found in Rogaland.

Steigar-sheep
Named for Steigen in Nordland. A mix of Spæl-sheep, Cheviot, Sutherland and some Leicester, along with some Finnish Land-breed. Wool is white and good quality, and generally good meat.

Cheviot
A lively, hardy and frugal breed, originally from the border-area between England and Scotland. “Yellow fat” – a quality mistake in the meat – more often than in other breeds. Good wool of cross-bred type.

Other breeds
Leicester – also head is covered with wool, has a tendency to grow fat
Suffolk – less fat in the meat, has black hairs in the wool
Finnish Land-breed – distant relative to Spæl-sheep, the wool is almost only bottom-wool and very little wool pr animal, better meat than Spæl-sheep
Texel – originally from the Netherlands, used to increase meat-quality
East-Frisian milk-sheep – bred for its milk-quality, from the Frisian Islands outside Germany, coarse wool
Merino – best known for its great wool-quality, not a very hardy breed and the meat is of meagre quality. Originally a Spanish breed. Was imported and cross-breed on the island Tautra in the Trondheimsfjord, resulting in the Tauter-sheep. From Merino come other breeds that have both good wool and slaughter-quality: Rambouillet, Colombia and Corriedale.

There are several types of sheep that stem from the Old Norwegian Spæl-sheep, that are not separate breed, but types. There are still some Old Norwegian Spæl-sheep, they generally are smaller and have horns. The Grey Trønder Breed is another relative, which is a result from cross-breeding the Old Norwegian Spæl-sheep with the Tauter sheep (which has Merino-blood). Wild-sheep, also called Stone Age Sheep, is also a relative that generally lives out-side all year around. Click here for further reading.

More about sheep-breeds in Norway.

The following areas in Norway have the most sheep: Rogaland, Hordaland and Sogn- og Fjordane – all areas are on the West Coast. Oppland, Hedemark and Buskerud also have big sheep herds. There has been an increase in the number of sheep, but a decrease in the number of farms with sheep herds. In 1949 150.468 farms had sheep-herds, in 1997 the number was 24.500. While the average farm in -49 had 12,2 sheep, the number in -96 was 97,6 animals.

Compared to other countries, Norway’s ca 2 million sheep is a small number. Numbers from 1995 show that Asia had over 352 million sheep. The number in Europe, including Russia was then almost 168 million.