2024 Featured Breed: Cotswold
Cotswolds are said to have been developed from sheep brought to England by Roman conquerors over 2,000 years ago. The name Cotswold derived from “cote,” a sheep shelter and “wold,” an open rolling field. The breed was well established by the fifteenth century and became the cornerstone of England’s wealth throughout the Middle Ages. The Cotswold region’s economy was founded on wool and the profits funded the grand “wool churches” in the area.
While there are a few newspaper mentions of Cotswolds in the United States before 1832, credit for the first imported ram to America goes to Christopher Dunn of Albany, New York. Cotswolds were originally imported to cross with Robert Bakewell’s Leicester sheep. Cotswolds rapidly grew in popularity and large numbers were imported over the next half century. The first notable purebred Cotswold breeder in America was Justus C. Haviland of Duchess County, New York, who established his flock in 1836. The breed grew in popularity, and in 1876 Henry Stewart wrote in his Shepherd’s Manual (1876) that the Cotswold “has become so common in America, and has been bred so extensively without fresh importations of new blood, that it may well be adopted as a native sheep.”
The American Cotswold Record Association (ACRA), founded in 1878, was the first sheep registry established in the United States. By 1913, the United States Department of Agriculture reported 74,455 Cotswolds in the country. The Cotswold became the favored sire to cross with range Merino ewes to produce market lambs. The resulting lambs had the size of the Cotswold with the finer fleece of the Merino. They remained one of the most popular breeds until the preference shifted to smaller earlier maturing lambs and the growth of the Australian Merino wool trade.
The Cotswold has historically been a dual-purpose sheep. As is the case with other longwool breeds, their meat is mild flavored with no “gamey” taste. In recent years, handspinners have discovered the unique qualities of the wool, including its strength, length, luster, and exceptional ability to take dyes.
Although large sheep with ewes averaging 175-230 pounds and rams over 250 pounds, Cotswolds have a gentle disposition. The 1891 breed description that ACRA still follows today even mentions the eyes should be “mild and kindly.” Cotswold wool has been called “poor man’s mohair” for its luster and soft handle when worsted.
Cotswolds are easy keepers, a trait developed from their origin as the only English “hill breed” of long wool sheep. Like other long wool sheep, they mature by two years. Cotswolds are wonderful mothers with easier lambing due to the ewe’s cone size flanks and wide pelvis as well as the lamb’s relatively small head size and long neck.
Particularly in England, the breed is sometimes referred to as the Cotswold Lion, both in reference to their magnificent bearing and distinctive wool locks around the face. Their fleece has also been called the Golden Fleece, referencing both the breed’s golden luster and the role Cotswold wool had in developing England’s wealth.
The Cotswold is classified as a threatened breed by the Livestock Conservancy in the United States and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in England. Throughout its history, the mission of the American Cotswold Record Association has remained the same. The goal of that mission to contribute to the conservation, development, and promotion of the breed for all members, breeders, and Cotswold enthusiasts. Since 1878, the American Cotswold Record Association (ACRA) has maintained the original breed standard and is committed to preserving the legacy of this historic breed. In the early 90’s, ACRA added a second separate registry (Black Cotswold Registry) which allows for color in the fleece. Today there are three registries for Cotswold sheep: ACRA, BCR, and the Cotswold Breeders Association (CBA). ACRA encourages all heritage sheep owners to register and support a breed association or the Livestock Conservancy. ACRA thanks the Livestock Conservancy for their support of our conservation efforts. The ACRA board meets monthly and offers newsletters, social and educational events multiple times a year for its members.
To find out more about Cotswold sheep including a breeder’s list, Cotswold merchandise, or to support the work ACRA is doing to save a heritage breed, check out ACRA’s website at www.cotswoldacra.com.
During the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, look for ACRA in the Breed Display Barn (Barn 7-8 on the map) and ACRA members showing Cotswold sheep! ACRA is honored to be the featured breed for 2024 and looks forward to sharing the magnificent Cotswold Lion with you!