Norwegian Sheep and Goat History
history of sheep and goat husbandry in Norway concerns the distribution, circumstances and socio-economic impact of these animals from the
times until the present, and also includes some aspects relevant to the rest
of the world.
book has been written for the 50th anniversary of the Norwegian Association of
Sheep and Goat Breeders in 1997. Much of the material therefore deals with
the origin and development of the Association (parts II and III), although
this cannot be separated from the Norwegian society in general.
was also my intention to give ample space for the ancient history of sheep
and goats. The material was based on statistical material from Norway and
abroad, together with other data concerning trends and development in general.
Consequently, the work of other institutions supporting the profession is also
mentioned, and I have tried to present the material in such a way that it puts
incidents of topical interest in relation to the general development of
society. These intentions have been fulfilled within the framework of
deadhines and available source material. Apart from a relatively comprehensive
introduction, the book consists of four main parts, with the following contents:
I. The Ancient History.
is a description of some archeological finds which can, together with pollen
analysis and other related sciences, tell us something about the first traces
of sheep and goats in Norway, some 5000 years ago.
was about 1000 years before the famous agreement of Jacob and Laban in ancient
Mesopotamia on piebald goats and black sheep. The oldest finds indicate a form
of nomadic lifestyle including hunting, fishing and cattle breeding. Later,
when people began living in permanent settlements, the well-known moor areas
along the Atlantic coasts of Norway and Europe, a result of this combination
of clearing, heather burning and cattle grazing, developed.
records in Norway date back no longer than about 800—1000 years A.D.. Most
important here is the old Norse saga literature, poetry, lays and the oldest
legislation. There are also records from personalities such as King Alfred the
Great of England and the wise Adam von Bremen in Germany. According to Herr
Adam, Norway was the least fertile of all countries. Thus, people turned to
cattle rearing in the wilderness, and began to wear clothes
from the wool they could get from their animals. Wool from the sheep was
from the wool they could get from their animals. Wool from the sheep was
famous Gulating laws from before 930 (which were also translated into English)
were revised around 1020 and again in 1163. These, together with various other
sources, supply us with information about a special kind of home-made woollen
goods called frieze, which actually formed the most stable currency for
centuries. 30 feet (15 ‘alner’, i ‘alen’ =
two feet; an old Norwegian
measure of length) of frieze had a value equal to a cow, or 1/3 mark (one mark
grams) of pure silver.
essential speciality was the production of sails for almost any kind of ship.
It was the wool from the North European short-tailed sheep which proved to be
most suitable for this purpose. The long, coarse and strong guard hairs were
separated from the rest of the fleece by hand and spun into a hard warp,
whereas the fine bottom wool was spun in the opposite direction and used as
weft. Impregnation and fulling were also included in the manufacturing process. Analysis of old sail remnants and meticulous
shown that sails such as these had qualities which even experts did not
goat has its own place in the old history, with interesting features from
Norse as well as ancient Greek mythology. The goat and its products were a
widely used means of payment far into the l9th century. For example, the
Viking king Olav Trygvasson was sold as a three-year-old boy for a magnificent
billy in Estonia. In the l6th and llth centuries a fine billy coat had the
same value as half a cowhide, while the goat tallow had almost the same value
as butter. A well-known Norwegian naturalist wrote in 1762 that a productive
goat could yield as much milk as a bad cow.
ca. 1700 until 1850 the human population as well as the number of goats and
sheep almost tripled. The increased pressure on the natural resources worsened
the living conditions for people and animals alike. A characteristic feature
of this period was the herding of single flocks by children. During the
daylight hours, this was a precaution against predators as well as a way of
the animals off the areas meant for the harvesting of winter fodder. At night,
the small flocks were in some places gathered in mobile corrals guarded by
adults with dogs. By moving these corrals systematically every day there was
the additional effect of fertilising the hayfields and mountain pastures by
means of the dung from the animals. Chemical fertiliser did not exist, and
there were no mechanical remedies for breaking up the extremely rocky soil.
until the beginning of the 2Oth century, especially after Norway’s final
liberation from Sweden in 1905, did the work to promote professional sheep and
goat husbandry speed up. Scientific literature and minor research and registration
projects steadily gained a stronger position, until World War 2 put a 5-year end
to such enterprises.
II. The Association’s Main Activities, Professional Institutions and the
part mainly covers the Association’s activities from its foundation in 1947
until the 1997 anniversary. The Association’s periodical was established as
early as in 1948 and has since been published regularly, at present with 6
issues and 380 pages a year.
special conditions which have always influenced sheep and goat breeding in
Norway are the great distances relative to urban areas and population density,
very limited areas of arable land and vast, but poor grazing areas. These
conditions have given rise to a scheme for ‘organised grazing’ currently
covering the whole country and involving about 70 % of the total stock.
interesting theme was the establishment of an organised procedure for wool
collection. In the 1950s and 60s this was a vital effort in order to achieve a
rational and just system for wool classification and payment according to
quality, while at the same time reducing the freight charges for the individual
suppliers to an acceptable level. The wool collection was organised by local
groups on a voluntary basis for modest compensation. Today the wool business is
based more on free competition, but the wool collection system is still in
operation. The involvement of institutions such as the Norwegian University of
Agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Norwegian College of Veterinary
Medicine and the Biological Institute, University of Oslo are also mentioned in
III. From Year to Year.
is a chronological summary of the Association’s actual history. Special
such as those described in Part II are placed in their natural order here.
Incidental episodes such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster with its subsequent
radioactive fallout in some grazing areas, episodes concerning the general
of the Association and government restriction of former beneficial rights of use
are duly mentioned. In the last period, disease problems are given special
interest, not least because of the increased exposure hazard which is a result
of increased international exchange and livestock trade.
Part IV. Systematic Supplement.
comprises a selection of statistical data and other statements of partly public
interest. There is, among other things, a relatively comprehensive account of
the origin of the Norwegian sheep breeds. The most interesting point here in a
historical context is the Norwegian Spælsau (the word spæl means ‘short tail’)
which, together with the Icelandic sheep, descends from the old North European
breed. In 1912, only some scattered remnants of the Spælsau breed existed.
Today, this breed represents about 25 % of the total sheep population in Norway.
of the old Norwegian Feral Sheep also still exist, mainly on a few islands on
the western coast, and it is assumed that the total number amounts to about 8000
other ‘Norwegian’ breeds are hybrid and products of selection between local
breeds and a number of foreign breeds, mainly Scottish and English. So far, the
goat has been very little influenced by foreign breeds.
The last chapter of Part IV contains statistics about extent and production concerning sheep and goat breeding both in Norway and on a world basis.