Wool You Believe It? It’s The Ewe-nique Cotswold Sheep! (2023)

Cotswold sheep
Photo: Travel Cotswolds

If you’re visiting or a frequent visitor to the Cotswolds, you may have seen or encountered sheep grazing in fields and pastures throughout the region.

Cotswold sheep are a breed of domestic sheep that are primarily raised for their wool. They are a large, muscular breed of sheep capable for their hardiness and adaptability to a range of environments.

Their fleece is long, thick, and curly, and the breed can usually be recognized by their distinctive “top knots” of wool on their heads.

There’s also a local breed of long wooled sheep named the Cotswold Lion.

Sheep have been known in the Cotswolds region since the time of the Roman conquest 2,000 years ago, and the breed may descend in part from the white sheep brought to England by the Romans. 

The Cotswold Lion sheep was highly sought after for its wool, which was used for making a range of textiles, including blankets, rugs, and clothing.

Overview

The wool trade was a major industry in the Cotswolds from the Middle Ages until the 18th century and was centred around Cirencester, Stroud, and Tetbury. The wool produced in the Cotswolds was purchased by merchants and traders, who would transport it to other parts of England and Europe for processing and manufacturing.

Wools from Cotswold sheep was used for a variety of purposes, including clothing, blankets, rugs and to produce felt, which was used for hats and other items.

Besides its use in textiles, the wool was also used for insulation and as a raw material for other industries, such as the production of soap and fertilizer.

Decline of Wool Trade

The decline of the wool trade in the 18th century was because of several factors, including the rise of cotton as a cheaper and more readily available alternative to wool.

The UK Enclosure Act led to a decline in the number of sheep grazing on the Cotswold hills as landowners wanted to maximise yields or farmers wanted to improve their farms.

Another factor for the wool trade to decline was the disruptions to trade due to the  Napoleonic Wars.

An American Connection

Interestingly, there’s an American connection to the Cotswold sheep too.

The breed was introduced to the United States in 1831 by Christopher Dunn near Albany, New York.

William Henry Sotham and Charles Barton Flock also made extensive imports of Cotswold sheep from England.

The breed was popular for crossbreeding due to its long wool and ability to add staple length to other breeds without reducing the size of the carcass or thickness of wool.

The Cotswold sheep was also popular because it did not require large amounts of grain to make good growth.

The Black Cotswold is a separate breed recognized in the USA but not bred or recognized in the UK.

If you want to see Cotswold sheep in the States, the Maryland Zoo and The Western North Carolina Nature Center both have some on show.

Cotswold sheep in the field on a misty day
Photo: Travel Cotswolds

Preserving the Cotswold Sheep

Despite the decline in the wool trade, the Cotswold region remains an important center for sheep farming and wool production.

Today, the Cotswold breed of sheep is considered a rare breed, and efforts are underway to preserve and promote the breed’s unique characteristics and heritage.

Flock ‘n Roll

There are several farms in the Cotswolds that are open to the public and offer the opportunity to see sheep up close.

  1. Cotswold Farm Park, owned by Adam Henson, a presenter on the BBC’s Countryfile program. The farm is home to rare animal breeds, including Cotswold sheep, and offers visitors the chance to get up close and personal with the animals.
  2. Daylesford Organic Farm, near Kingham, is a working organic farm that is home to a flock of rare Cotswold sheep. Visitors can take a tour of the farm, visit the on-site farm shop and café, and learn more about sustainable farming practices.
  3. The National Trust manages several properties in the Cotswolds that are home to flocks of sheep. Properties with sheep include Dyrham Park, Hidcote Manor Garden, and Snowshill Manor and Garden.

Visitors to the Cotswolds can explore farms, shops, and attractions that celebrate the area’s sheep farming heritage.

Shopping

Here are a few shops in the Cotswolds where you can buy Cotswold sheep products:

  1. Cotswold Trading – Stocks a range of products from both well-known names and independent designers, including items made from Cotswold sheep wool.
  • Cotswold Grey – This shop offers a range of homeware and lifestyle products, including blankets and throws made from Cotswold sheep wool.

Lambing Season

A quick word about the Cotswold sheep lambing season.

This typically takes place in the UK between late winter and early spring, usually from January to April.

It’s important to keep a safe distance from sheep and to avoid disturbing them, especially if they are pregnant or have young lambs.

Sheep can be unpredictable and may become agitated if they feel threatened or cornered.

The Cotswold region has a rich agricultural heritage that is closely tied to the wool trade and sheep farming.

While the wool trade has declined in recent centuries, the Cotswold breed of sheep remains an important part of the region’s cultural and agricultural identity. 

The next time you see a Cotswold sheep grazing in a field or pasture, take a moment to appreciate its fluffy wool, distinctive top knot, and rich heritage.

These sheep have been an important part of the agricultural landscape of the Cotswolds region for centuries, and they continue to play a vital role in the area’s cultural and economic identity.

Whether you’re a local resident or a visitor to the region, encountering a Cotswold sheep is a reminder of the beauty and diversity of the natural world, and the important role that agriculture and farming play in our lives.

Key Takeaways

  • Cotswold sheep are a domestic breed known for their wool.
  • They have a distinctive appearance with long, curly fleece and a top knot of wool on their heads.
  • The Cotswold breed is now considered rare, and efforts are underway to preserve and promote their unique characteristics and heritage.
  • Visitors to the Cotswolds can explore farms, shops, and attractions that celebrate the area’s sheep farming heritage.
  • Encountering a Cotswold sheep is a reminder of the beauty and diversity of the natural world, and the important role that agriculture and farming play in our lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is a Cotswold sheep?
    A Cotswold sheep is a domestic breed known for its long, curly fleece and distinctive top knot of wool on its head. It is raised for both meat and wool production.
  2. Where do Cotswold sheep come from?
    Cotswold sheep originate from the Cotswold Hills in the west of England.
  3. What is the history of Cotswold sheep?
    The wool trade was a major industry in the Cotswolds until the 18th century, and the Cotswold breed was the foundation for the economic development of the region.
  4. What is the appearance of Cotswold sheep?
    Cotswold sheep have a stocky body with long, curly wool and a forelock that droops down over their eyes. The fleece is fine, soft, and white. Their faces are also white, or mottled with tan or grey. They usually have black hooves and occasionally small, black spots on the ears.
  5. Where can I see Cotswold sheep?
    Visitors to the Cotswolds can explore farms, shops, and attractions that celebrate the area’s sheep farming heritage.
Enchantment Awaits
Enchantment Awaits

The Cotswolds region is home to many charming villages and towns, churches, historic landmarks, outdoor activities, in a beautiful part of England.

After visiting the region many times, we created the Travel Cotswolds website dedicated to helping others plan their own trips to the Cotswolds.

If you’re looking for other places to visit, click on Cotswolds Villages A-FVillages G-O, and Villages P-Z.

Contact: hello@travelcotswolds.com

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