Differences Between Cotswold & Lincoln Sheep
Cotswold and Lincoln sheep are so similar looking that it's very hard to tell them apart. In reality, these animals are quite different, and in many ways.
Cotswold sheep were kept for many centuries on the highest parts of the Cotswold hills, where vegetation is not the best nor highly abundant.
Lincoln sheep were developed over centuries of keep in the Lincolnshire "Fen District," where 50% of England's Class 1 (most easily cropped) farmland is found.
Their respective homelands had profound effects on each breed's traits and requirements.
The Cotswold can thrive on rations that will not sustain a Lincoln.
However, if Lincolns receive first-class feeding--including a LOT of grain--they may attain larger weights than Cotswolds. Either breed fed this way is apt to lay on a great deal of fat.
In the very early 1900s excess fat was less of a consumer concern, thus Idaho's U.S. Govt. Sheep Experiment Station chose the Lincoln instead of the Cotswold in developing the Columbia breed.
Despite that choice, the Cotswold remained more popular as a rangeland sire breed in those days, due to Cotswold-sired lambs' ability to thrive on grazing alone (no costly grain).
Fables have been told of these longwool breeds' curly locks pointing "Clockwise for Cotswolds, Left-wise for Lincolns." This "rule" is very unreliable--all sheep of both breeds have curls going in both directions---even on a single sheep.
The great sheep expert L. A. Morrell, writing in the early 1800s, claimed that individual Lincoln and Cotswold wool fibers were easily distinguishable from one another under the microscope. Unfortunately, he did not explain in what ways.
Handspinners commonly say the Cotswold's fibers are slenderer in diameter than the Lincoln's, and on average this may be true. Yet there are many individual animals of both breeds that have slenderer-than-average fibers, and some with stouter fibers.
Cotswold sheep typically have slightly lighter fleeces than Lincolns, though well bred Cotswold flocks can average 12 to 15 lbs. for ewes and 18 to 22 lbs. for rams.
Some bloodlines of Cotswold sheep accumulate less lanolin in their fleeces, and may therefore be more prone to matting of the wool than Lincolns, if kept outdoors in heavy rains.
Mottling (gray and/or light tan) on the faces Cotswold sheep is not an uncommon trait. Lincoln faces are white unless the sheep have colored wool. Colored wool is far more common among Lincolns than among Cotswolds (excepting of course, the Black Cotswold breed of sheep).
When standing, the Cotswold typically holds its head up high, while the Lincoln rarely holds its chin higher than its back line, unless frightened.
The sheep's neck is a cheap cut of meat so long necks are usually bred out of breeds that require expensive grain rations for good growth, like the Lincoln.
There are reasons however, to prefer the old-fashioned Cotswold long neck.
Long necks are better suited to survival on sparse grazing, such as Cotswolds have thrived on for many centuries. Longer necks are also associated with easy lamb births---for untold generations Cotswolds gave birth unassisted out on windswept hills where they rarely had more shelter than simple sheepcotes.
Historically, the Cotswold's head is smaller for its body size than the other Longwool breeds, but it's an elusive trait, easily lost when bred without care to it.
The small-headed Cotswold is desirable for easy births, high dressing percentage of meat carcasses, and to prevent getting stuck in fences.
Flank & Hind Leg Attachment
The distance from the Cotswold's flank to its hip has always been observed to be somewhat shorter than in other Longwool breeds.
Thus for hundreds of years the Cotswold breed was wrongly branded "weak in the flank."
Seen from the side, the flank of a sheep slopes upward toward its crotch. The angle of this slope is not as steep on the Cotswold, and starts from farther forward on the belly than on other longwool breeds.
This gently funnel-shaped torso is an important factor in unassisted yeaning (birth) out on the wild hills. Birth is quicker, easier, and lambs therefore more lively.
When slaughtered for meat, the Cotswold generally shows less backfat than the Lincoln. Excess backfat may be trimmed off for modern consumer acceptance, but nowadays it's wasted weight. Where winter air temperatures aren't cold enough for snow, the extra backfat may help protect from icy rains, as commonly occur in the Lincoln's native fens (marshes). Freezing blasts of wintry snow are much easier on Cotswolds than cold rains.
Cotswold sheep will always seek some kind of shelter from cold rains, but even sub-zero temperatures will often not induce them to go indoors. They thrive in the open cold, even if occasionally buried in snowdrifts.
Totally unhoused Cotswold sheep have done well in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States, even during winters with temperatures down to -28°F (-33°C).
Though it has less backfat, the Cotswold has more marbling in the meat---a highly desirable "gourmet" feature associated with juiciness and sweet flavor.
The Cotswold's low lanolin production appears to be associated with mild tasting meat. This makes a tender, juicy and delightful dining experience, even for those who "hate" lamb.
Why Not Cross Them?
Cotswold and Lincoln sheep can be bred to each other to improve growth rates in the crossbred lambs. They benefit from "hybrid vigor" (hardiness and rapid feed-to-meat conversion) and inherit the Cotswold's ability to thrive on cheap grazing and/or feeding.
The valuable impact of the first cross sheep begins to lessen in the next generation, when first-cross half-Cotswold/half-Lincoln sheep are bred to each other or to one parent breed.
One or the other breed's traits begin to dominate in each lamb, no longer showing the valuable mix.
Such crosses should therefore never be kept on a purebred farm past puberty, because the animals are very hard to distinguish from either parent breed.
Unless tattooed, these crosses can accidentally (or deceitfully) enter the purebred bloodlines, fouling feed-efficient Cotswold genes with grain-dependent sheep, or fouling grain-hardy Lincolns with genes that can't survive high feeding.
The Cotswold's funnel-shaped torsos can soon be lost by crossbreeding too, so births are not always as easy after several crosses---more labor for hard-pressed marginal-land shepherds.
More colored-wool lambs start appearing after crossing, too. At the second or third crossbreeding, the meat stops being lightly-marbled and runs instead towards "cutting fat"---worse than wasted, because it takes nearly 9 times as much feed to grow fat as to grow lean meat.
The cross is also detrimental for Lincolns: In addition to losing their ability to withstand high-grain diets, crossed descendents' high-density fleeces start matting into felt as they produce less lanolin. They may even lose their rain-hardiness as backfat declines and fleece becomes more "open."
Lincolns should NEVER be crossed with Cotswolds in order to sneak a win at purebred shows. For all the aforementioned potential damages to both breeds, growers caught doing so should be severely punished:
(1) They must pay damages for defrauding the shows.
(2) They must buy back all crossbred stock sold as purebred.
(3) They must pay damages to the defrauded buyers and sellers of their lambs.
For growers without a lot of capital (or who don't live where grain and alfalfa hay is cheap), the Cotswold is the best choice of longwool breed. Cotswold flockmasters must never tolerate the Cotswold's marginal-land production efficiency being stolen from them by illicit crossbreeding with other, similar-looking breeds.
Last Updated: 05/09/2011