From time to time small importations of Cotswold sheep were brought to North America in the early 20th Century, but numbers were in decline, and had been since around 1910. By the early 1970s, only six flocks remained.
By the 1960s in England, only the ancestral Garne flock remained. During that decade it too was broken up and sold off to a few dedicated preservationist shepherds. Fortunately, this small rebirth has grown into dozens of purebred Cotswold flocks all over England.
Diminishing numbers in the ancient Cotswold breed is attributed to 3 factors:
First, during the 1920s through 1950s short, squat sheep became all the rage in shows and clubs. Cotswold growers did not follow those fads, probably because they had no basis in consumer demands or in production efficiency. Corn became the mainstay of sheep, but corn feeding is hard on Cotswolds, which are a hardy "hill" breed. (They thrive much better on rougher lands, where grass predominates.) By the 1950s, fashion slowly began to move towards larger carcasses again, but other breeds were in a better position to fill the void, as the grain-fed sheep industry continued to expand.
Second, though Cotswolds had previously been the "King Of Range Sires"--they're hardier on scanty pastures than other longwool breeds--they have a far looser flocking habit than the finewool breeds of the great Western Range. Their "spread-out-and-graze" trait (though ideal for fenced pastures) is a constant aggravation to range operators who assign approximately 1500 ewes and their lambs to each foreign migrant herder, on unfenced grazing lands.
The third reason had to do with the eventual waning enthusiasm of Americans to continue buying today's "variable-flavored" mutton and lamb. As flockmasters put their eggs into the "fast growth feedlot" basket, a lack of reliable flavor predictability in lamb and mutton nationwide caused a great decline in sheep meat consumption, despite the public's increasing ability to afford this healthful and nutritious meat.
The official "answer" to waning consumer demand has been to promote ever-faster growth rates and larger muscling of the variable-flavored breeds in the hopes "cheaper" meat will make up for unpredictable flavor. After 40 years, this plan shows little hope of success.
Opportunities to profit from reliable-flavored ACRA Cotswold lamb have grown as the "old industry" continues waning. Cotswold growers now find it easier than ever to succeed with local markets, competing against "bulk commodity" lamb and mutton grown in far-away places.
A side reason for Cotswold rarity is "show mania."
Showing Cotswold sheep is a tradition that harks back over 150 years and of itself is a good thing.
Success at shows and showing requires strong investments, dedication, drudgery, anticipation and often, defeat.
But winning helps sales of breeding stock.
Some showmen have reputations of "doing anything" to win: Crossbreeding with other longwool breeds in order to get "hybrid vigor," faster growth, and bigger size. Crossbred sheep have discouraged many who seek hardy flocks, and dainty crossbreds don't "breed true."
Prudent buyers are avoiding show stock from farms that keep look-alike breeds. Crossbred vigor may win shows, but it spoils genes.
Modern Cotswold Opportunities
The highly prepotent Cotswold imparts to all its lambs a surprisingly less-gamy, "buttery" flavor--even crossbred lambs.
To continue doing this, the breed must remain pure, which means keeping all bloodlines free of crossbreeding. Insist on ACRA registration for every Cotswold sheep you buy.
Further, ACRA strongly encourages those who are interested in producing breeding stock for sale to beware of breeders who keep other longwool sheep breeds on the same property as their Cotswolds. Inadvertent crosses with such breeds result in lambs that are too easily mistaken for purebreds, even in shows and exhibitions with competent judges.
The Cotswold breed has come a very long way indeed through judicious selection. Plenty of new breeders with integrity and foresight will get true Cotswold sheep to serve the human race for many centuries more.
Last Updated: 05/09/2011