I really had to do some research on this sheep as it has a confusing history and is really old. My usual resources weren’t much help either.
Here is what I have been able to gather from Oklamhome State U. Old Norwegian sheep or Villsau are one of the oldest breedsin the world. It seems they are ancestors of many other breeds in Norway and the rest of Scandinavia, including Iceland and Faeroes, and was probably present on the Western islands as well. Although it may sound like these sheep are endangered. The population of Old Norwegian Sheep numbers around 10,000 animals. This number is in great contrast to the situation around 1955, when the breed had almost disappeared. Other sheep breeds , new agricultural methods, and a misunderstanding from the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals led by high society ladies in Bergen, almost set the rest of the breed on the road to destruction because of what they believed to be mismanagement of domestic animals. So Villsau are wild sheep?
And then I read this from the Norwegian Genetic Resource Center.
Old Norse is a descendant of the short-tailed sheep that once was common throughout all of northern Europe. Since the early 1700s, however, Norway imported sheep from the UK. In 1912, two breeding stations were established to conserve the remaining native sheep population. One of these stations bred the coastal sheep on which today’s Old Norse is based. The other strain is the inland type the basis of the Norwegian Spael. Old Norse is often also called villsau (“wild sheep”). However, the term villsau is not the breed name, but rather a brand name that combines breed and production method, mainly used in product marketing.
Ok So Villsau are domestic sheep?
I’m still confused and to make it even more bewildering. I decided to go to “the fiber and fleece source book.” There was no listing for these sheep instead the index sent to me so Spelsau and Old Spelsau.
So now I have 3 ”breed/type” names and my confusion is growing. Off I go back to the Oklahoma State University site on sheep breeds and I find this: Spael sheep (Norsk Spael Sheep, Spælsau )
The Norwegian Spael sheep is named after the short, nearly wool-less tail (spælen). It originates from the old Norwegian landrace of sheep. In 1912, two breeding stations were established to prevent extinction of the breed. Icelandic sheep were crossed onto the Spael sheep through semen import in the 1960′s and 1970′s. Finnsheep and Faeroe Island sheep were also used in the breeding of Spael sheep.
Ok so Spael, spelsau, and spealsau are the same thing.
In conclusion this is how I figured. There were a bunch of landrace sheep running around Norway and nearby areas. Instead of breeding them with the incoming sheep they wanted to keep the breed as “pure” as possible. They split into two types the coastal sheep and the inland sheep. This is the Old Norwegian breed of today.