The short-tailed sheep, native of an area stretching from Russia to Iceland, are generally considered a primitive type. These robust northern sheep seem to have been spread by Norse vikings to several countries in this area from the late eighth century to the middle of the eleventh century ad. They have several common characteristics in addition to the fluke-shaped and tapered short tail, such as a wide range of colour patterns, dual-coated wool and the ability to thrive under harsh environmental conditions, often in isolated marginal areas. While 34 short-tailed breeds of North European origin can still be identified, it is clear that their population sizes have declined in most cases and several of them are now rare and endangered. Although these breeds have mainly been confined to certain localities, some of them have gained considerable distribution due to their genetic merits, such as prolificacy. Of these, the Finnsheep and the Romanov are best known being exported to several countries in the world where their genetic material has been utilized through crossbreeding with local sheep. This has resulted in the production of some new synthetic breeds. Meat is now generally the main product of the North European short-tailed breeds and their crossbreds, whereas wool, skins and milk are normally regarded as byproducts, yet of considerable economic importance in some cases. Such breeds have clearly a role to play in sustainable grassland-based production systems in the future.
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