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The Rare Breeds Centre is the only such centre in Kent and is approved by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST)
Did you hear about the wedding dress made from the fleece of Olivia a Lincoln Longwool?
What about the Portland sheep that may have escaped from the Spanish Armada fleet and swam ashore?
To find out more read on:
All breeds have inherited characteristics from the colour of their coat to the shape of their horns (if they have horns). These characteristics, selected by humans in breeding programmes of livestock and poultry, define a breed and distinguish it from other animals within the same species.
A breed is defined as rare in the UK if it is native to this country and is on the annual Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) watchlist. This considers geographical concentration and numbers of breeding females in the UK.
*The Rare Breeds Survival Trust provides a lot of useful information: www.rbst.org.uk
Those breeds below highlighted in purple are on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist. All others are considered as mainstream breeds which are recognised as worthy of attention.
Herdwick: From Cumbria. They were decimated in 2001 by the foot and mouth outbreak. They have a double layer of wool, the longer, coarser outer layer acts like a thatch, shedding water before it can penetrate, the inner, softer layer provides the insulation. This unique fleece enables the breed to thrive in the extreme cold and wet conditions of the North West.
Manx Loaghtan: This breed is on the RBST ‘At Risk’ category. From the Isle of Man. They are the most primitive breed on our site and are on the RBST watch list. Distinguished by its rich brown colour, the breed is descended from a short tailed sheep that once roamed through many parts of Britain.
Did you know the word ‘Loaghtan’ means mouse-brown in Manx language?
Portland: A relatively small heathland breed from the Dorset area. The rams have heavily spiralled horns and the ewes a half circle horn. Lambs are born with a foxy red coat which changes in the first few months to creamy white. They produce an exceptionally high quality meat and can lamb at any time of the year.
Legend has it that the Portland swam to our shores from ships of the Spanish Armada in the 16th century. But others believe they were introduced centuries earlier by the Romans. Portland meat was prized in the time of George III for its delicacy. By 1974, the breed had almost become extinct, but was rescued by the RBST in a special breeding programme.
Badger Face Welsh Mountain: A hardy upland sheep, we have the Torddu on the farm, the Welsh name meaning 'black belly' which have distinctive black stripes above the eyes. However there is another strain of the breed called the Torwen or white-bellied sheep.
Wiltshire Horn: Possibly introduced by the Romans, this is a native breed from Wiltshire. It is unusual among native breeds because of its ability to shed its wool in spring, alleviating the need for shearing. The rising price of wool and a move away from horned sheep resulted in a decline in popularity during the 19th and 20th centuries. The breed was saved from extinction by a small group of enthusiastic breeders who formed the Wiltshire Horn Sheep Society in 1923. In the 1970's the breed came under the protection of the RBST because numbers were so low.
The sheep who didn't like orchids...
As well as being able to shed its own wool the Wiltshire Horn has other talents. In 2011, a flock of Wiltshire Horns were borrowed by Network Rail to graze a railway cutting that was home to wild orchids and other flora. The sheep were used to clear the scrub without harming other plants and left the orchids alone. They seem to be natural conservationists and land management specialists too.
Coloured Lincoln Longwool: We keep a small flock of Black Lincoln Longwools,(more commonly known as Coloured), this is recognised as a sub-breed of the more common, but still very rare White Lincolns. The largest longwool sheep, its versatile fleece was the basis of eastern England’s prosperity until the arrival of the cotton industry. Classified as ‘at risk’, the breed had developed over the centuries to produce heavy fleeces of strong wool. The breed declined through the 20th century, and by 1971 there were only 15 flocks left containing only about 500 ewes. There was a partial revival in the late 1980s and the ewe numbers increased to 1300 but the breed is again in a precarious position. It has a polled white head with a broad forelock of wool.
Norfolk Horn: A tall rangy shaped breed, the plight of the Norfolk is partly why the RBST was formed. In the 1950s the breed was down to about 10 ewes and two rams. Yet this is one of the oldest breeds of sheep in Britain and has been recognized for more than 400 years. Norfolks were mentioned in The Beauties of England, Cambridgeshire by Robert Reyce in 1610. The original breed was designed to live on the shallow, sandy soil of the Norfolk Brecklands where there was little shade from sun or shelter from harsh winters. When modern fertilisers were used to improve the Breckland’s pasture, the thrifty Norfolk Horn became obsolete almost overnight, unable to compete with the Suffolk sheep. With the pressure of post-war food shortages, people wanted productive animals with lots of fast growing offspring.
Wensleydale: There are two strains of this breed, black or white, both originated in the Wensleydale region of North Yorkshire and are known for their lustrous ringlets of wool. The breed was developed in the 19th century by crossing an English Leicester with Teeswater sheep to produce a ram called Blue Cap in 1838. One of the largest and heaviest of all sheep breeds and categorised as ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, at one point it had fewer than 1500 registered breeding females. It is predominantly used today as a ram breed to cross with other breeds to obtain market lambs and for its high-quality wool.
Dorset Horns: This short wool breed is known mostly for its prolific lambing, often producing two lambing seasons each and is adaptable to any climate and to altitude. Queen Victoria became a patron of the breed in 1892. The breed is believed to have begun when Merino sheep were brought to the south west by Spaniards and were crossed with horned sheep from Wales.
Southdown: Sometimes called ‘babydoll’ or the ‘teddy bear’ sheep, the Southdown has a sweet smiling face. It is early maturing and can breed out of season. This Sussex breed was introduced by John Ellman at Place Farm, Glynde in 1761.
Jacob: The name of this dark brown and white patched sheep comes from the story of Jacob in the Old Testament, who bred piebald sheep. During the 17th and 18th centuries, British landed gentry imported the sheep from Spain to be used as ornamental livestock in parkland. Their un-dyed unbleached wool is in demand by the fashion industry.
Photos by Greg Allen
Click Here to see feeding time for our sheep
Herdwick sheep: The tale of Miss Potter’s sheep...
Although the children's author Beatrix Potter is not known to have written any children’s stories about Herdwick sheep, she was known to be keen on them. She kept Herdwicks on all of her farms and was president of the Herdwick Breed Association for a time in the 1930s. What might a sheep tale written by Miss Potter have been called?
A full grown Herdwick sheep. The breed suffered during the ‘foot and mouth’ outbreak.
Manx Loaghtan: Did you know the word ‘Loaghtan’ means mouse-brown in Manx language?
Badger Face Welsh Mountain
Wiltshire Horn: was possibly introduced into Britain by the Romans.
Coloured Lincoln Longwool: Something borrowed, something wool...
In 2009, Louise Fairburn, an award-winning sheep breeder, had her wedding dress made from the fleece of her favourite sheep, a Lincoln Longwool called Olivia. The dress design matched the dreadlocks of the sheep and took 67 hours to make. Even the groom wore a waistcoat made of the sheep’s wool.
Norfolk Horn: Norfolk Horns are very agile sheep and are able to jump hedges and walls 'like goats' causing problems for their shepherds.
Wensleydale: So enamoured of the breed was retired Lt. Col Frank Pedley, he not only became President of the Wensleydale Longwool sheep breeders Association in 2011 but also wrote an illustrated book about one, called ‘Baa Baa the Wensleydale sheep’. Tescos also introduced an ethical fashion range by ‘Izzy Lane’ using yarn from a rescued flock of Wensleydales.
Dorset Horns: Dorset button making in Shaftesbury during the 17th century used discs made from the horn of this breed which were covered with material and then stitched into a conical shape, and used for ladies fashions.
Southdown: John Ellman sold two of his ewes to Tsar Paul 1st of Russia for the fantastic sum (in those days) of 300 guineas worth about £26,000 in today’s prices.
Jacobs often give birth to triplets or quads and they have a strong mothering instinct.
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