During any countryside walk, it is very likely that you will pass a field of sheep grazing or lambs frolicking. Britain is home to a variety of native sheep breeds.
Here is our guide on native sheep breeds in Britain, with a few key details on how to identify and key characteristics
Black Welsh Mountain
A small sheep, the breed is long lived and has no wool on its face or legs. Males have horns but females are polled. They are also well known for their lambing ease, high fertility and good milk yield.
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Originating from Kerry in Powys in Wales, this breed of sheep dates back to the 19th century. Kerry Hill sheep have a white fleece with distinctive black markings on their eyes, nose and legs and do not have horns. Able to cope with most weather conditions, the sheep also produce good crossbreed lambs. The wool can grow up to 10cm in length and meat sourced from lambs is very lean.
The Cheviot sheep originated from the Cheviot Hills as early as 1372. With a lively and active character, the breed is fast maturing, strong and dual purpose. The wool is firm and dense and mainly used in the tweed and carpet industry, whilst the meat, usually sourced from prime lambs, is of a high quality.
The Romney sheep is well known and recognised for its heavy and thick fleece. Traced back to Kent, the breed has adapted to the conditions of the marsh area, battling the wet and windy weather conditions to remain healthy. Therefore, the breed is now popular in countries such as New Zealand and the Falkland Islands, where these traits have proven successful. The Romney is often described as dual purpose, meaning it produces both meat and wool. The muscular lambs provide good meat and the mature sheep can provide easy to spin wool. Find out more about the breed here.
Herdwick sheep, native to the Lake District, are a territorial breed bred on the Cumbrian hillsides and fells of Northern England. Providing strongly flavoured lamb and mutton as well as fine wool, the breed is naturally hardy. Grey in colour with a white face and dense wool, this medium sized sheep has a strong thick tail and rounded horns.
A black faced sheep raised mainly for meat, the Suffolk was first recorded in 1797. Developed in East Anglia, they were produced by crossing Norfolk Horn ewes with Southdown rams. Large in stature with a big muscular frame, the sheep can be developed to heavier weights without getting fat and instead produces good quality lean meat.
Named after the Yorkshire valley of Swaledale, these sheep are found in the northern areas of Britain. Featuring off white wool and curled horns, they are most commonly used for lamb and mutton meat production. Swaledale sheep have a very thick coat that is coarse and rough. Adapted to live in harsh weather conditions, the breed is hardy and can graze on hills and mountains.
Like Swaledale and Herdwick sheep, the Rough Fell is an upland breed from northern England. Raised for its meat, the sheep has a black face with a white patch across its nose. The breed also has horns and are excellent breeders, rearing lambs in challenging climate conditions.
The Ryeland was developed in Herefordshire during the 12th century. Medium sized and polled, the sheep is sturdy and solidly built. The breed has a lot of wool, which is soft and weighty. The Ryeland has an extremely docile personality and is easily managed. Small lambs of around five months old often produce high quality tasting meat and they are commonly reared on smallholdings.
When does sheep shearing take place in the UK?
Spring marks the start of lambing season in the UK, but the physically-demanding task of sheep shearing generally takes place between May and July.
Sheep shearing facts
- Britain’s 31 million sheep produce around 30 million kilos of fleece wool per year.
- Clipping takes place between July and September in the Lake District. In warmer parts of Britain, shearing begins in May.
- Innovative uses for Herdwick fleece and other low-value wool fibres include insulation materials, sound absorbers and Solidwool, a sustainable alternative to fibreglass.
- A typical fleece weighs 1.5-10kg (a Herdwick fleece weighs 2-3kg).
- The heaviest fleece ever shorn belonged to an overgrown sheep rescued by the Australian RSPCA last year. The wool, which took 45 minutes to remove, weighed more than 41 kilos.