Livestock - Sheep Breeds and Stratification


Sheep Breeds and Stratification

  • Uses of sheep: wool, meat, milk.
  • Ewe
    • October/November: put to ram
    • March/April: lambing
    • May/June: Weaned
    • August/September: Flushed
  • Lamb
    • August/September: finishing for slaughter 
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Sheep Stratification

  • Sheep stratification: the arrangement or classification of something into different groups.
  • Sheep industry 'stratified' with particular breeds occupying a specific environment to which they are adapted. Connected by the movement of lambs and other older animals from higher to lower ground.
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Hebridean Breed

Appearance: a small sheep with fine bones. The Hebridean has black wool that sometimes fades to brown at the tips and often becomes grey in older sheep. The fleece has a soft insulating undercoat with a coarser, rain-shedding top layer. Both the males and females can have two, four or even more horns, although occasionally the females are polled (no horns)

History: a primitive breed that has descended from the multi-horn North European sheep. It was established in the UK many centuries ago. The Hebridean Sheep Society was established in 1994.

Geography: native to the western highlands and islands of Scotland, the Hebridean sheep have survived to modern times in the parklands of the country estates throughout the UK.

Breed Attributes: Very hardy sheep with strong hooves that are used in rocky and wet upland terrain. They thrive on rough extensive and conservation grazing. The females have strong mothering instincts and the lambs are very lively from birth. Hebrideans have short tails that should not be docked.

Commercial desirability: The Hebridean Sheep Society promotes the ability of the females to rear twin lambs, even under less than ideal conditions, saying that when crossed with a meat-producing breed, lambs grow quickly and reach their mother’s weight in a few months. The society also upholds the effectiveness of the breed for conservation grazing on a variety of ecosystems.

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e.g., Swaledale, Herdwick

  • Small and hardy
  • Ability to rear strong and sturdy lambs
  • good mother and milker
  • good foragers
  • good quality wool and good weight
  • low lambing %
  • 1/3 of UK sheep farms
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Blackface Breed

Appearance: Blackface sheep have black or black-and-white faces and legs. It is a horned breed with several distinct types, the most prominent being the Scottish Blackface which is further spilt into three subdivisions of Perth, Lanark and Northumberland.

History: Thought to have originated in the UK in the 12th Century. It is from the same genetic umbrella as other horned sheep, such as the Swaledale and Rough Fell. The Blackface Sheep Breeders Association was established in 1901.

Geography: The Blackface Sheep Breeders Association promotes the breed as being the most numerous in the UK, accounting for roughly 35% of all sheep in the country. It is very well established in Scotland (spreading from the borders to the highlands and islands), North East England, Northern Ireland the USA.

Breed Attributes: The Blackface is a hardy sheep, and as maternal hill breed, they have a strong mothering ability to rear lambs in extreme terrain. The breed is easily hefted, making it ideal for large areas of hill country.

Commercial desirability: the breed is promoted by the Breeders Association that it can produce sheep for every climatic condition, thanks to the distinctive types within the breed.

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e.g., Welsh Mountain, Border Leicester

  • good mothering ability
  • good forager
  • good milker
  • fertile/prolific
  • conformation better than hill breeds
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e.g., Texel, Hampshire Down, Suffolk

  • excellent meat conformation
  • good growth rate
  • good ewe to lamb ratio
  • early maturing
  • good quality fleece
  • meaty
  • large size (average ewe = 85kg)

(cross with half-bred ewes to produce lots of meaty, fast-growing lambs)

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e.g., Blueface Leicester, Wensleydale

  • very fertile and prolific
  • good milking
  • good growth
  • large frame
  • some breeds = produce heavy fleeces
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Cotswold Breeds

Appearance: The distinctive feature of the Cotswold Sheep is its thick set, long, lustrous, white fleece. The face is usually white but can be occasionally mottled with black spots on the points of the ears. Both genders are long and tall with no horns.

History: Originally introduced to the UK by the Romans, the ’golden fleece’ of the Cotswold Sheep was the most important UK export in Medieval times. While many Cotswold towns and villages were developed on the wealth of the wool trade, the breed is now classified as rare. The breed society was established in 1891.

Geography: Recognised as a rare breed, these sheep continue to be found in the Cotswold area of England, with specialist flocks also found in other parts of the UK.

Breed attributes: The high-quality fleece remains the most important feature of Cotswold sheep, but the breed can also offer hardy, large lambs born easily out of mothers with plenty of milk.

Commercial desirability: The Cotswold Sheep Society promotes the breed as offering a quality fleece that is highly sought after by spinners and crafters, while the sheep themselves have an increasing ability to grow and fatten on good pasture so are relevant to meat production as well as wool.

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Production Systems

  • intensive - more indoors
  • extensive - outside (free range/organic)
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