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Hebridean & Greyface Dartmoor Breeds

Hebridean Sheep

The Hebridean breed is derived from the North European short tailed breeds, thought to have been brought to the highlands and islands of Scotland by Viking settlers. No detailed description of these sheep exists but they would most certainly have been small hardy sheep, in all probabilities horned, and would have had short tails. Other British breeds derived from these early sheep are the Manx Loghtan and the Shetland.

The Hebridean soon became an integral part of the Scottish croft renowned for its tasty meat, and ease of management, but during the early nineteenth century it became a victim of agricultural modernisation, replaced by the modern improved breeds such as the Blackface and Cheviot. This, in tandem with the Highland clearances, threatened the existence of a breed that had served Scotland for almost a thousand years.   Salvation came when fashion dictated that the aristocracy grace their parklands with ornamental breeds, and these distinctive sheep, also known as St Kilda sheep soon became popular. Had these flocks not existed in such an unimproved way, it is doubtful whether the breed would have survived to be taken under the wing of The Rare Breed Survival Trust in 1973.
Today, the ‘heb’ has again found its niche, and is now used as an environmental tool for conservational grazing on a variety of ecosystems, whilst once again being prized for its tasty mutton.

Breed description

The Hebridean sheep is a small fine boned sheep with two or more horns, and a dense black weatherproof fleece. They are not renowned for carrying excess body weight, a typical ewe will weigh little more than 40kg, and a condition score of greater than 3 is rare.
The hebs face should be dished and clean of wool except for as small patch on the forehead, have small ears, and in two horned animals, the horns should sweep backwards and outwards. In multi-horned sheep, the upper horns should not be too far forward as to impede grazing, and the lower pair should not curl too much into the face.
The tail should be short, not extending below the hock, and be fully fleeced. The fleece itself should be weatherproof and black, although the sun can bleach tips giving it a brown appearance. Older sheep can grey with age, but no other colouration is desirable.

Greyface Dartmoor Sheep (Improved Dartmoor)

The Greyface Dartmoor is a hardy lustre longwool breed, known for being placid in nature. They descend from the hill sheep that grazed Dartmoor, to which improvemants were made in the 19th century. It produces a heavy fleece with a staple length of 25-30cm, suitable for hard-wearing materials such as carpet, and an adult fleece can weigh as much as 9kg. The sheep's white face should be the only part free of wool, with black/grey speckling around the nose. A purebred lamb can reach 16-20kg deadweight within 4 months, and can be taken on to 25-30kg at 8-9 months.

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