The Norfolk Horn is the sheep that produced the wealth that much of East Anglia derived from wool.
In the 18th Century it was crossed with the Southdown and this cross was developed into the Suffolk. Both the outstanding success of the Suffolk and the development of new agricultural practices led to the decline of the Norfolk Horn to such a degree that, in the early 1950’s, their total population had declined to less than 15 animals. Since that time, when a determined rescue programme was started, the total numbers have steadily increased to such an extent that the breed has been able to move from their original classification of Critical to the current category of At Risk on the British Rare Breeds Register. They produce a very fine fleece and a nice carcass lamb which will finish well on grass alone and even on poor grazing.
This breed is from Dartmoor in the South West of the UK. Of all the sheep we keep at Baylham Farm, the Greyface has the heaviest fleece. It is called a lustre wool as the individual hairs are long, straight and shiny with very little crimp and, consequently, is not the easiest fleece to spin. The Greyface Dartmoor was classed as a rare breed when we started to keep them but their numbers in the UK have now increased to such an extent that they are now classed as a Minority Breed.
The Balwen is a sheep from one small area round the upper reaches of the River Tywi in Wales. It is a variety of the Black Welsh Mountain breed but has specific markings. It should have a black or dark brown fleece with a white blaze down its face, four white socks and half a white tail. All lambs have to be inspected before they can be registered and ram lambs must have perfect markings. The marking requirements for ewe lambs are slightly less severe and work on a penalty points system with a maximum total number of penalty points allowed for registration. The fleece when it is long tends to go brown but if you part the wool you will find that the under fleece is a lovely velvety black but this is normally only seen for a few months after shearing. We shear all the Baylham House rare breeds in late May or early June. The Balwen breed is currently classed as At Risk.
The Llanwenog is another Welsh breed which is currently becoming very popular as people are discovering its many excellent qualities. In fact, the Llanwenog numbers have risen so much in recent years that it is no longer classed as a rare breed. We always have a waiting list for our Llanwenog ewe lambs; it is the most prolific of all the native British breeds, is an excellent milky mother, has a lovely soft spinning fleece and produces a medium sized, quality carcass. They say you can tup Llanwenog ewes to lamb at one year old as they mature quickly; however, it does set the ewe back and at Baylham we let them mature fully and therefore wait until they are shearlings before we put them with the ram.
Our original Llanwenog ram, being Welsh, was called Llarry and we used to be very wary of him when he was young. Llarry’s successors also tend to be a bit macho and we have found that a sheep’s bell round the ram’s neck makes sure that a charge from behind never arrives without warning.
The Herdwick comes from the mountains and high hills of the Lake District in North West England and it is thought that they are probably of Viking origin.
According to the breed description, the Herdwick is the hardiest British breed being capable of withstanding, cold, wind and incessant rain; however, we find that our Herdwicks are amongst the first to seek shelter when it starts to rain. The Herdwick is not classed as a rare breed but we keep them because they are so nice, being quite unlike other British sheep in both character and appearance. Of all the lambs that we produce, the Herdwicks are the most gentle and friendly being very popular with children as they will sit on laps and be cuddled for ages. The Herdwick has a thick coarse fleece which is of carpet or felting rather than spinning quality. Farmer Richard has a jumper knitted from Herdwick wool and though a bit scratchy on bare skin, it is totally weather proof.
The Ouessant is the smallest natural breed of sheep in the world. Miniature sheep have been selectively bred for curiosity and the pet market, but the Ouessant is naturally tiny.
The breed comes from the Island of Ouessant off the coast of Brittany in France. The breed was kept by the Ouessant Islanders for its wool which used to be black or brown but white mainland sheep were introduced to the Island in the last Century in order to try and increase the size of the indigenous stock. Before the cross breeding began to have any significant effect, some of the original Island stock had been moved to the French mainland and it is the survivors of this mainland stock which retain the original characteristics of the Ouessant sheep.
The breed is still very rare in the UK and the current Ouessant strongholds are in Holland and Belgium where they have an enthusiastic following. A British Ouessant Breed Society was formed in 2005.