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There are over 60 distinct breeds of sheep in the UK. This section on the website includes basic information concerning the most common breeds of sheep you are likely to find in the British Countryside along with inclusion of some of our rare breeds. In time I will include information about breeds worldwide. 

Important: The information below is for interest only and a basic guide to sheep breeds. I am not an authority on sheep breeds and often it is difficult to distinguish pure breeds from those which are interbreed. I have done my best to be as accurate as possible but absolute accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you know of any mistakes please let me know.

Copyright:

Not all photographs below belong to this website and may be subject to copyright and conditions of use. Most are licensed under a Creative Commons license and you should check for conditions of use. Whenever possible I have credited the photographer along with a link to any conditions of use.

All other photographs are subjected to the same terms and conditions as stated in the photograph gallery   instructions and terms of use

 

Cheviot  


Cheviot sheep originate and get their name from the hills which form the border between Scotland and England, although they thieve anywhere in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

The Cheviot is a handsome sturdy looking animal and have fine white hair on their faces, legs and head. The fleece is white and firm with no coloured wool and is dense and think.  Some of the rams have horns. The ewes make excellent mothers. Cheviot sheep live at altitudes of over 3,000 feet above sea level, they are a hardy sheep used to inclement weather. The photographs where taken in the Cheviot hills at the approach to the beamish valley and is of a ewe and her daughter, a lamb of about five months old.
Blue Faced Leicester  

The Bluefaced Leicester developed over a period of two hundred years and became commonly known as the Hexham Leicester due to it's early concentration and origins in the North of England.

Today Blue faced Leicester are found mostly in  Northern England, Scotland and Wales.

A very proud looking creature, distinctive by the appearance of a  blue face through white hair  with a fine fleece which looks as though it has been twirled into tight curls.

Neither rams nor ewes have horns

Herdwick Sheep  

The Hardwick sheep is an ancient breed of sheep originating in the central and western regions of the lake district in Cumbria. They are an integral part of the splendid mountainous terrain in this region. Hardwick sheep are the hardiest of British sheep, they are well adapted and robust able to survive the inclement mountainous terrain where the fells are in places over three thousand feet.

The Hardwick is a familiar sight to visitors, an fundamental part of this popular scenic place.

Often a visit to the Lake district will be perhaps the first time you will have seen these sheep. They are small of stature and  at first glace you might think that the adult is a lamb, as was the case when we visited the Lake District for the first time.

The tiny lambs are always born black and the fleece changes to grey or brown as he or she gets older.

Jacob Sheep  

Jacob sheep get their name from a book entitled "Jacobs Flock" written in the early part of the twentieth centaury by a lady simply referred to as Mrs Maude. The book, describing her father's flock of sheep, suggests a resemblance to the spotted sheep mentioned in the book of Genesis in the bible which describes the kind of sheep that Jacob tended.

In fact DNA evidence indicates their origins in the Eastern Mediterranean.  This kind of sheep with its characteristically spotted or variably coloured fleece,  may have as many as 6 horns.

A similar sheep which could well be the Jacob sheep where found depicted on Egyptian wall paintings from 1800bc, this breed of sheep may have therefore been important to middle eastern farmers.

Jacob sheep where once popular in Britain before and  during the middle ages but declined in Victorian times replaced by more modern breeds. Also like the Soay they enjoy popularly in North America.

Credit: Photo by flickr user rauchdickson Adorable Sheep Family on Flickr - Photo Sharing! Licensed under  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Manx Loghtan  

The Manx Loghtan is a primitive and now a rare breed which originated from the Isle of man.

The four large formidable looking horns are a distinctive feature but he is nonetheless a very timid creature, at least in our experience of this particular sheep who is one of a flock of rare sheep cared for at the university of Durham's Botanic Gardens.

 Both sexes have horns. A strikingly handsome creature he is small in stature and has a dark drown fleece which looks paler on the outside after exposure to the sun.
Merino  

Merino sheep where first developed in Spain, they are sheep of  medium in stature, with a white face. The rams have horns. Merinos are sheep which have fine wool, the fleece grows from 2.5 to 4 inches long each year of growth.

There is a long line of breeding dating back to over 1200 years of sheep bred for the purpose of wool and the Merino's is perhaps the finest wool in the world.

There are three distinctive types of Marino two of which referred to as types A and B have been selectively breed to have loose skin which hangs in folds. The "C" type or Delaine have smooth skin free of wrinkles. Marino sheep are found mostly in Australia where today there are 67 per pure bred.

A large percent of the worlds domesticated sheep have some Marino blood. 

Credit: Photograph from Merino - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Mouflon  

All modern sheep are the descendents of the Asiatic Moulflon, which today is an endangered species surviving  in Asia minor and southern Iran. There are also small populations of  European Moulflon on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica but these are thought to be descended from the Asiatic Moulflon after domestication in Europe as a result of domesticated sheep being allowed to become feral.

Males have large impressive curved horns. There is a slight variation in colour between the Asian and European Moulflon; both are brown, however the Asian Moulflon is more reddish. There is also a difference in the formation of the horns.

Credit: Photograph by Jessica Dennett, 2006

Mouflon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Ouessant sheep  

A rare breed of sheep the Ouessant sheep, also occasionally called the Breton Dwarf, is the smallest breed of sheep in the world and comes from the island of Ouessant off the western tip of Brittany (French Bretagne) north west France where until the twentieth century they existed exclusively.   This tiny island, about 15 square kilometres in size, has been inhabited by Ouessant sheep since the 1700ís. They once numbered about 6000 in the mid 1800s, however today there are only about 3000. It is said that this small breed where favoured by the women of the island who mostly tended the flocks while the men were away fishing.

Despite their sturdy natures and their ability to withstand the rigours of their natural habitat these sheep are incredibly small. The rams are about 49 centimetres (19 in) tall at the shoulder, and the ewes about 45 centimetres (18 in).

Mostly brown or black with the occasionally white sheep, the rams have horns and the ewes are polled, the ewes give birth to only a single lamb only very occasionally producing a twin. It is commonly considered that Ouessant sheep look after lambing by themselves, however this is a generalisation and there are of course exceptions as you will learn by clicking the link below which will take you to a Telegraph article about a struggle to save a ewe and her lamb during birth complications.
telegraph.co.ukCest-la-folie-Ouessant-sheep-look-after-lambing-all-by-themselves-so-they-say.html

Credit: Photograph by Carolyn Southern

More photographs by Carolyn:

Website Visitors Photographs: Ouessant sheep and baby rabbits

Rough Fell Sheep  

Although they are a particularly docile creatures Rough fell Sheep are one of the biggest mountain sheep in the UK, they are extremely hardy sheep well suited to live in the inclement mountainous and hilly moor land and can be found throughout southern Cumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire and in recent years in parts of Devon.

Ewes easily rear their lambs whilst feeding on the poor upland grasses and heathers. Rough fell sheep have an excellent constitution and are protected from the extremes of weather by a thick white fleece.

The rams have horns and both genders are particularly strikingly handsome creatures. The lambs, like all lambs are adorably cute.

Soay Sheep  

Soay sheep are one of the oldest breed of sheep and have lived upon the Island of Soay in Western Scotland for at least 4,000 years. They where probably introduced to the island from Europe, where they were once more common, by Bronze age settlers. In modern times the Soay is popular throughout the world particularly in North America.

The Soay sheep is an animal of small statue, the rams have impressive horns, some of the females have horns also but smaller.  A primitive sheep it is tougher than modern domesticated sheep and also unlike modern sheep the Soay easily shed their own wool.

Credit:
Photo
by flicker  user  jonesor Soay sheep on Flickr - Photo Sharing! Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Swaledale Sheep  

Swaledale sheep get their name from the peaceful Swaledale valley in the northern Yorkshire Dales. They are also found in various hill or mountainous locations throughout the UK, mostly in Cumbria, County Durahm and of course throughout Yorkshire.

The Swaledale sheep is a robust hardy creature supposedly well adapted to cope with the exposed high windswept inclement moor land. Swaledale sheep are of medium size with a black face with white a stripe over the eyes and whitish muzzle and white wool, a most familiar sight throughout the Yorkshire dales. Both Ewes and rams have horns, although the rams are larger and curlier. Swaledale ewes are excellent mothers. 

Also see photographs and videos of Swaledale lambs:

Spring Lambs 2009 Swaledale Lambs

Videos spring Lambs 2009 and 2008

Suffolk  

A sturdy muscular sheep with a distinctive all-black head and legs that are free of wool, they thrive in wet conditions having immunity to foot diseases.

First recognised as a pure breed in 1810, suffolk's are now distributed world wide in most sheep producing countries and are most  popular in the USA.

Originally,  called Southdown Norfolks or just "Black faces" they are the result of crossing Southdown rams and Norfolk Horn ewes.

Cotswold  

The Cotswold breed originated in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucester, a south midland county of England.

On the brink of extinction in the early 20th century, they have now regained their popularity and are to be found world wide. The Cotswold is one of the ancient breeds of England, from sheep that grazed the Cotswold Hills at the time of Caesar's conquest of Britain. A longwool sheep the cotswold sometimes referred to as the cotswold Lion, is related to Leicester and Lincoln breeds. In the middle ages their wool was a major export of England, which not only played a role in the economy of the nation but also in the development of the cotswold villages  and towns

The name Cotswold is derived from earlier times when sheep where kept in shelters called "cotes" in an area called the "wolds"

Their fleece grows in long braids of wavy curls and just before shearing time they have a long fringe over their eyes

Photo Credit
User Podchef Newborn Twin Lambs on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Creative commons License:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.

Wensleydale  

The largest and most distinctive of British sheep, the Wensleydale has a bluish coloured skin, long curley fleece resembling  dreadlocks. Their soft fleece, which, from a pure breed, is entirely kemp free and produces the finest wool in the world.

The Wensleydale's 's ancestry can be traced to a specific ram born in 1838 in a hamlet near Bedale in North Yorkshire. The Wensleydale breed is nowadays widespread throughout the United Kingdom, with some small flocks in Holland, France, and Denmark.

Photo credit

User EadaoinFlynn Wensleydale sheep 7 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

creative commons license: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic.

Wiltshire Horn  

Thought to have been brought to the UK by the Romans, the Wiltshire Horn was considered to be the most popular sheep breed of sheep in the 17th and 18th centuries.  However by the beginning of the twenty century numbers had dwindled and this breed was on the verge of extinction. Fortunately numbers have recovered.

A strikingly handsome animal , who have impressive curling horns, both ewes and rams are horned but the horns of ewes are smaller.

This breed is one of only a very few who naturally shed their wool in the spring revealing a light coat of hair underneath


 

 

Zwartbles  

A very handsome breed with a good thick fleece which keeps them warm in the colder northern region of Frieisland Holland, where it can be very cold wet and windy.

A naturally tame, friendly and docile sheep which have no horns. Their numbers have been reduced as a result of changes in farming practices, they have now been adopted by the the Dutch rare breeds survival Trust.

In the mid 1980s British enthusiasts imported zwartbles into the UK and they can now be found in England, Scotland and Wales, numbering over 3000 sheep.  The picture above was taken in Cumbria

Important please note:

I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.

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